FRA expresses concern over threats to civil society and freedom of education in the EU

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) emphasises the vital role of civil society and academic freedom in bolstering our democracies, and affirms the Agency’s commitment to protecting civil society throughout the EU.

The EU is a space in which researchers, scientific knowledge and technology circulate freely. Article 13 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which was approved by the leaders of all EU Member States in 2000, reflects national and international standards by explicitly stating that the arts and scientific research must be free from constraints.

“Hungary’s new law threatening the existence of a number of widely respected universities is a matter of great concern to everyone working in the field of human rights,” said FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty. “Human rights, the rule of law and democracy are the core values on which the EU was founded, and none of them are possible without a flourishing and vibrant civil society.”

Academia is a key component of civil society, which also comprises churches, religious and belief groups, trade unions, employers’ organisations, social and professional organisations, and of course NGOs.From its close cooperation with these organisations, the Fundamental Rights Agency knows that their work is becoming more difficult, not just in one or a few Member States, but across the EU. FRA is currently examining the prevailing and changing conditions for the work of civil society, and has found that the regulatory environment in particular can impose serious restrictions on the capacity of civil society organisations to operate freely. Difficulties in accessing funding are growing, while opportunities to contribute to decision-making processes are diminishing. In some places there has even been harassment and violent attacks of human rights defenders.

In addition to this research, the results of which will be published later this year, FRA is in the process of relaunching the Fundamental Rights Platform, a forum that seeks to develop a protective space within which civil society organisations can continue to work, wherever they operate in the EU.