EU Ensures Open Civic Space


Demonstration on World Refugee Day in Barcelona, Spain

Civic space is at the heart of change

An open civic space enables people to come together, voice their needs, demand accountability, and fight for justice. However, around the world, governments are cracking down on people’s rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression, and the environment for civil society is shrinking. For the first time since 2004, there are more autocratic governments than democratic ones.  

In our work worldwide, we are seeing autocratic governments and right-wing governments trying to change attitudes and narratives toward civic space and civil society with human rights defenders and activists increasingly under attack. This creates a chilling effect with people less likely to speak out when they see wrong.  

The EU can be a global leader in promoting, protecting, and enabling civic space offline and online

This means empowering civil society actors to become agents of change, even in the places where civic space is obstructed or closed. The EU must be more accountable to communities, connecting with citizens, managing risks, and working to improve civic space in broader coalitions. The EU can support by providing more resources – including flexible funding for civil society organisations, creating spaces for dialogue with and political engagement of civil society at various levels. 

The EU can also lead by advocating for bolder international, bi-regional and bi-lateral legal frameworks for civic activism and holding its partner countries accountable to commitments. The EU must challenge authoritarian governments that abuse laws and regulations related to counterterrorism, money laundering, defamation, and corruption in order to silence journalists, civil society groups, and human rights defenders.