CONCORD members gathered in Budapest on 8th and 9th November to discuss the shrinking space for civil society in Europe. This event, the first of its kind, aimed to foster information-sharing and mutual learning between our members on the solutions they are exploring. Our Hungarian members, HAND, supported the preparation of the event and highlighted the extreme situation for civil society in the country.
In order to start with a common understanding we invited speakers from Civicus and Civil Society Europe to share their organisations’ recent reports and tools on civil society at the global and European level.
Ahead of the meeting, we mapped our members’ situations and produced infographics illustrating the policy and advocacy, as well as the legal and administrative challenges they are facing.
The main points we learned from this mapping backed up the Civil Society Europe report finding that 58,7% of the organisations they spoke to found that conditions for CSOs are deteriorating.
- There is less funding for policy and advocacy work
- Policy and advocacy work work is now only effective in larger coalitions
- Consultations are no longer as influential as they have been
- Regulations for civil society and private companies are the same
- New administrative restrictions have reduced the CSO sphere of operation
- Security concerns have been used to tighten regulations around CSO operations
During the first day, innovative examples of how civil society organisations are coming together to defend their space were described by participants from Spain, France, the UK, Hungary, Croatia, Finland and Poland. From hologram demonstrations in Spain, to taking the government to court in the UK, participants inspired one another to think creatively to address this common challenge.
We are not here to react to policies and processes but to set an agenda for change.
The event was a participatory forum, where sessions ranged from more traditional panel discussions to those involving role play to encourage participants to step into other actors’ shoes, and exchange spaces such as a marketplace where individuals could speak to one another to get more detailed insights into each other’s experiences. Participants from neighbouring countries such as Georgia, Macedonia and Azerbaijan contributed to the event with their own experiences of defending their civic space.
Despite the different national situations, it was clear that there were common elements being experienced by many, such as a change of government leading to abrupt changes to activist rights; the importance of working on solutions across sectors, and the importance of innovative thinking to find novel ways of responding.
After a day of inspiration and exchange, CONCORD members made a plan for the action we can take together going forward to defend our space. Members emphasised how this theme is central to our work and the need for space to come together to discuss joint responses and find the courage for collective action.