Thursday

26th Apr 2018

Rights NGOs face fresh threats in EU

  • Civil rights groups - particularly LGBT ones - face threats in the EU (Photo: Bob Lefevere)

Counterterrorism, anti-moneylaundering measures, shrinking budgets and threats curtail the work of civil rights' groups in the EU, a new report published on Thursday (18 January) by the EU's Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) has found.

Civil society as a whole – a key pillar of democracy – is under threat in many parts of the EU, it concludes.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • The Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency focuses on human rights and makes recommendations to both the EU and member states to protect human rights when implementing EU law. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

"A thriving democracy needs a healthy civil society. Unfortunately, the EU's own civil society is facing a pattern of threats and pressures in many parts of the EU," FRA director Michael O'Flaherty said, adding that addressing this "unacceptable situation should be a high priority" for the EU and member states.

The FRA focuses on human rights and makes recommendations to both the EU and member states to protect human rights when implementing EU law.

While there is a clear effort to crackdown on NGOs in Hungary and Poland, experts say that rights groups face threats across the bloc.

In a number of countries counterterrorism measures had a direct or indirect effect on NGOs. Freedom of assembly for instance was reduced in countries such as France and Spain.

Anti-moneylaundering measures also had an impact: in the UK over 300 UK-based charities' bank accounts were frozen at least temporarily because of strict implementation of the new rules.

The agency wants EU member states to make sure that new measures do not have negative side-effects on NGOs.

Attacks, physical abuse, threats and smear campaigns against NGOs have become the new norm, researchers say. "They feel it's part of their job now," an official familiar with the issue said.

The attacks typically come from political groups, for instance from people unhappy with groups helping refugees. LGBTI rights, womens' rights and the rights of refugees tend to be the most sensitive subjects, receiving the brunt of threats.

However, it is difficult to assess the scope of the threat, because there are no figures on this as authorities do not register if a physical abuse was a direct attack against a civil group. The agency plans a report specifically on that in the autumn.

In some cases, civil groups fear state surveillance, the report notes. In July 2015, Amnesty International reported that "UK government agencies had spied on the organisation by intercepting, accessing and storing its communications".

Short on money

The lack of sustainable long-term financing hampers the effectiveness of the civil groups' work. Most funds are only available through short-term projects that do not cover advocacy and awareness-raising.

Shrinking national budgets and increasing administrative burdens also complicate the NGOs' work.

The agency recommends setting up funds for long-term financing and that the administrative burdens should be proportionate and reasonable. The free movement of capital – something that has come under threat in Hungary and the UK – is also key in providing funding.

Recently, several NGOs have called for the establishment of a specific EU fund for rights groups. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) also urged such a move last autumn.

Another issue highlighted by the report is that governments across the EU are not keen to consult with civil organisations when working on new legislation. Even if governments are open for consultation, they give very little time – in extreme cases only a few hours – for organisations to comment on bills.

The report was compiled after NGOs said they are coming under increasing political pressure by changing laws and some have endured physical attacks.

While the EU is often visible at helping civil society outside of the bloc, there have been few measures to protect or even to assess the situation of civil groups within the EU.

The Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), an NGO promoting the civil liberties in the EU, said in a statement that with the FRA's report it could be harder for "politicians in Brussels to ignore" the increasing threat to NGOs.

The organisation notes that the EU commission and European Parliament have been "largely uninterested in pleas" from activists to protect rights groups.

The centre-right European People's Party has been pushing to restrict EU funds for NGOs.

Hungary to tax NGOs that 'help' migration

Ahead of elections in April, Hungary's government swings into campaign mode by proposing a new set of rules to stop illegal migration and NGOs that assist in it.

MEPs to discuss civil liberties in Hungary

The EP's civil liberties committee is to discuss Hungarian PM Orban's recent flirtation with reintroducing the death penalty, and a controversial Hungarian survey on immigration.

Feature

Hungary activists defiant after 'Soros Mercenaries' attack

Immediately after Orban's landslide victory in April, a list of so-called 'Soros mercenaries' was published by pro-government media. Those on it - mostly human rights defenders, activists and Orban critics - are now anxious but vow to continue.

News in Brief

  1. UN expects over $4bn in pledges for Syria
  2. Commission wants more public data made available for reuse
  3. Study: Brexit will hit all European farmers
  4. European media face rise in 'verbal violence' from politicians
  5. Greenland PM to keep power despite poll slump
  6. Commissioner optimistic on FYROM name solution
  7. Italian court keeps NGO migrant rescue boat docked
  8. German Jews warned not to wear skullcap in public

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  11. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  12. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip

Latest News

  1. Whistleblowers could be enforcers of rule of law in Europe
  2. EU shelves Macron idea for 'European Darpa'
  3. Don't play EU 'games' with military HQs, Italian admiral says
  4. EU had a plan for Jordan - now it's time to make it work
  5. Time for EU to take charge of global health research agenda
  6. EU in race to set global Artificial Intelligence ethics standards
  7. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  8. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  5. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  8. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  9. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  10. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  11. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  12. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan