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State of the Union Address: 
To defend democracy, it must answer people's needs. Involving CSOs in EU policy-making dialogue is integral to achieving this. 

President von der Leyen’s State of the Union address touched upon many issues and broadly formulated proposals, often not sufficiently detailed for immediate in-depth analysis. In this editorial we look at the narrative and the proposals to reinforce European democracy.

We agree with President von der Leyen that “Today we all see that we must fight for our democracies. Every single day.” Putting the “defence of democracy” centre-stage is crucial and more than welcome. In the EU, even mature democracies see the far-right’s electoral progress, and their narratives contaminating mainstream parties’ programmes. The success of the far-right in Sweden and Italy are the most recent examples, with Italy heading towards its first post-war government led by a prime minister from a post-fascist party.

Why do we repeatedly say that the far-right is a danger for democracy? Because at the centre of their programme lies the exclusionary approach that “rights are not for all”, that some are more entitled than others to social and economic rights in particular. Such programmes, if implemented, would bring Europe back to the 1930s. It would represent a total breach of the spirit and the letter of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the EU’s own Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Does President von der Leyen provide a proper answer to the challenges facing democracy in the EU? We heard that “foreign entities are funding institutes that undermine our values”, but also that we must “not allow any autocracy’s Trojan horses to attack our democracies from within”. Democracy is seen to be primarily at risk because of foreign attacks. Then comes the need for “judicial independence”, “the protection of the budget through the conditionality mechanism”, and “the updating of the legislative framework for fighting corruption”, elements that are narrowly connected to the EU institutional responsibilities. Finally, she quoted David Sassoli’s line that “Democracy has not gone out of fashion, but it must update itself in order to keep improving people's lives.” With this quote, President von der Leyen clearly implied that the quality of democracy is to be assessed according to its capacity to deliver public policies that answer people’s needs.

This is a welcome acknowledgement after several crises in EU countries with painful human, social and democratic consequences, but the wording “democracy must update itself” is somewhat odd. It is policy making that needs updating in order to improve people’s life. And those responsible for policy making are policy makers! It is because proper policies have not been pursued that a significant part of the population in Europe demonstrates disaffection with democracy by voting for the far-right, or not at all. Policy makers cannot simply say to these people that democracy is at risk because of external factors; that democracy is better than autocracy. They have to demonstrate that democracy works for answering people’s economic and social needs.

ECF and CSE meet with Commission Vice President Šuica's cabinet

The meeting was organised as a follow-up to the Conference on the Future of Europe and a letter sent to Commission President von der Leyen in June this year, endorsed by nearly 350 CSOs from across Europe, which called on the European Commission to include a proposal for a European Civil Society Strategy in the 2023 work programme. READ MORE

Save the date: European Civic Academy 2022

The European Civic Academy will return on 10-11 November 2022 in Florence, bringing together civil society actors and academics. This year’s event is organised in cooperation with the Centre on Social Movement Studies (Cosmos) of the Scuola Normale Superiore, Florence. Against the backdrop of multifaceted global crises, the academy will focus on how civil society can be resilient and drive forward progressive change. This year’s event occurs alongside the 20th anniversary of the European Social Forum. Stay tuned for more information.

ECF National Platforms meet to discuss EU framework for cross-border recognition of associations

This morning, national platforms met to discuss the European Commission's legislative initiative on cross-border recognition of associations. This is a hugely important issue which ECF has been campaigning on for over a decade. The Commission is currently accepting feedback on the proposal until 28 October. Civil Society Europe has also launched a survey for NGOs and associations to share the challenges they face when operating in another EU country or receiving donations. Both of these are important opportunities to share your experiences! READ MORE

New ECF report calls for a comprehensive EU Civil Society Strategy to empower civic organisations

On 13 July, the European Commission published its third annual report reviewing the rule of law infrastructure and developments in 2021. ECF took part in the consultation, showcasing examples of how civil society strengthens and defends the rule of law, and highlighting developments in 15 countries.
Alongside other civic actors and academics, we have provided concrete recommendations on how to strengthen the process and follow up. READ MORE

France: Grassroots climate movement faces threats of sanctions under the Separatism Bill

In France, the prefect of the Vienne police department wrote to local officials in Potiers, urging them to withdraw funding from the “Village des Alternatives” festival organised by the grassroots climate movement Alternatiba. The organisers planned to hold civil disobedience workshops which the prefect argued would breach the “contract of republican commitment”, introduced by the so-called “Separatism Bill”... READ MORE

Europride in Serbia: Success and defeat 

The main Europride demonstration took place successfully in Belgrade on 17 September. The run-up to the event was marked with controversy after Serbian President Aleksander Vucic called for it to be cancelled, citing safety concerns. Despite being banned by the police, several thousand people attended the march safely... READ MORE

Proximity, Inclusion, Development and Sustainability in the Peripheries - International Conference

ECF Advocacy and research coordinator Giada Negri will participate in the International Conference "Third Sector leader of the Social Economy. Proximity, Inclusion, Development and Sustainability in the Peripheries" organised by the Italian Forum del Terzo Settore (“Forum of the third sector”) in Rome on 13-14 October. The conference will discuss tools for involving social actors in participative forms of governance, the Italian suburbs as places of growing inequality and poverty but also of significant activism, and much more... READ THE PROGRAMME (in Italian) and REGISTER HERE

ECF Secretariat welcomes new members

At the start of the month, ECF welcomed two members to its secretariat: Benjamin Goodwin, Communications and Campaigns Officer, and Irene Bellomo, Civic Space Trainee. Benjamin studied political science in London and Brussels and has a background in journalism, public affairs, and communications. You can find him on LinkedIn or get in touch via email. Irene has background in law and human rights. You can reach her via email.

Novact: Transparency and accountability of the police forces in the Spanish State

On 6-7 October, the conference 'Transparency and accountability of the police forces in the Spanish State' will be held in Barcelona and online. Organised by Novact, Irídia and Rights International Spain (RIS), the conference will bring together experts, public administrations and CSOs to debate existing mechanisms for transparency, oversight and accountability in the excessive use of force by the police. The event will present the research that the organisations have carried out in relation to the mechanisms for transparency and accountability of public administrations in irregular police action... READ MORE

Movimento Europeo Italia: Let us give a democratic dimension to the European Political Community

Earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron proposed the creation of a European Political Community, a body to bring together the EU27, EU candidate countries, EFTA countries, the UK and potentially others. Ahead of the first EPC summit on October 6-7, European Movement Italy President Pier Virgilio Dastoli argues that the EPC must not just be an intergovernmental forum... READ MORE

Gong: Democracy watchdog celebrates 25th birthday

On International Day of Democracy, September 15th, activists and friends of the civil society organisation Gong celebrated the first 25 years of the organisation's work with a gathering in the Urania Hall in Zagreb. The organisation was initially founded to observe elections and since then has campaigned for more transparency, more participation by women, more institutional responsibility, a greater space for democratic decision-making with firm protection of human and civil rights and freedoms and strengthening the voices of citizens... READ MORE

European House: What do we cook in sorrow? – Online event at EU Regions Week 2022

European House Budapest will host an online session on Tuesday, 11 October 2022 at the EURegionsWeek2022. Join to discuss the pivotal role of culture in promoting citizens’ engagement and intergenerational dialogue in times of crisis and the perspectives of European cooperation in turbulent times. All these during the European Year of Youth 2022. European House’s guests are Eugenia Kuznetsova (Ukraine), Stefano Ingallina (Italy) and Magda Leszczyna-Rzucidło (Poland). Introductory remarks by Miklos Barabas (Hungary)... REGISTER HERE

Nyt Europa: chARTer project approved

The European Commission has approved the chARTer project proposal. Led by Nyt Europa, the project aims to use art to increase awareness of EU fundamental rights and empower people to act, engage and vote. The consortium also includes ECF and its members, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and Democracy International. The project is based on the belief that by increasing awareness of rights, you increase the ability of people to act and react when they are not being respected. Stay tuned for more information!

Òmnium Cultural: Spain answers complaint, justifying police infiltration in youth groups

Sapin's interior ministry has defended planting undercover officers in youth groups in a response to a judicial complaint laid by Òmnium Cultural. The organisation filed the complaint after news emerged of two cases of undercover police being placed in pro-independence Catalan youth movements. The ministry defended its actions by linking the movements with terrorism. Òmnium President Xavier Antich called these actions a clear violation of fundamental rights... READ MORE

Okotars Alapitvany: Strategic Partnerships of Public Administration and NGOs in Building a Democratic Society in Europe - Prague Conference 17-18 October

Join NGOs, network organisations and representatives from public administrations for a two-day conference in Prague. The event will discuss how to create the right conditions at national and EU level to support civil society, with a focus on the Czech strategy for cooperation between NGOs and public administration. The conference is being organised by Glopolis, on behalf of NeoN; Partnership Foundation on behalf of Reclaim Our Civil Space; the Czech Government Council for Non-State Non-Profit Organisations; and Spiralis. Stay tuned for more information...

Civic Alliance - Latvia: Latvian NGOs call on the Prime Minister to ensure civic dialogue

Latvian NGOs have called on the Prime Minister to put civic dialogue into practice, designate a responsible institution for civic society strengthening and development policy, and ensure public participation and transparency in public funding issues. They made the call at a meeting of the Council for Implentation of the Memorandum of Co-operation between Non-governmental Organisations and the Cabinet of Ministers... READ MORE

EU Fundamental Rights Agency: Europe's civil society: still under pressure - 2022 update
In July, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights released its 2022 report on civil society. The report recognises the vital role CSOs play in promoting the rule of law and in supporting people in times of crisis, including Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. The report also highlights the fact that CSOs are under pressure and calls for the EU to create ‘a more conducive working environment for civil society’. READ THE REPORT HERE

European Parliament: MEPs declare Hungary no longer a ‘full democracy’
The European Parliament has adopted a report declaring that Hungary is no longer a ‘full democracy’, but a ‘hybrid regime of electoral autocracy’. The report, adopted by 433 votes to 123, condemns the ‘deliberate and systematic efforts of the Hungarian government’ to undermine European values, and calls on the Commission to take further action. READ MORE

European Parliament: ‘Assessing the resilience of the French legal order to an authoritarian shock’ - Greens/EFA group publish report

Could France suffer the same democratic decline as Hungary and Poland? That is the question tackled in a new report commissioned by the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament. The rise of the far-right in France, as well as the violent response to the gilets jaunes protests and the ‘Global Security Law’ have prompted fears about the direction that the country is heading in. The study concludes that France ‘seems particularly poorly placed to resist’ a roll-back of democratic checks and balances from a new authoritarian government. It finds that the weakening of civil society in recent years contributes to this vulnerability. READ THE REPORT (in French), or THE SUMMARY (in English).

Council of Europe: Awareness raising video: "Civil Society: Sustaining Democracy"

The Council of Europe Conference of INGOs has published a new awareness raising video covering the framework for legal status of NGOs and explaining the commitments of Council of Europe member states. WATCH THE VIDEO
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