January-February 2016


Something new on the horizon

Recent actions of the Polish government include limitations to the independence of the judiciary, restrictions on autonomous media and a challenge to the basic freedom of association which lies at the heart of European democracy.
In this context, we welcome the quick reaction of the European institutions towards recent developments in Poland, especially the decision taken by the European Commission to activate the “Rule of law mechanism” to monitor clear indications of systemic threat and, engage in dialogue with its government to remedy to the situation and, ultimately, apply sanctions if needed, under the ‘article 7 procedure’.
The European institutions should now ensure consistent and systematic monitoring on the state of fundamental rights and democratic values in Europe in a period when these rights are questioned by many governments, as suggested for example in the European Parliament 2013 resolution on the Situation of fundamental rights: standards and practices in Hungary[1]. We are concerned about Hungary in its disregard for core freedoms and the failure of the European Union to act robustly to defend fundamental rights in this country. We also think the European institutions should scrutinize and engage in dialogue about measures recently taken or announced in the UK, Denmark, France and Spain to reduce the right of protest and limit the ability to engage in lawful campaigning. We stand with civil society and show solidarity with organisations and movements of citizens in Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, taking to the streets in legitimate protest against their government’s reduction of civil liberty. Finally, we will continue to work in partnership with local organisations for the defence of a Europe of freedom and democracy.
Click here to read the full Civil Society Europe communication
[1] EP Resolution on the situation of fundamental rights: standards and practices in Hungary (pursuant to the European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2012) adopted in July 2013

News from the Forum 



17-19/02 CREATE I REACT programme

The European Civic Forum and European Alternatives are organising the final session of the CREATE I REACT programme, in the frame of the CITIZEN RIGHTS project, led by European Alternatives.
Lobbyists and policy professionals aim to play a large role in influencing European policy in Brussels. Alongside policy work though, a number of mechanisms also exist to enable civil society and citizen voices to be heard at the European level, from consultations to European Citizen Initiatives.
A number of networks have been developed to amplify the voices of civil society, and a number of European Citizen Initiatives have already taken place, but there is much scope for a strengthened activist and civil society voice on the European level.
This session focused on effective advocacy towards European institutions, citizen lobbying, and using European level tools to influence policy for rights protection. It also looks forward to how civil society can develop better communication channels with the EU, particularly in light of Article 11 TEU. Participants and trainers will notably discuss the relationship building with the European Commission and Parliament, but also the understanding of existing networks, the use of the ECI, the understanding of EU policy input mechanisms and of participation rights in the EU.
The policy report, which comes as part of a toolkit, has been produced jointly by the European Civic Forum and European Alternatives. You can already read and download it here.


18/02 Public Debate in Brussels

As part of the CREATE I REACT programme, a public debate with MEPs and European Commission representatives took place on 18 February, from 11:00 to 12:30 pm in Brussels.
This event, entitled “Time to declare a state of Democracy!”, came at a juncture in time where fundamental rights and the European Union’s founding principles of human dignity, freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, solidarity, non-discrimination, and equality are at the centre of debate all across Europe. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance and justice prevail. Article 2 has a prominent place in the EU treaties, yet a vast gap exists between these rights and values and their exercise and implementation.
Facing such worrying trends, which amount to a serious threat towards European democracy, the response of the European institutions is still lacking any serious impact. As stressed by MEP Tanja Fajon, the European Parliament lacks the tools to prevent such trends from growing, while the European Commission’s decisions are heavily impacted by the political influences, generally coming from the Council of the EU.
A complete report and analysis of the discussions will soon be available on ECF and European Alternatives’ website.


Survey on Civic Space in Europe

Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen’s participation are launching a survey open to associations and leading activists in the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, and the candidate countries to the EU Accession: Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey.
The purpose of the survey is to map out key trends on civic space in Europe. Given recent developments, the survey will allow us to assess how operating conditions for civil society have changed in Europe over the past 12 months, what are the emerging trends and challenges that civil society organisations have to face, as well as the possibility to develop common responses. The survey deals with civic space, civil society collaboration and support, obstacles and challenges facing civil society at national level and broader political trends in Europe.
In order to ensure the broadest possible range of views, we would like to invite you to disseminate the survey widely within your network. The findings will be made freely available for your information and use. All responses will be confidential, will not be shared with third parties and will be analysed as a collective dataset.
The survey includes 30 questions and should not take more than 15 minutes.
Click here to complete the survey in English or in French.


News from the Network


GONG Survey about Civic Education

ECF Croatia-based member organisation GONG invites you to participate in the study on the implementation of human rights and democratic citizenship and civic education in your country.
Organised efforts were made to include civic education in Croatian Curricula since 1999, but this education is still not available to all students. Croatia is now in the middle of a process of educational reform, which makes examples of good practices from Europe even more important.
Since civic education in European countries is not carried out in the same way, information about the implementation and good examples are of great importance for improvement not only of Croatian education system but for us all. The aim of this study is to collect data on implementation of civic education within and outside of formal education system. Collected data will be compared with observations and official data in order to create recommendations for improvement.
Your observations and comments will be anonymously incorporated into final research report comprising experience from ten European countries. If you are interested in results, we would be happy to share it with you in order to transfer knowledge and experience.
The questionnaire in English and Croatian language is attached to this email and we kindly ask you to fill out the attached document (in English or Croatian which suits you the best) and send it back to us on e-mail: until 10th February 2016. If you are unable to answer by that date just send us a message and we could prolong it for a few days, and if you do not know the answers to some questions, please leave the field empty. In case you can recommend another organisation that might provide answers to these questions, we would appreciate that you provide us contact to include them in this study.


Wake Up Europe initiative

A group of civil society organisations, including ECF French and Italian members La Ligue de l’Enseignement and ARCI, launched a European Citizens’ Initiative, called “Wake Up Europe”. The latter notably calls on the EU to go further and trigger the procedure laid out in the Treaty of European Union (Article 7) to check whether the Orban government policies and legislative changes respect European values.
ECF Secretariat already invited each of its members to join the initiative and contribute to ensure visibility, dissemination and collection of signatures within the different countries where its members are based.
The founders of the initiatives believe that Democracy is a pillar of the European project which cannot be restricted or even threatened. This initiative aims at reinforcing a commitment for a Europe based on the respect of fundamental rights. As explained on the initiative’s website, the organisers also want EU leaders to start speaking out and the European Commission to behave as guardian of the Treaties. Finally, “Wake Up Europe” intends to trigger a public debate about the increasing breaches of human rights happening on European soil.


Netwerk Democratie initiative « Europe by People »

The European Cultural Foundation (ECF), Netwerk Democratie and Pakhuis de Zwijger organise a series of events on democratic and cultural renewal in Europe from a citizen’s perspective. More and more urban communities are confronted with urgent challenges on a daily basis. Many European cities are losing their cultural identity to gentrification processes due to commercial interests. Migration puts new pressures on cities but also offers opportunities to re-think themselves. This debate series explores different city policies and alternative practices which are reinvigorating democracy and transforming our cities and regions for the common good. We will meet people who are part of a growing movement of urban citizen co-development who are tackling issues on urban planning, cultural community initiatives, safeguarding and preservation of public space and participatory governance.
More information:


GSI Italia call for partners 

GSI Italia, an Italy-based member organisation, is looking for partners for a call under the "Europe for Citizens" Programme, Strand 2 "Democratic engagement and civic participation" Measure "Civil Society Projects", whose deadline is March 1st.
The project, entitled “EMOTIONAL: active and responsible haemoglobin” is aimed at fostering intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding through the participation of European citizens together with Third Countries citizens who legally stay in the EU.
The project aims to draw a counter-narrative, in order to support immigrants who accept the challenge of a concrete demonstration of belonging to the community that welcomed them, with the adoption of a selfless behaviour, of civic responsibility, as the practice of free, voluntary and periodic donation of blood and, occasionally, of cells and organs.
Public local/regional authorities or non-profit organisations, including civil society organisations, educational, cultural or research institutions, town-twinning committees and networks are welcome to apply for the project with GSI Italia.




News from the Institutions


EU Commission launches preliminary assessment over Poland – Rule of Law

The European Commission launched for the first time ever a probe on 13 January into judicial changes introduced by Poland's new government led by Law and Justice party, in order to see if they violate EU democratic rules and merit punitive measures.
The move comes amid growing concern over changes to Poland's constitutional court and increased control over state media introduced by the conservative, Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party (PiS), which won the general elections in October and earned a majority of seats in the Sejm (Polish National Assembly).
If convicted guilty of systemic breach in the Rule of Law, a country can temporarily lose its EU voting rights, but the procedure has not been used before, and officials say they hope it does not come to that. The Rule of Law mechanism was introduced in 2014 by then Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, who called it a “pre-Article 7”.
However, many civil society organisations hope that the European Commission will continue in this direction and also launch investigations against other countries, which do not comply with the common rules and European Treaties, as for instance Hungary.
These recent threats to European democratic pillars will notably be debated during the public roundtable scheduled on 18th February in Brussels, together with European Alternatives. 


Commission ignoring the ECI’s positive potential for democracy

ECF Board member representing IRI-Europe, Carsten Berg, recently published an opinion on Euractiv’s website, regretting the European Commission’s stance towards the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). In his column, he reminds that the Commission has labelled the ECI as a danger, which warned against the use of this tool by Eurosceptic campaigners, thus weakening the only democratic tool by which citizens may directly influence the EU policy agenda.
Rather than recognise its democratic potential and make it easier for citizens to use by proposing a full legislative revision, they’ve labelled the ECI a danger and discussed how to further reduce its already minimal political impact. Their reactions seem to stem from limited awareness and misunderstandings of how the ECI has worked in practice. At the 9 December 2015 Commission meeting, Commissioner Timmermans introduced a new ECI procedure. He informed Commissioners of the registration of new ECIs. Previously they were only informed when an ECI succeeded. As it just so happens, the first ECI to be shared in this way, Mum, Dad & Kids, addresses arguably the most divisive social issue of our time: same sex marriage. With such controversial ECIs top-of-mind, the discussion of the ECI instrument that followed seemed to be based on incomplete and misleading information.
According to the meeting minutes, the Commissioners “regretted that…citizens’ initiatives did not always move European law or the European project forward…and ultimately generated Euroscepticism”. What they failed to note was that the ECI has been constrained by an overly strict implementing regulation. Equally problematic have been the Commission’s failure to register numerous ECIs, including Stop TTIP, and to act on successful ECIs. Only three out of nearly 50 proposed ECIs succeeded and none led to legislative change.



European Parliament hearing on fundamental rights
The European Parliament, in its resolution of 10 June 2015 (P8_TA (2015)0227)) mandated the LIBE Committee to "contribute to the development and elaboration of this proposal (cc. the establishment of an EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights) in the form of a legislative own-initiative report ".
Following a first mini-hearing in December, a second hearing was organised in the frame of the preparatory process for this LIBE legislative own-initiative report (under art. 225 TFEU).
The role of the judiciary – be it at national or European level – in safeguarding democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights, cannot be overstated. Therefore, the current parliamentary reflection on an EU relevant framework for the safeguard of those values can only profit from judicial experience in setting relevant benchmarks and defending those against possible risks. In that spirit, the hearing is gathering senior judges from the Court of Justice of the EU, the European Court of Human Rights, as well as national instances, who will present their relevant experiences from everyday court practice.
Complete interventions and presentations can now be found on the event’s webpage.


23.02.2016 / Live debate: MEPs with Tusk and Juncker about EU-UK reform deal / Brussels / Debate.  The 19 February settlement for the United Kingdom and its consequences for the Union as a whole will be debated with Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Live streaming can be found here. 

25.02.2016 / Freedom of movement: perspectives on EU migration / Oxford, United Kingdom / Public event. In the third meetup of New Europeans Oxford, we will discuss EU migration and its effect on the current political and social landscape.

17-18.03.2016 / Concluding Conference: Rural Isolation of Citizens in Europe / Amsterdam, Netherlands / Public event/ Volonteurope is teaming up with its Dutch members Humanitas and LVKK to hold a conference on the Rural Isolation of Citizens in Europe.

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