Friends of the Earth Europe: We have to stand up! – defending civic space

(Friends of the Earth Europe – 17 December 2019)

Friends of the Earth Europe member groups in 16 countries are experiencing shrinking civil society space.

That is the headline finding of our network survey conducted earlier in 2019.

A vibrant and protected civic space is an essential part of a healthy democracy. The freedoms of association, assembly and expression, and the rights to form and join groups, peacefully protest, and advocate for the things we want – and to counter the things we don’t – enable debate and discussion to thrive, and people to contribute to important decisions that affect them.

But, Europe is experiencing a long-term decline in democracy and increasing restrictions on civic space.

This is borne out in our own network.

Friends of the Earth Europe member groups say they have experienced all the most common recognized forms of shrinking space.

Shrinking civil society space in the FoEE network

The most common form of shrinking space reported in our network is Stigmatization and Negative Labelling (13 countries), followed by Administrative Restrictions and Undue State Interference (10 countries).

In 2019 we have been building up our work to defend and promote civic space and build the power of people.

We have produced this briefing: ‘Thriving Civic Space for Strong European Democracy’, which has been sent to the new European Commission, MEPs, and allies. It brings our network’s experience of shrinking space to policy-makers, including the results of the network-wide survey and 5 cases from member groups illustrating all the most common forms of shrinking space.

“This shrinking space is a dangerous trend and has implications for the future of European democracy if it continues.” – Jagoda Munic

At national level, we know that many member groups are responding to attacks and pressures on civil society organisations. Among the preferred strategies are building new alliances to address the issue, and implementing common media campaigns to inform the public.

We have seen some powerful responses from member groups under attack, for example this video: ‘Threats will not stop us’ by FoE Bosnia and Herzegovina / Center for Environment, FoE Slovenia’s alliance building to build solidarity mechanisms among stakeholders in Slovenia, and capacity building trainings for activists and journalists to strengthen civil society in Cyprus organized by FoE Cyprus.

At EU level FoEE is addressing the European institutions to put pressure on member states to enable space and adequate framework with civil society, supporting groups and allies under pressure through solidarity actions, and working in Pan-European alliances to promote a positive narrative about civil society and address the root causes of shrinking space.

FoE Europe is actively looking for ways to support member groups to defend and promote civic space in your countries. If you are experiencing shrinking space and think we can help, please contact