Civil Society Europe is bringing together 230 civil society organisations from across Europe to express concern and opposition to a proposed ‘foreign interference’ directive which would create a register of Foreign Funded organisations. This legislation could have unintended negative consequences, hindering CSOs’ ability to fulfil their role as defenders of democracy in Europe and beyond. It will also limit the EU’s capacity to support civil society at risk and human rights defenders globally.
Civil society plays an essential role in vibrant, democratic societies. Civil society organisations (including philanthropy) are key actors in addressing different societal issues and in moving the green, digital and social agendas forward as well as defending rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. Yet, while an enabling space for civil society is essential, experience across Europe shows how fragile that space can be. Deliberate, or inadvertent steps, can put civil society at risk and destroy the very essence of an essential democratic pillar.
The European Union has played an important role in standing up for civil society, setting standards and calling out threats to civic space. In May 2023 the European Commission will propose a new Defence of Democracy Package – including welcome proposals to further enhance democratic participation and protect civic space. Yet, some elements of that package threaten to undermine existing and future efforts.
As civil society organisations, with extensive experience working on civic freedoms, we call on the European Commission to observe three key factors ahead of any proposal:
- the requirement for a fundamental rights impact assessment;
- clarity and purpose of such directive, and
- fundamental rights obligations.
Read the full statement endorsed by 230 civil society organisation here.