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

8 March 2020 - International Women’s Day

Women's organisations face pressures,
but still win major fights for gender equality in Europe

International Women’s Day was established at the beginning of the 20th century as a day of strike by women's movements
in Europe and Northern America.
It was a day to demand equal rights in the political and economic arenas, fighting against poor working conditions and for universal suffrage.

A century later, important achievements have been reached in these domains, but issues such as gender pay gap, lack of meaningful political participation and representation, restriction on sexual and reproductive rights are (still) some of the key points 
women (and men) take the streets for.   

Amid the chaotic and gloomy news across Europe of these days, we want to share some recent inspirational victories and achievements on gender equality. We want to remind ourselves of the relentless efforts of civil society organisations, equality bodies, social movements towards equality,
in spite of pressures and challenges.

In solidarity

Slovakia: Rejection of regressive abortion law is a victory for women’s rights  

One year post Repeal in Ireland  

Europe: Spain to become tenth country in Europe to define rape as sex without consent

Tampon tax: Italy announces VAT cut on sanitary products

Feminism comes of age in Finland as female coalition takes the reins

Consultation on ECF activities concerning backsliding of fundamental rights, the space to defend them and the responses to reclaim them

The European Civic Forum (ECF) is looking to improve the Civic Space Watch website and adjust the priorities of its activities concerning backsliding of fundamental rights, the space to defend them and the responses to reclaim them to the new political and institutional landscape.
This survey is part of a consultation to feed into this work.

Goals of the survey:
1. Mapping members and partners activities related to backsliding of fundamental rights, the space to defend them and response to reclaim them for 2020 and beyond
2. Mapping needs concerning civic space that can be addressed better transnationally through network-building, coordination, exchange of practices, campaigning...
3. Evaluating current ECF activities and tools in the field of civic space, including the Civic Space Watch
4. Mapping existing resources (analyses, toolkits, training, campaigns, pro-bono expertise…) that should be immediately available to actors under pressure and what partnerships should be built to make them available
5. Gaining insights on how to best spread the information and resources collected on the Civic Space Watch

We deeply appreciate your contribution!


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

Country currently under the spotlight

Worrying developments have been taking place in Greece in the last weeks and the situation for fundamental freedom is rapidly deteriorating. Along the Greek-Turkish border, Greek authorities are preventing people from entering the country, while on several "hot-spot" islands, residents are violently attacking boats carrying people from Turkey as well as NGOs and journalists reporting the situation. The Greek PM has announced the government will suspend the right to ask for asylum for one month, justifying the move by "sudden, massive, organised and coordinated pressure from population movements to its eastern, land and sea borders".

Violence against migrants, volunteers and NGOs intensifies in the Islands – Interview with Greek Forum of Refugees

Tensions on the Greek islands have been skyrocketing in the last month following an aggressive government-led smear campaign against volunteers and NGOs helping migrants and refugees. We interviewed Greek Forum of Refugees, an association of refugees and migrants’ communities based in Athens. The main goal of the network is to empower these communities to advocate for their rights and their obligations as potential citizens of Greece and Europe.

Right Wing Attacks on Refugees, Volunteers, and Locals in Lesvos

On February 3, Afghan residents of Moria Camp organized a march to protest and make their desperation public.  About midway, the protesters were confronted by riot police who unleashed torrents of tear gas on the crowd of an estimated 2,000 peaceful protesters, which included a mix of men, women, and children. (Source: Are you Syrious?)

Foreign Press Association announcement on the attacks against journalists on the island of Lesvos – Syrian journalist shot and killed by Greek Police

Several media outlets have reported on the attacks on journalists as well as people arriving on boats from Turkey. Additionally, Ahmed Abu Emad, a refugee and journalist from Aleppo, was shot in the throat by Greek police and died of his injury. (Sources: FPA, The Independent, Middle East Monitor)

Under scrutiny: developments worth monitoring

People march to protest PM Orban’s anti-Roma campaign

On Sunday 23 February, more than two thousands people marched to the Parliament against the refusal of the Hungarian government to pay compensation for Roma children who were segregated and denied education in the east of the country. Among the protesters, Roma families and civil society groups. (Source: Reuters)

Human rights and Greta on state media watch list

Anyone in state-owned media who wants to cover issues related to the climate activist Greta Thunberg needs permission from higher authorities. A list of sensitive topics already existed for which approval was needed in order to cover the issue. (Source: Politico)

Four journalists fired and one photographer threatened by the Mossos, among the new Censorship Map cases

Six cases involving journalists were reported in the Censorship Map in two weeks. (Source:

Red Malla (right to protest observatory) reports on incidents in February 2020

Police accused of excessive violence during feminist march in Paris

A march organised by feminist groups took place on Saturday 7 March in Paris, ahead of the International Women’s Rights Day. As the march was getting closer to an end, the police charged protesters and used teargas to scatter them. Journalists and participants to the demonstration reported a kettling strategy of the police, impeding several groups to leave the assembly through nearby streets, instead surrounding them and pushing them into the metro station “République”.

State violence – when does democracy cease to exist?

Already one year ago, the Council of Europe through its Commissioner for Human Rights expressed “very serious concerns” about the type of injuries wreaked on Gilets Jaunes protesters (the Yellow Vests) by French police forces. One year later the picture is frightening, a fortiori when it comes to a democracy. (Source: Open Democracy)

Extinction Rebellion climate activists face heavy policing

In the last ten years, English police have routinely labelled people who are peacefully protesting, together with campaigns associated with these movements as cases of “domestic extremism”. Stigmatising protests with this label has a chilling effect on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, as protesters feel intimidated and therefore refrain from joining demonstrations. (Source: ECF for Civicus Monitor)

Government moves towards inclusion of civil society but capacity of CSOs still a challenge

Since the new government took power in early 2019, associations have reported an improvement in conditions and an increase in recognition in the last year.There is an increased participation by members of parliament towards civil society’s events and activities. The government also showed more political will to include CSOs in policy-making, although the understanding of the sector and sensitivity towards civil society’s issues depend on the Ministry in question. (Source: ECF for Civicus Monitor)

State financed civil society fund relocates from capital city, attacks on minority rights

In 2019 the Minister decided that the National Foundation of Civil Society (KÜSK) and the public fund for civil society in Estonia, based in Tallinn, would relocate as part of the government’s wider plan to move public service positions out of the capital. (Source: ECF for Civicus Monitor)

The far right – Narratives, strategies and left responses

Two successful referenda on key social issues (on same sex marriage and the liberalisation of reproductive health) provided a rallying point for the right wing social conservativism into which the far right has fully inserted itself. Their campaigns have been largely unsuccessful on the ground but have had the effect of bringing disparate far right groupings into contact with each other online. Examples of how these groups have mobilised offline include anti-migrant rallies in villages across Ireland, organising aggressive counter-demonstrations, intimidation techniques targeting groups involved in migrant or asylum-seeking solidarity work (Source: Brexit, Europe and the Left)

The far right – Narratives, strategies and left responses (Part 2)

Initiatives worth supporting

Negotiations of the next 7-year EU budget are accelerating. Member states will meet again to discuss the future EU budget, sometime in March or April. It is the right time to remind them about the need to allocate more funds for the Rights and Values  programme which can be the EU’s first financial instrument designed to build the capacity of civil society organisations to promote and protect our common values of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. Unfortunately, there has been no clear sign thus far of the member states being committed to substantially increase programme’s budget. But we still can win. Read what you and your organisation can do HERE.
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 14 March 2020. Read and support their demands and SIGN THE APPEAL HERE. Read more here.
We interviewed Ellie Harrison, English activist and artist based in Glasgow that launched several campaigns for the public ownership of public transport, such as Bring Back British Rail in 2009 and Get Glasgow Moving in 2016.
Read more about the fight for public ownership of the transport system in the UK 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.

Institutional corner

European Greens: On World NGO Day raising our voice on shrinking civic space in Europe is more important than ever

Council of Europe: Time to immediately act and to address humanitarian and protection needs of people trapped between Turkey and Greece


European Alternatives: Transeuropa Caravans – Best practices and recommendations
A group of young activists of Transeuropa Caravans was trained as peer leaders on EU rights and responsibilities for mobile citizens across Europe. They travelled to meet European citizens, inform them directly, connect their stories and their struggles, and mobilize together to promote electoral rights and participation of EU. A range of best practices – local or regional initiatives that the Transeuropa Caravans approached and explored in person are highlighted in this publication. Read more
Europe’s Democracy Challenge: Citizen Participation in and Beyond Elections
The absence of an authentic pan-European party system heavily influences the electoral game and partisan competition, which remain largely national. This absence also militates against the emergence of a pan-European public opinion capable of holding national political class accountable transnationally. Alberto Alemanno talks about the challenges of European Democracy. Read more

International Press Institute – Protocol for newsrooms to support journalists targeted with online harassment
Online harassment and attacks on journalists – including threats, insults and smear campaigns – are increasingly deployed as a means to silence journalists and challenge their credibility in the public arena. While addressing online harassment and its negative impact on the free flow of information requires a multi-actor approach, newsrooms have a key role to play in protecting their journalists from the professional and personal harm that harassment can produce. Read more

Amnesty International: Report “Punishing compassion – Solidarity on trial in in Fortress Europe”
In recent years, human rights defenders and civil society organizations that have helped refugees and migrants have been subjected to unfounded criminal proceedings, undue restrictions of their activities, intimidation, harassment, and smear campaigns in several European countries. Their acts of assistance and solidarity have placed them on a collision course with European migration policies. These policies are aimed at preventing refugees and migrants from reaching the EU, at containing those who make it to Europe in their first country of arrival, and at deporting as many as possible back to their countries of origin. Read more

Freemuse: REPORT “Security, creativity, tolerance and their co-existance: the new European agenda on freedom of artistic expression”
The report outlines how European governments carry the legal responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill obligations to artistic freedom. It further draws attention to the alarming trend of governments targeting artists under the existing laws such as anti-terrorism legislation, or with the use of laws prohibiting offending religion such as hurting “religious feelings” and art that is considered to be “blasphemous” or “obscene”. 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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