European Commission work programme 2023: The need to include the development of a European Civil Society Strategy

 CIVICUS joins call to the European Commission for the development of a European Civil Society Strategy

Ms Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission

cc: Ms Vera Jourova Vice-President of the European Commission

Mr Didier Reynders Commissioner for Justice

We, civil society organisations acting at local, national and European level, call on the European Commission to include in the work programme of 2023 a proposal for a European Civil Society Strategy1.

Civil society organisations, such as citizens’ associations, NGOs and public benefits foundations, and human rights defenders are instrumental to make effective the values enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union and the rights proclaimed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, on a daily basis, both at European and national level.

Our action strives to leave no one behind and is crucial in the area of culture, social care, education, health, anti-corruption, environment, anti-discrimination and much more.

We intervene as democratic antibodies when rights, democracy and the rule of law are under attack.

Our role is key to build public spaces, upscale participatory democracy and channel citizens’ participation.

Our rapid mobilisations and recommendations have been and are essential in the context of the multifaceted crises affecting our societies which each time exacerbate the many vulnerabilities people are confronted with, such as the financial crisis in the early 2010s, the COVID-19 pandemic, the humanitarian crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the environmental catastrophes resulting from the climate emergency.

Unfortunately, evidence from the field2 shows growing obstacles and attacks affecting civil society’s ability to act in full capacities and independence, as research3 and the findings of the European Commission rule of law report4 confirm. As a result of these attacks, our collective European future is jeopardised. 

The ongoing measures and actions taken at the European level in support of civic actors’ activities have mostly been limited in scope and impact. It is now urgent to provide an overarching solution to fill the gaps of existing policies and mainstream positive practices.

The call for a civil society strategy has been a long-term demand of CSOs at European and national level5. This demand is now supported by a European Parliament resolution on the shrinking space for civil society in Europe (2021/2103(INI)) voted with a large majority on 8 March 2022, and recommendation 36.8 of final report of the Conference on the Future of Europe6

We urge the European Commission to consider all this, and in consequence to give substance to the mandate of the Vice President of the European Commission for values and transparency and resources for carrying out a regular, open and transparent civil dialogue - along the provision of Article 11 of the Treaty - and safeguard civil society space by developing, in cooperation with CSOs and human rights defenders, a comprehensive European civil society strategy before the end of the current five-years term.

We remain at your disposal to discuss the overall content of such a strategy, and the steps to be started immediately.

For further communication, you can contact the initiators of the letter: Civil Society Europe (Carlotta Besozzi, ) and European Civic Forum (Alexandrina Najmowicz, ).

 1 European Civic Forum, TOWARDS VIBRANT EUROPEAN CIVIC AND DEMOCRATIC SPACE, The case for a European civil society strategy and preliminary reflections on the gaps, challenges and opportunities to be addressed (2022).

2 European Civic Forum, Civic Space Watch report 2021 - ACTIVIZENSHIP #6 (2022); Civil Liberties Union for Europe, Bringing human rights and Article 2 values to life: the roles, challenges and solutions for civil society (2022); Civil Society Europe, Contribution to 2022 Rule of Law Report (2022); CIVICUS, People Power under attack 2021 (2022): European Youth Forum, Safeguarding civic space for young people in Europe (2022).

3 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Protecting civic space in the EU (2021); Civic space – experiences of organisations in 2019 (2020); Civil society space: views of organisations (2018); Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU (2018).

4 European Commission, 2020 Rule of law report - Communication and country chapters (2020); 2021 Rule of law report | European Commission (2021).

5 Including though CSOs joint statement Civil Society on the Frontline - 5 points for EU action 2019-2024 (2019), Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation, Recommendations for a Comprehensive European Policy and Strategy on Civil Society (2022), final output of the Civil society convention for the future of Europe (2022), Recharging Advocacy for Rights in Europe (RARE)’s Advocacy brief on an European strategy for civil society: recognition, inclusion, protection (2022), HRDN Submission to the European Commission in the framework of the 2nd Annual Rule of Law Review Cycle (2021).

6 Conference on the Future of Europe, Report on the final outcome (2022), p.79.