Civic Space Watch is a newsletter reguarly sent on each 2nd Monday of the month. It is based on updates, initatives, events, resources collected through the website of Civic Space Watch and powered by the European Civic Forum. If you would like to contribute, please write to


  1. Under scrutiny: developments worth monitoring 
  2. Initiatives worth supporting 
  3. Institutional corner 
  4. Resources
  5. Research & advocacy

Under scrutiny: developments worth monitoring

Advocate General of the CJEU – Hungarian Law that restricts NGO financing from abroad is incompatible with EU Law

According to the Court of Justice Advocate General’s opinion, the fact that under the Hungarian 2017 Lex NGO, civil society organisations receiving foreign donations are subject to restrictions violates the right to the protection of private life and the right to freedom of association and infringes the principle of free movement of capital. (Source: Hungarian Helsinki Committee)

Anti-hate speech Bill restricting online civic space closer to final approval

A very controversial legislative bill countering online hate speech in France is heading for final discussion and definitive approval in the French Parliament. (Source: ECNL)

Death by prone restraint sparks public outcry against police violence

Since late 2018, in France repeated demonstrations brought to the streets  tens of thousands people, some reaching peaks of over a million people protesting across the country. They were part of mobilisions on social issues, mostly with the Gilets Jaunes movement and now against a systemic reform of the pension system. The response of authorities repeatedly included a disproportionate use of force. 

A new type of conflict – the ongoing struggle for pensions (Source: OpenDemocracy)

Smear campaign against civil society organisations intensifies

Over sixty Bulgarian NGOs alert of a new wave of attacks against civil society organizations taking place in Bulgaria. Read their letter calling EU institutions to strongly recognise the importance of civil society and the Bulgarian government to protect civil society against the attacks.

Sea-Watch captain free after court order (UPDATED)

Italy’s highest court confirmed that the arrest of Carola Rackete in June was unlawful. The Sea-Watch captain has stated on Twitter that to avoid similar mistakes happening in the future we need to reform the outdated Facilitation Directive. (Source: Liberties)

The right to protest in Spanish Courts – Statement by the International Trial Watch

The International Trial Watch is a platform of organisations working to defend human rights and freedoms which has organized and facilitated the participation of 62 observers, 34 of whom are internationals from 17 different countries in the trial of Catalan political prisoners and social leaders that took place in the Spanish Supreme Court in 2019. On 21 January, in Geneva, they shared insights on the status of right to peaceful protest in Spain.

It will now be easier to identify Catalan police officers – proposal voted by the Parliament implemented

Law enforcement officers of the Catalan police will wear a short number on the front and behind the uniform and also on the helmet, as requested by Parliament. (Source: Naciolleida)

Red Malla (Right to Protest Observatory) reports on incidents related to the right to protest in January 2020

We started discussing shrinking civic space before it was too late – Interview with VIA IURIS’ Ivana Kohutková

We spoke with Ivana Kohutková, coordinator of VIA IURIS’s programme Civil Society, to learn more about the state of civic space in Slovakia and how civil society learnt from  previous experiences in Hungary and Poland and re-organised their work vis a vis governments’ pressures.

2020 Report on Human Rights

Human rights in Estonia are not yet in crisis. But the warning signs, which we also highlight in the report, should make all human rights supporters think. When standing up for human rights in any area [...] more work is needed to establish a human rights culture. Summary of key findings based on the report available. (Source: Human Rights Center)

Initiatives worth supporting

Families of victims of police violence demand the prohibition of deadly arrest techniques and weapons used by the police and the truth in court cases.
They are calling for a demonstration on 12 March 2020. Read and support their demands and SIGN THE APPEAL HERE. Read more here.
European Civic Forum and other 26 organisations signed the letter to Vice-President of the European Commission Věra Jourová in regards to the EU legislation to deter Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs). Download the letter here.
Environmental Partnership Foundation (Ökotárs Alapítvány) is collecting signatures until 18 February 2020 on Recommendations for a Comprehensive European Policy and Strategy on Civil Society. The initiatives addresses EU institutions, in particolar the European Commission, and member states with the goal to push for a more systematic and comprehensive approach for an enabling environment for civil society in Europe, at times of shrinking space. Sign the letter here.
Stories of Resistance Series: 
Defender a Quien Defiende from Spain
“We started to work in 2014, one year before the approval of the so-called Gag Laws in Spain in the face of the regression of rights we could face. Members of the platform are movements and organisations that work on a multitude of issues related to human rights (environment, feminism, housing, migrations, institutional violence...). However, it is the right to protest that brought us together!” - Thais Bonilla and Serlinda Vigara
Read the story
Stories of Resistance Series:
Mediterranea | Saving Humans from Italy
“Mediterranea is not an NGO, but as we define it, - an NGA, a Non-Governmental Action: it is born from a group of friends and some associations. We were many - with diverse backgrounds, ways of acting and training, but united by years of concern and fights for the defence and protection of the rights of all. [Together we] took an action [that was] extraordinary but also needed, tangible, like buying a ship and putting it at sea.” - Alessandra Sciurba
Read the story

Institutional corner

World NGO Day – Seminar: “From the Past to the Future: A Living Civic Space for a Living Democracy”

Conference of INGOs: thematic study on “Using criminal law to restrict the work of NGOs supporting refugees and other migrants in CoE Member States


RCMF: SLAPPs – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation
SLAPPs have become a serious threat for media freedom and democratic participation, and require a robust response. SLAPPs' effects on freedom of expression and quality of life, on democracy and quality of journalism, have basically remained unaltered through the years and the dossier addresses them from different perspectives. Read more
ECNL: How can EU Law safeguard civic space and the right to privacy? We are one step forward.
ECNL [...] has been working on a Handbook on how to use EU Law to defend civic space. The Handbook aims to be a user-friendly guide for CSOs who want to know when and how they can use EU law arguments to assess national laws that may negatively impact their mission. Read more

ReSOMA: How could strategic litigation prevent policing of humanitarianism?
This ReSOMA brief explores some options for strategic litigation and advocacy to stop and prevent the criminalisation of migration and wider policing of humanitarianism. Read more

CIVICUS: Holding the Mirror up to Ourselves – Diversity and Inclusion Practices and Trends in Civil Society Organisation
Civicus published a report on CSOs with two main goals: to identify practices, trends and innovations in promoting and ensuring diversity and inclusion within CSOs, from the starting point of considering organisational cultures; to identify practical suggestions and examples on how to implement diversity and inclusion practices beyond theory. Read more

ECNL: Counter-terrorism, soft law, hard consequences
ECNL has drafted briefer on how the increasing amount of soft law in the field of countering terrorism becomes hard law, how this may lead to human rights violations and what ECNL recommendations are. Read more

Looking Back at 2019: Year of Mass Protests Across Balkans
Balkan Insight proposes a review of the most important protests that took place in the Balkans in 2019. Read more

CIVICUS: ANTI-RIGHTS GROUPS -‘Protesting once is not enough; we need to fight back every single day’
CIVICUS speaks about civil society protests against the World Congress of Families held in Verona, Italy, with Asia Leofreddi, researcher at University of Padua. Read more

Research & advocacy

Activizenship #4 - Civic Space Watch 2019 | Success Stories of Resistance
A magazine edited by the European Civic Forum, aiming to connect ideas and experiences, explore and  capture current trends and transformations affecting civil society in Europe and beyond.  brings together stories and analyses to shed light on the potential of civic activism on democratic, social, environmental, cultural and  political issues to contribute to renewing, rethinking and reshaping a poetics of citizenship. Download it here.
Toward an enabling environment for civil society in Europe
It provides recommendations to European policy-makers towards creating an enabling environment for civil society all over Europe. The recommendations are based on the analysis of the challenges perceived by ECF members and on the evidence collected through the platform Civic Space Watch, the CIVICUS Monitor and the report on civic space in 2017 by Civil Society Europe. Download the publication here.
Berlin Agenda
It compiles positions, proposals and demands previously adopted and published by numerous civil society networks, associations, foundations and think tanks, sorted under core common issues: A more democratic Europe, with a vital Civic Space and based upon the paradigms of Sustainability and Social Equality. Download it here.
Ask for a legal opinion on national legislation from ECNL!
ECNL is a leading expert on legal issues affecting the work of civil society. They provide legal opinions about laws and policies affecting CSOs, strategic advice and also facilitate connections with pro-bono lawyers and European human rights bodies. Should you feel that you could benefit from ECNL advice and collaboration, feel free to get in touch with ECNL and discuss feasibility of such collaboration.
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