The groups in various EU countries say this is partly due to “insufficient meaningful participation” of civil society in the decision-making process.
It is also claimed that national authorities do not “prioritise sufficiently” the funding of “vital” civil society tasks, such as monitoring and watchdog activities.
These are among the key findings of a delegation the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) sent to probe civil society rights in five countries: Poland, Hungary, Romania, Austria and France.
The focus was on areas of “particular” importance for civil society, including freedom of assembly and association, freedom of the media, non-discrimination and the rule of law. Governments in each of the five countries were given the right to reply although their responses have not been made public.
A report on the visits in 2018 and earlier this year, entitled "National developments from a civil society perspective", was debated at an EESC conference in Brussels earlier this week (5 November). The EESC delegation spoke to civil society organisations, media and legal professionals and human rights groups in each country.
Some of the fiercest criticism is reserved for Hungary whose government, led by Viktor Orban, has been at loggerheads with the EU over perceived civil and human rights abuses for some time.
The EESC report, seen by this website, states that “Civic space has been shrinking in recent years in Hungary and civil society organisations (CSOs) have claimed significantly fewer possibilities to carry out their advocacy activities.”
Limitations on freedoms particularly affect the media and academic world and the Hungarian government “seems to stigmatise those CSOs that carry out advocacy and watchdog activities.”
“Several participants said that the media was a propaganda machine aimed at controlling public discourse and that those who are critical of the government face negative treatment. CSOs raised concerns about the general decrease in support for human rights protection and non-discrimination, including in relation to Roma, disability and gender issues.”
“Participants indicated that there is a need to control the use of EU funds better to ensure that such funding does not end up abetting corruption.”
Author: Martin Banks
Reproduced by kind permission from The Parliament Magazine