Civil Society Europe Newsletter

February - March 2024

Welcome to our February to mid-March newsletter. In this edition, you will find: 

What’s coming up?

EESC Conference on “Strengthening civil society and participatory democracy in the EU: the way forward”

On 25 March 2024, Civil Society Europe (CSE)’s President, Gabriella Civico, and CSE’s Vice-President, Patrizia Heidegger, will speak at a conference on "Strengthening civil society and participatory democracy in the EU: the way forward". The conference is organised by the Civil Society Organisations’ Group of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

The discussions will be centred around the following questions: What is the path forward for civil dialogue and participatory democracy at large? How can civil dialogue and citizen participation interlink and be mutually reinforcing? What is needed to effectively structure civil dialogue (Article 11 TEU) at EU level? What should the next steps be?

CSE-EUA event on the Defence of Democracy Package & fundamental rights: What is at stake?

When? 10 April 2024, 09:30 - 12:00 CET

Where? European Parliament, Brussels

Hosted by MEP Anna Donáth, and co-organised by CSE and the European University Association (EUA), this event will explore the impact on fundamental rights of the European Commission (EC)’s proposal for a Defence of Democracy Package. We will focus on the proposed Directive establishing harmonised requirements in the internal market on transparency of interest representation carried out on behalf of third countries (text and annex), in view of the current discussions in the European Parliament EP and within the Council of the EU.

During the event, with key representatives from co-legislators, academia and civil society, we will examine the possible undue impact on the freedoms of association and expression, as well as academic freedoms, of the approach of this directive in the EEA and globally. We will also draw lessons from existing similar legislation and policies in Europe and beyond on foreign interference, and see whether and how concerns can be remedied in the EC’s proposed Directive.

What has CSE been up to since January?

Public hearing on Defence of Democracy Package – EESC

On 5 February 2024, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC)’s Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law Group (FRRL) organised a public hearing on the Defence of Democracy (DoD) Package. The speakers included Civil Society Europe (CSE)’s Director, Carlotta Besozzi, and representatives of various EU institutions and European civil society organisations that are part of the CSO coalition on the Defence of Democracy Package coordinated by CSE.

The public hearing’s objective was to feed into the EESC’s upcoming Opinion on the DoD Package. CSE has already provided some comments to the Opinion’s rapporteurs.

EESC Civil Society Week 2024

From 4 to 7 March 2024, CSE participated in the Civil Society Week (CSW) titled “Rise Up for Democracy” and organised by the EESC. We had the pleasure of co-organising three workshops with some of our member organisations, specifically Social Platform, Transparency International EU, SOLIDAR, the European Civic Forum and the European Association for Local Democracy. Representatives of civil society, media, academia and EU institutions participated in our workshops, leading to fruitful discussions around pressing issues such as the upcoming European Parliament (EP) elections, civil dialogue and civic space, inclusive democracy, and smart policymaking

CSE’s President, Gabriella Civico (CEV), also presented our Civil Society State of the Union 2023 report during the CSW’s opening session. Moreover, we handed the manifesto of our “Civil Society for EU” elections campaign to the EESC President and the EP Vice-President Silva Pereira; the latter is in charge of relations with organised civil society representing citizens. 

(Re)visit with us the highlights of the CSW, including the outcomes of the discussions and our recommendations moving forward, highlighted quotes and pictures!

Public hearing on constitutional aspects of the future of Europe – EP AFCO Committee

Yesterday (20 March 2024), the European Parliament (EP)’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) organised a public hearing on constitutional aspects of the future of Europe. The discussion focused, among other things, on the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) and the resolution adopted by the EP in late November 2023 on changes to the EU Treaties.

Elisa Gambardella (SOLIDAR) was among the invited experts, and represented the Civil Society Convention for the CoFoE. She presented our work on the CoFoE and its follow-up, including the recommendations on democracy, civic space, institutional reforms and social affairs in our Civil Society State of the Union 2023 report. You can access the debate’s recording here.

Relevant policy developments in the EU

European Cross-Border Associations Directive

The European Parliament (EP) has approved in first reading the Directive on European Cross-Border Associations (ECBAs). The EP’s text is an improvement from the original text proposed by the European Commission (EC) in terms of adapting it to the reality of existing European associations, and adding safeguards regarding the respect of fundamental rights and against arbitrary governmental decisions. Now, it is up to the Council of the EU to develop its own position. The first meeting of the Council for this purpose will be the meeting of the Working Party on Company Law, on 20 March 2024.

Mid-term evaluation of Recovery and Resilience Facility

On 21 February 2024, the EC published the mid-term evaluation of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). According to the EC, EU Member States have achieved 75% of the milestones and targets planned to be achieved by the end of 2023. However, the study accompanying the evaluation clearly states that “[n]o relevant involvement of NGOs is instead observed neither in the drafting nor in the implementation phase” (p.149). 

On 9 April 2024, the EC and the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU are organising an event to mark the publication of the RRF’s mid-term evaluation. Registration for the event is closed, but it can be followed online here.

Adoption of anti-SLAPP Directive

On 27 February 2024, the EP adopted the anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) Directive in a historic Plenary vote. CSE joins the Coalition Against SLAPPs in Europe (CASE) in welcoming the adoption of the Directive, as it sets the minimum standards to protect public watchdogs (including civil society organisations, activists, the media, journalists) against abusive litigation in the form of SLAPPs. Now, we urge EU Member States to transpose the Directive as swiftly and effectively as possible. For a detailed analysis of the adopted Directive and the next steps, please read the CASE’s statement.

Updates on the Ukraine Facility

We welcome the provisional agreement reached by the EP and the Council of the EU on 15 February 2024 regarding the establishment of the Ukraine Facility. Similarly, we welcome the EC’s disbursement on 20 March 2024 of the first €4.5 billion of support to Ukraine under the Ukraine Facility.

We reiterate our position paper’s call for EU institutions, EU Member States and the Ukrainian government to work with us in ensuring that civil society organisations across the EU and Ukraine can contribute as much as possible to the rapid recovery, reconstruction and modernisation of Ukraine, and to a bright future for a strong, democratic, resilient, equitable, inclusive, accessible and sustainable Ukraine within the EU.

EnTrust corner

EnTrust Wiki for social and civic activism

As part of the “Enlightened trust in governance” (EnTrust) project, CSE has developed a website that aims to interactively present how the EU institutions work and how activists can concretely participate in EU policymaking. The website is structured around 8 ️ interactive modules, each of them with learning outcomes, a glossary, policy recommendations, a summary, an interactive quiz, and resources to further delve into the topic. Moreover, the website is a collaborative initiative that intends to grow from the input of users. 

Events you don't want to miss

Technical Support Instrument annual conference

The Technical Support Instrument (TSI) Annual Conference will take place on 24 and 25 April 2024 in Brussels and online. The TSI is the European Commission’s service that provides tailor-made technical expertise to EU Member States to design and implement reforms. It was established during the COVID-19 crisis to recover from the social and economic effects of the pandemic, improve the quality of public services and reinforce sustainable and inclusive economic growth. You can read more about the event and find the registration link (when it will be available) here