The Double Cross
28 September 2021
At times of democratic backsliding and the rise of populism, civil society organisations are important allies of the European institutions, as they play a vital role in the promotion and application of universal and European values.
‘Shrinking civil space’ was one of the new terms we all had to learn in the past half-decade. Threats to the free, independent and autonomous operation and indeed to the sheer existence of civil society organisations (CSOs) is by now not something that only happens in faraway, exotic countries with little or no democratic traditions, but occurs within the borders of the European Union, too – particularly in Central European member states, but warning signs have been observed in “established democracies” such as Germany, France and Spain.
The symptoms of narrowing space range from discrediting and vilification campaigns by (government-friendly) media with libellous accusations, harassing inspections by official authorities (such as the tax agency), attempts to close down individual organisation (in Bulgaria), and legal restrictions to the freedom of association (Hungary) and assembly (Poland).