Workshop 3: Civil society space, civil dialogue and funding of civil society

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1 March 2023 - 16.45 – 18.00 • Room JDE 62

  • Organised by: Philea and Social Platform, in cooperation with the EESC ad-hoc Group on Fundamental Rights and Rule of Law

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Draft agenda

  • 16:45 – 17:00  Welcome and setting the scene
    • Hanna Surmatz, Philea and Ionuț Sibian, Member of the EESC
    • Existing barriers and situation for Civil Society
  • 17:00 – 17:50 Conversation taking into account questions/input from the floor
    • Moderated by Alva Finn, Social Platform
    • What can be done to improve the operating space for civil society, including philanthropy?
      • Civil Society and philanthropy key asks - Riccardo Rossella, Social Platform/Civil Society Europe
      • Legislative initiative on cross-border activities of associations Anna Athanasopoulou, DG GROW, European Commission
      • 2022 Report on the Application of the Charter of Fundamental RightsIngrid Bellander Todino, DG JUST, European Commission 
      • FRA perspective Waltraud Heller, Fundamental Rights Agency 
  • 17:50 – 18:00 Closing remarks
    • Jan Dirx, Member of the EESC and Hanna Surmatz, Philea

Concept note:

Civil society, including philanthropy, has a unique and vital role to play in addressing our multi-layered societal challenges, the ongoing war in Ukraine as well as social, digital and green transformations but it needs an enabling space to do this. This session will outline existing barriers/issues of shrinking space and will discuss solutions to the problems with policy makers, including the need for an overall civil society strategy and EU-wide discussion on the role of civil dialogue.    
We know that societies are better when everyone has a chance to participate, including those in vulnerable situations who often go unheard in EU decision-making. Yet civil dialogue, as defined in the EU treaties, is weak in comparison with social dialogue – dialogue between employers and workers – at EU level. This means that there is a democratic deficit in the EU which leads to many people living in Europe being left out and not catered for. See the Civil Society Europe report on civil dialogue.   
At the end of 2021, Philea, together with a group of researchers, published a comparative overview of the diverse legal and fiscal environments of foundations as well as the various trends and developments across 40 countries. The EU has also launched a study to assess the operating environment of associations. Based on this extensive research, many old and new barriers to both domestic and cross-border foundation and association action continue to exist, leading to huge losses in time, effort and financial resources. 

To protect the sector and to unleash its full potential at a time when we need all hands on deck to help find solutions to the crises, we ask the European institutions to: 

  • Recognise our sector and engage in fruitful, strengthened civil dialogue;
  • Facilitate cross-border action and cross-border civil society and philanthropy by removing the current legal, administrative and tax barriers; 
  • Enable and protect the sector by putting in place better protective and facilitating mechanisms.

We still have a long way to go, but we're getting closer. The EU Social Economy Action Plan published on 8 December 2021 suggested some important new initiatives and the European Parliament has also been calling for a European Statute for Associations and NPOs as well as the important EC report on civic space within the Charter of Fundamental Rights annual review and the review of the European Democracy Action plan.  

WS 3 Civil society space, civil dialogue and funding of civil society - Report