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EU Foreign Interference Law: Is Civil Society at Risk?

04 May 2023

Why we are against an EU FARA law?

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.

Read the full statement here.

Why do we at the NHC believe that this statement is important?

We envision a world in which every person lives in a just society where human rights and the rule of law are respected, and where people join forces to actively contribute to change in that direction. For this to happen, we need resilient civil society organisations that raise their voice in defence of human rights, we need our governments to be held accountable and act with integrity, and we need independent, inclusive and humane justice systems that protect people, especially when they are marginalised or historically underrepresented in decision-making. These areas form the cornerstones of our work.

The further closing of civic space, and roll back of the rule of law in wider Europe, including inside the European Union, presents continued challenges. Shrinking civic space has many meanings for people defending human rights. It encompasses harassment through propaganda or social media, inciting statements by politicians, investigations or even legislation targeting the work or resources of non-governmental organisations. It affects in particular historically underrepresented people, as well as groups that raise their voice in defence of fundamental values. Civil society is like oxygen to a healthy democracy. That is why efforts to defend democracy should refrain from – unintentionally – restricting the space in which civil society operates.