The European Economic and Social Committee has urged the EU institutions to adopt zero tolerance towards Member State attitudes and practices that hamper the work of civil society and shrink its space in Europe.

To counter such developments, the EESC is asking the EU to take a number of measures, such as withholding EU funds from countries that do not observe EU values, in order to ensure the full participation of civil society in all stages of policy making and to safeguard participatory democracy in Europe.

In the opinion The role of civil society organisations as guardians of the common good in the post-pandemic recovery, the EESC stated that Europe's civil society is still facing many major barriers, with its space drastically reduced in some parts of the EU. This is despite the fact that civil society played a key role in cushioning the effects of the pandemic and that its help for Ukrainian refugees was exemplary from the very first day of the Russian aggression.

"Civil society has been a driving force in helping our society to get through the COVID-19 pandemic. And now, the Ukraine crisis has clearly shown the value and significance of civil society for our democracies", says rapporteur for the opinion, Ioannis Vardakastanis.

Now that civil society is about to play a key role in building back from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis, which will require the participation of all parts of society, the EU must ensure there is dialogue between civil society and policy makers, as the lack of such dialogue is one of the main barriers faced by Europe's civil society at all levels.

Another barrier is the absence of meaningful involvement of civil society in decision-making processes relating to important policies and legislation.

In the EESC's view, the EU institutions must adopt "zero tolerance" to these attitudes and must react "strongly and uncompromisingly", as the inclusion of civil society in the policy-making process is inseparable from the EU's values and the EU Treaties. To eliminate such practices, legal regulations should be put in place at the European and national level.

Civil society organisations should receive financial and technical support from EU, local and national authorities to develop their roles, but without compromising their independence. (ll)