Europe is facing democratic challenges, less civic space

EESC organised conference on “Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law”

Photo: Maria Koleva

The EESC pull together people from civil society, media, trade unions, international organisations, EU institutions and legal representatives to take an all-round view of one critical issue for democracy in Europe. The conference on “Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law”, which took place on 5 November in Brussels, focused on the trends in the EU from a civil society perspective.

The forum was organised by the Group on Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law, set up by the EESC a year and a half ago. Its team has conducted a series of visits to EU Member States, which will continue in the upcoming months.

The goal of these visits is to assess the state of fundamental rights, democracy and rule of law in the EU. The first visited countries were Poland, Hungary, Romania, Austria and France, where the members of the group met with civil society representatives, media and the authorities and discussed the situation in each country.

The president of the group, Jose Antonio Moreno Diaz, emphasised that the report was not an attempt at a legal analysis of the situation. Its aim was not to single out and criticise any country but to highlight trends in fundamental rights and the rule of law in the entire EU. We give an opportunity to members of civil society to be heard, he remarked and said that the mission is to bring to Brussels the voice of civil society working on the frontline.

In the forefront of the agenda was a presentation of the main findings of the country visits that the group made in an interim report, identifying key trends and discussing solutions with key actors in the area of fundamental rights and also the role EESC can play. During the workshops were discussed topics concerning media and narratives around fundamental rights and the rule of law, civic space and discriminated groups.

The question of identification of issues and the criminalisation of protest was raised as a very serious problem, also in the context of attacks against trade union organisations, by Andrzej Adamczyk, EESC rapporteur of the workgroup on the civil space. He underlined that there are threats to the right to assembly, and cases of brutality of the police as regards the “yellow vests” protests in France. Limited access to recourses is also an issue. In addition, there are cases of physical, verbal and even digital attack against human rights organisations and activists and this results in declining resilience of those activists. Civil society organisations should cooperate as the problems in different Member States are similar.

Concerning the solutions, strict monitoring of the situation was recommended, such as the one done by EESC, as well as reporting about it in different countries. Campaigns at school level related to the rule of law and human rights was also suggested. It was stressed that it is very important to build alliances among the organisations, but also with different institutions. It is key to include in the debate the question of economic and social rights.

Luca Jahier, President of the EESC, stated during the forum that “the Commission's idea of an inter-institutional dialogue on the rule of law must include the EESC”. “When democracy is in danger, it is not only our institutions that are at stake: it is everybody, including civil society,” he said, adding that some falsely consider that civil society is a problem.

Luca Jahier expressed his hope that next year this conference will have evolved into a wider “Stakeholders Forum” that the Committee is proposing to the European Commission.

It could lead to a permanent process of exchange, a “structured dialogue” which would open a space for civil society from all 27-28 Member States to contribute to EU policy in these areas.

The EESC could give a formal contribution to inter-institutional dialogue proposed by the European Commission as part of the Rule of Law Review Cycle, the EESC president also asserted.

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