May 2015


Over the last years, the Hungarian case and the systematic crack down of Orban’s government on European democratic values, Human rights and civil liberties has become sadly emblematic of a European malaise. And we have witnessed EU’s incapacity to ensure respect of these values and effective access to fundamental rights for all inside and outside the Union.
Certain dilemmas are inevitable, mainly related to the weakness of democracy as principle of governance inside the EU itself: How can the EU be credible in addressing democratic deficit within a Member State when it is suffering itself from such a disease?
Citizens’ perceptions about the realities on the ground and the role of the EU indicate that, unfortunately, as the latest Eurobarometer points out, the institutional management of the crisis led to growing dissatisfaction, both in creditor and debtor countries, and this has been translated in the results of the last European elections with the regressive populist breakthrough.
How to counter this political discourse and its contamination effect?
Whether criticism of the current EU framework is counterproductive? Whether pointing out its failure to ensure wellbeing to tackle raising inequalities and to address the growing audience of xenophobic populism is rather serving the very purpose of those forces that aim at destroying a shared and inclusive European future? These are additional dilemmas to be answered.
What role for civil society in framing public discourse about EU values and building process? Civil society organisations represent an essential mechanism of democratic checks and balances. They play a critical, two-fold role in this context.
First and foremost, they work with people, on the ground, to promote fundamental values, rights and liberties. But they cannot substitute public action and policies in translating them into the day-to-day reality.
Secondly, they advocate for these values, rights and liberties to be properly safeguarded by the responsible institutions. In September 2014 for example, 1 000 NGOs signed an appeal to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe to take the lead in  implementing both diplomatic efforts and effective measures to prevent the undermining of democratic values in an EU member state, namely Hungary. European NGOs also stood against the designation of a the Commissioner proposed to be in charge of “citizenship”, given his disastrous track record in this area when he was in office in the Hungarian government.
In both their action-oriented and advocacy-oriented capacity, they contribute to keeping our societies democratic. When their critical role is disregarded, denied or threatened, the whole democratic space is shrinking, both at EU and national levels. The institutions should consider this while trying to come up with solutions to address the present challenges the European project is facing. By doing so, they would decisively solve the issue which remained unanswered for some years now: giving an answer to the crisis through the European values they are standing for.  

News from the Forum
Civil Society Day 2015 – 16 June in EESC
This year, the Civil Society day is scheduled on 16 June 2015. Co-organised by the European Economic and Social Committee and the Liaison Group with European civil society networks, bringing together key players in European and national civil society organisations, business leaders and entrepreneurs, academics, EU policy- and decision-makers and interested media. It provides a forum for dialogue on issues that matter to civil society stakeholders at European level.
With a new Commission in office, it appears even more crucial to enhance civil society involvement in a strategic way, and to develop a real civil dialogue to improve legislation at European level and respond better to citizen's needs.
This year's edition, whose title will be “Civil dialogue: a tool for better legislation in the general interest” aims at setting up principles and guidelines for a permanent and structured civil dialogue at European level. Among the speakers, ECF president Jean-Marc Roirant will represent newly launched platform Civil Society Europe in the Workshop 1 on the impact of civil dialogue in decision-making environment. Jan Robert Suesser will speak on behalf of the European Civic Forum on the issue of monitoring Civil Dialogue.
Registrations to this event are opened until 10 June on EESC’s dedicated webpage. If you cannot attend the Civil Society day, then follow the discussions via #CSDay2015 hashtag.

ECF at the ECI conference on 16 June in the Council premises
The ECI Campaign is organising a half-day conference on the European Citizens’ Initiative, together with the General Secretariat of the Council and the Latvian Presidency of the Council. The discussions will take place in the main Council building on Tuesday, 16 June 2015 from 9:00 – 13:00. This is the first public ECI-related event to be held in the Council. High level policy makers, representatives from the EU institutions, campaigners and experts in public participation will discuss the history, challenges and potentials of the ECI. Among the supporters of this event, the European Civic Forum will contribute to the final summary discussion, and its director, Alexandrina Najmowicz, will share key ideas stemming from the discussions for improving the ECI.
The complete programme and the link for registration can be found here.

CITI-RIGHTS Project: launch of the CREATE I REACT trainings for civil society activists A vast gap exists between the rights guaranteed by the EU and our exercise of those rights. Unclear laws, disempowerment or fear of reprisal can prevent people from knowing and enjoying their rights.
The Citi-Rights project examines how, when and where people in the EU can individually and collectively protect and advance rights and, where they are limited from exercising their rights, how transnational collaboration can imagine and build a future where rights are actively protected.
In cooperation with ten other organisations, the European Civic Forum is supporting the project leader, European Alternatives implementing the project and spreading the outcomes throughout Europe. The project has several components: researching citizen rights in the EU, providing trainings for civil-society activists to improve their capacity to protect and extend rights, teaching about rights in schools and universities and drafting EU policy proposals.
The next trainings will take place in Berlin (19-21 June) and in Lisbon (10-12 July). Find out the complete programme of the CREATE I REACT trainings via the link here.

European Democratic Citizenship Awards 2015: coming soon
Last year, more than 10 000 online voters designated the laureates for the European Democratic Citizenship Awards. This initiative aims at celebrating civic engagement and activism as instrumental in giving a new impetus to European democracy in the current context of political and institutional renewal. The four laureates were rewarded for their innovative and creative approaches to the development of a true European active citizenship, in four different categories: Media initiative of the Year, Campaign of the Year, NGO of the Year and Personality of the Year.
In 2015, in partnership with the Council of Europe, the city of Strasbourg and many others, the European Civic Forum will officially launch the campaign for nominees beginning June 2015, so stay tuned to our news and do not miss the opportunity to present projects or people who might have a chance to be the 2015 laureates.

ECF at the European Forum for Alternatives 2015
By its very economical architecture the EU has suffered the brunt of the financial crisis of 2008 and increased its severity with the austerity policies. European peoples have resisted a lot, more and more together, facing with the attacks against public services, labour law, against democracy and basic human rights. The Forum, which will be an initiative of an unprecedented scale, is open from conception to implementation to all forces and interested citizens. The organisers’ goal is to invite all relevant stakeholders, from trade-union representatives, social movements, former and current MEPs, but also civil society activists, to participate, discuss and debate about finding alternatives to the current austerity measures hitting a bigger part of Europe.
Raffaella Bolini and Jean-Marc Roirant, respectively ECF Vice-President and President, were invited by the organisers to speak about citizens’ ownership of European matters and about new migration policies for Europe. Discover the complete programme of the two-day event on the Forum’s official website.


News from the network   

CREATE I REACT training in Lisbon, by Academia Cidada (10-12 July)
Academia Cidadã is happy to participate as partner in the project CREATE | REACT, promoted by European Alternatives and financed by the programmme Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, from DG Justice - European Commission. This project aims to bring together citizens, civil society activists, members of movements, organizations and networks from across Europe in a transnational activist training programme for the defence and extension of fundamental and citizenship rights.
Several partner organizations, from Berlin, Lisbon, Venice, Budapest, Warsaw and Brussels, are coming together to share experiences and develop skills, in order to network with others looking to better protect the rights of people living in the European space.
In Lisbon a three days event will be organised, from 10 to 12 July 2015, which will focus on how community building and participation techniques respond to the retrenchment of rights. Through activities like ONG meetings, public conferences or workshops, we will promote network building, collective decision making and planning with communities. Our target audience is civil society in general, and in particular persons and organizations looking to connect with their communities and build and support community-based campaigning.
For further information about the general training programme, please visit the website

CSV becomes Volunteering Matters!
UK-wide volunteering charity Community Service Volunteers, commonly known as CSV, marked a significant step towards a new future on Monday 27th April, when the organisation officially changed its name to Volunteering Matters.
As Volunteering Matters the charity will position itself to lead UK volunteering in policy and practice and build on its long-standing reputation of delivering important volunteering opportunities to people and communities all over the UK for the past 52 years.
Volunteering Matters not only works in the UK but also reaches into European volunteering in policy and practice. We host and support the Secretariat for the Volonteurope Network and we’re members of many European platforms.
Oonagh Aitken, Chief Executive of Volunteering Matters, Chair of the Volonteurope Network, and member of the Board of Directors of European Civic Forum, said:
Our new name, Volunteering Matters, marks the beginning of an exciting new future for the organisation. We will continue to build on our consistent delivery of high quality volunteering programmes that positively impact the lives of people all over the UK.”
Volunteering Matters will focus on delivering volunteering programmes and projects to people all over the UK who are most in need, including; older people, young people, disabled people and families in need of support. By reaching out to these keys areas of society, Volunteering Matters aims to strengthen communities and promote social and economic inclusion.

PRISM - Preventing, Redressing and Inhibiting hate Speech in new Media Many reports show that in the member states of the European Union continued and renewed physical or verbal attacks against minority groups and immigrants are increasing. On this assessment, ARCI started the project PRISM, “Preventing, Redressing and Inhibiting hate Speech in new Media”, with associative, institutional, international and academic partners in five countries, supported by the Fundamental Rights & Citizenship programme of the European Union. The high broadcasting potential of Internet fosters national, racial or religious hatred statements that constitute incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
In France, la Ligue de l’enseignement implements this project with the support of three local federations in Burgundy, Hérault and Paris. Parallel to a transnational research, French professional, journalists, lawyers, ONG members and youth are heard to analyze the national context. In a second part, training and workshops between youth and between media professional will be implemented in order to exchange good practice and to raise awareness about online hate speech. This project aims at achieving a common definition of “hate speech” and achieving recommendations for law changes in the countries involved.

News from the Institutions

Better Regulation Agenda
On 19 May 2015, the European Commission adopted its Better Regulation Agenda, aimed at reducing the amount of bureaucratic red tape that surrounds legislation, both on a national and a continental level. At the moment, the process of changing legislation applicable to all EU member states is long and arduous, not to mention complicated.
Though, many critics already pointed out at the risks of adding bureaucratic burdens to legislative acts. Besides this, the agenda still does not concretely involve citizens in the decision-making process, limiting them to a consultative role, which will mainly be addressed to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
In order to increase the Transparency in the institutions’ functioning, the European Commission notably proposes to set up a seven-member Regulatory Scrutiny Board, including three “external” experts from outside the institutions, who will be selected … by the Commission itself. This Board will notably be in charge of overlooking the legislators’ work during the drafting, which implies a monitoring of Parliament’ and Council’s changes and amendments.
Moreover, this Better Regulation is denounced for its anti-democratic, business-oriented measures. Thus, if the experts nominated are up to the Commission’s discretion, civil society organisations and NGOs should not really expect to be part of them. In the official statement released by the European Commission’s press office, NGOs and civil society organisations are expected to take part in the REFIT Platform, also composed of business experts, social partners, members from the Committee of the Regions and the EESC. If this Platform will have the power of making suggestions in administrative burden reductions, it still remains regrettable that the word dialogue does not appear once. NGOs and citizens are not being directly involved in the decision-making process with these measures; their prerogatives will remain limited to a simple consultative role and to the suggestions of limiting already existing EU legislations.
Concretely, this Better Regulation Agenda is still far from giving a real participatory tool for citizens to have a say on European policies. As expressed by many political groups within the European Parliament, the BRA may further deprive citizens from their right to participate in EU political life.

EP LIBE session on Fundamental Rights in the EU (discussion about Orban) 
The LIBE Committee met on 7 May to discuss amendments to Ferrera report about the situation of Fundamental Rights in the European Union, with a special attention to possible return of death penalty in one of the Member States. The discussion clearly referred to the phone conversation between European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban from 30 April.
Orban recently declared that EU member states should have the possibility to give citizens a choice on whether to re-introduce death penalty or not. On the other hand, he repeated that the Hungarian government will respect and honour all European treaties and legislation.
However, LIBE members discussed on possible measures to be taken against the Hungarian government, which passed several controversial bills in the last few years, sometimes standing clearly against European treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. If all MEPs agreed that one tool already existed in the Treaty on the European Union (Article 7), this proved to be insufficient. Marie-Christine Vergiat notably insisted that the European Commission should take serious stance against such behaviours from member states’ governments, rather than hiding behind the inoperable Article 7, which was never used to sanction an EU member breaching the communitarian law. MEPs highlighted the need for a new mechanism to go beyond the ‘Copenhagen dilemma’ and monitor state of Human rights not only in accession countries but inside the Union itself, to protect and prevent violations in EU countries. They also called for an annual “country-by-country” report to be drawn on the state of Human rights in the Union and supported the strong role which civil society organisations should play in this process. The final LIBE vote is scheduled on 25th June.

Ombudsman opens investigation to promote transparency of "trilogues"  The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, opened an investigation into the transparency of "trilogues" with a view to boosting transparent law-making in the EU. Trilogues are informal negotiations between the European Parliament (EP), the Council and the Commission aimed at reaching early agreements on new EU legislation.
The Ombudsman has asked the three institutions for information about their disclosure policies on trilogue documents, including details of meetings, documents relating to ongoing trilogues, minutes or notes drawn up after such meetings, as well as lists of participants. She is expecting a reply by 30 September 2015.
Emily O'Reilly explained: "Trilogues are where deals are done that affect every EU citizen. They are now an established feature of how the EU adopts laws. European citizens, businesses and organisations should be able to follow each stage of the law-making procedure and to understand how the negotiators arrive at the endpoint. Parliament, Council and Commission have a Treaty obligation and an interest in legislating as openly as possible to maintain public trust."
This investigation by EU Ombudsman is a positive signal of this institution’s ambition to increase the transparency within the EU and stop the negotiations behind closed doors, which regularly raise suspicions among citizens. In the EU's co-decision procedure, Parliament and Council must jointly adopt legislative proposals submitted by the Commission. While the procedure can entail up to three readings, the increased use of trilogues has meant that around 80% of EU laws are now agreed at first reading. An estimated 1500 trilogue meetings took place over the past five years.
To read the original article, click here.

European ministers call for a competence framework for the exercise of democratic citizenship
Foreign ministers from across Europe have adopted a political declaration and a three-year action plan on the fight against violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism. The action plan sets out a series of Council of Europe-led measures to help tackle radicalisation, including in schools, prisons and on the internet
In the field of education, the ministers have called for the development and utilisation of tools for education for democratic citizenship, intercultural education and history teaching. They have also called for the adoption by the end of 2015 of the key elements of the competence framework for the exercise of democratic citizenship and thereafter the holding of a Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Education to promote the implementation of that framework.

A European Agenda on Migration
The European Commission presented a European Agenda on Migration outlining the immediate measures that will be taken in order to respond to the crisis situation in the Mediterranean as well as the steps to be taken in the coming years to better manage migration in all its aspects.
The plight of thousands of migrants putting their lives in peril to cross the Mediterranean has shocked and it has become clear that no Member State can or should be left alone to address huge migratory pressures. Though, the ten measures brought by the Commission as an answer to the huge humanitarian crisis currently hitting the Mediterranean are not meeting NGOs’ expectations, which claim that a stronger solidarity between Member States and less military operations such as Triton are needed. As expressed by many ECF member organisations, such as ARCI or AEDH, the new EU Migration agenda stresses the need to sink smugglers’ vessels and to fingerprint all migrants arriving, rather than improving the conditions to welcome civilians fleeing away from death and misery. Both organisations notably argue that such measures will have exactly the opposite effect than the one initially announced to stop human tragedies.  
This new agenda, presented through a “press kit” marks a thinly veiled ambition to close the doors to migrants and build a fortress Europe, thus betraying the values of equality of chances and solidarity that are enshrined in EU Treaties.

EC report about EP 2014 elections
The Commission adopted a Report on the landmark 2014 European Elections, looking back at the first campaign to feature lead candidates from European political parties. The selection of candidates for the Commission Presidency by major political parties in Europe was a new step towards European-level democracy, resulting in the election of Commission President Juncker and an individual hearing for each designated commissioner-candidate by MEPs from the relevant Committee. 
The 2014 European Parliament elections were the first to take place since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and were different from those which preceded them. For the first time, a direct link was established between the outcome of the elections and the appointment of the European Commission President. The European political families nominated candidates for President of the European Commission for the first time, and the candidate who was able to command a majority in the newly formed European Parliament became President of the European Commission.
The report reviews the 2014 elections, including measures taken to enhance their transparency, democratic conduct and the European dimension. It assesses citizens’ awareness of the elections and the associated rights, action taken by Member States and EU institutions in this respect, and actual turnout. It also looks at the enforcement of EU citizens’ electoral rights. If the report points out at the significant focus on EU issues by MEP candidates and political groups, it is also encouraging further the Citizens’ Dialogue prior to European elections, without specifying the exact number of participants to the 51 debates labelled as Citizens’ Dialogues.
Eventually, the report highlights the EU-funded projects set by civil society organisations and aimed at “empowering citizens as regards their participation in the democratic life of the EU”, outlining their importance in engaging citizens in EU social and political life.

11-14. 06. 2015 / Freedom of expression: Implementation of European standards and challenges / Krusevo, FYR of Macedonia / Workshop . Organised by Community Development Institute in Krusevo (FYROM) Read more here

16. 06. 2015 / The European citizens' initiative and the promise of participatory democracy
/ Brussels, Belgium / Conference. This event is organised jointly by The ECI Campaign, the Latvian presidency of the Council and the General Secretariat of the Council. Complete programme available here.

16. 06. 2015 / Civil Society Day 2015 - Civil dialogue: a tool for better legislation in the general interest / Brussels, Belgium / Public Debate. The annual Civil Society Day is a major EESC initiative, organised in partnership with its Liaison Group with European civil society networks. You can participate to the debates by using the hashtag #CSDay2015 for your tweets.

19-21. 06. 2015 / CREATE|REACT: Digital / Berlin, Germany / Training session. Discover the complete overview of the training here.

20. 06. 2015 / Call for National Mobilisation / Rome, Italy / Demonstration. ARCI and many partner organisations are calling Italian and European citizens to demonstrate against EU measures on migration. Find out the original call here.  
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