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Civil Society: Key Actors for the Future of Europe

On the 5th of November 2021, the EUD attended a conference hosted by the Diversity Europe Group in partnership with Civil Society Europe. The Diversity Europe Group comprises civil society representatives and stakeholders, particularly in the economic, civic, professional, and cultural fields. Civil Society Europe is an organisation that brings together 28 European networks of civil society organisations (CSOs) to facilitate their horizontal and vertical dialogue with policymakers and help strengthen their activities. The conference’s purpose was to provide a forum for reviewing the state of CSOs in Europe.

Part of the opening address was delivered by Seamus Boland. He spoke about the Irish quote ‘There is no strength without unity’, inferring that civil society is the guardian of the common good. The President of the Civic Forum, Jean-Marc Roirant, outlined the CSOs’ challenges, including the difficulty of successfully promoting their role in society. The second challenge is that some governmental authorities seek to undermine civil society’s independence. Mr Roirant stated that the health crisis helped CSOs and related associations to rediscover what they can do. Věra Jourová, Vice President of European Commission and Commissioner for Values and Transparency, highlighted the Commission’s appreciation for the excellent cooperation between CSOs and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), and the crucial role that they play in facilitating our speedy recovery from COVID-19 in a just and fair manner, leaving nobody behind.

Filip Pazderski, a senior policy analyst at the European Civil Forum, presented the first results of the EESC study on ‘The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on fundamental rights and civic space’. An online survey was conducted by 238 CSOs in 11 languages, and combined with in-depth interviews. The results revealed that CSO had been affected substantially by the COVID-19 restrictions. He presented solutions allowing new sources of funding for CSOs to be established, as well as clear instructions to EU Member States on how to include CSOs in their resilience and recovery plans and provide European guidelines and standards on freedom of assembly and association.

During the subsequent panel discussion, Linda Ravo presented a study on civil society dialogue at the national and European levels. A freelance consultant, she offers legal and policy advice and expertise on protecting human rights to international organisations, EU institutions and bodies, think tanks and NGOs. Ms Ravo stated that the civil dialogue exists as an essential component of participatory democracy reaffirmed in the EU treaties and civil society, and their enabling environments and channels.

The conference covered the overall challenges, and barriers faced by CSOs in several EU Member States regarding protecting fundamental rights and civic space. The speakers discussed experiences of their civil dialogues at both national and European levels, especially when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. They highlighted the importance of the role of CSOs and the increasing need for them to engage in constant communication and dialogue with national governments and the European Commission.

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