Historic success for strengthening European Civil Society: Commission announces legal framework to protect freedom of association

For more than 35 years, the European Parliament has been calling for the creation of a European law on associations to strengthen and protect civil society. During yesterday‘s meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, the Commission reiterated its announcement to present a legislative package to strengthen associations and non-profits in the European Union.

With this first of its kind proposal the Commission is reacting to the so-called Lagodinsky Report adopted by the Parliament in February. A broad majority of the MEPs has called on the EU Commission to present an EU-wide law on associations and minimum standards for the protection of European civil society. So far, there are no uniform rules in the European Union on how to deal with non-profit civil society organisations. This is about to change. The report contains specific legal recommendations to close this gap.

 MEP Dr Sergey Lagodinsky on the Commission’s announcement:

 „The Commission’s announcement is a bipartisan success for the Parliament and European civil society. Now, it is important to ensure that the core concerns of our report and the wishes of civil society are accounted for in the process of drafting the legislation. This is important because every thriving democracy needs a thriving civil society. It is not enough to take civil society’s contribution to our democracy for granted, instead we must actively work on strengthening and supporting it.

Currently, there are 27 different regulatory regimes and even more legal forms for civil society organisations in the EU. In order for a Europe-wide civil society to emerge and for it to be protected, we need a European concept for civil society spaces. By taking up the proposals from the report I initiated, the Commission for the first time recognises the importance of European civil society organisations in a legislative act.

What sounds like bureaucratic minutiae, has very real consequences for engaged citizens in the member states of the European Union. In recent years, we have been witnessing how governments repeatedly attacked civil society organisations. The tool box spans from banning associations and withholding their public benefit status in Germany to criminalization attempts against NGOs in Hungary. Although of varying gravity, all such interventions have the potential to make civil society work impossible.“