Saturday

24th Feb 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.

News in Brief

  1. EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria
  2. UK's post-Brexit vision is 'pure illusion', Tusk says
  3. EU leaders express solidarity with Cyprus in Turkey drill row
  4. EU to double funding for Sahel forces
  5. EU parliament president: 'The immigration problem is Africa'
  6. May to unveil EU departure strategy next week
  7. Pregnant workers may be dismissed, EU court rules
  8. Romanian minister demands anti-corruption prosecutor fired

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ILGA EuropeAnkara Ban on LGBTI Events Continues as Turkish Courts Reject NGO Appeals
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU agrees budget to focus on defence, security and migration
  2. EU leaders nix transnational lists, cool on 'Spitzenkandidat'
  3. Regions chief: calls for smaller EU budget are 'impossible'
  4. Election fever picks up This WEEK
  5. EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy
  6. EU leaders put 'Spitzenkandidat' on summit menu
  7. European far-right political party risks collapse
  8. The key budget issues on EU leaders' table

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  3. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  4. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  5. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  7. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  8. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  10. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhat Can Christians Learn from a Global Islamic Movement?