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On Tuesday, Hungary will pass a law targeting NGOs that receive "foreign funding". The law is seen as a thinly veiled attempt to silence government-critical NGOs. The Polish government has similarly introduced a range of laws intended to restrict freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. NGOs are also facing budget cuts that may well force them to close down. In some other EU Member States, NGOs are facing restrictions as well.
ALDE is ringing the alarm bells about the shrinking space for civil society in the EU and calls for EU action to protect the rights of civil society. ALDE proposes a plenary debate in the European Parliament in July on the matter.
Guy Verhofstadt, President of the ALDE Group, commented:
"The attempts by some EU Governments to silence NGOs are shameful and contrary to the values of the European Union. Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are key corner stones of a pluralistic society. The European Commission should step in and do more to support NGOs inside the EU who face censorship."
Commenting this morning, ALDE Group Vice-President Sophie in 't Veld said:
"An active and well developed civil society is a pre-condition for a healthy democracy; it is part of essential checks and balances. The EU aims to further civil society both inside and outside the EU. However, within the EU, the space for civil society is being reduced, as governments are making it hard for NGOs - in particular government-critical ones - to operate nationally".
"As Member States are component parts of the EU decision making structures, it is essential that they fully comply with EU standards on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in order for the EU as a whole to be compliant".
"Measures including budget cuts, legislation targeting foreign-funded organisations, tighter rules for the registration of NGOs, restrictions on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, result in a shrinking space for civil society and they undermine democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in the EU as a whole".
ALDE urges all member states to ensure that civil society can operate freely and to lift all unnecessary restrictions. ALDE equally calls on the Commission to ensure full space for civil society throughout the territory of the European Union. In addition, the ALDE group will propose the creation of an EU fund for furthering civil society in the EU, analogous to the Endowment for Democracy for countries outside the EU.
Sophie in 't Veld commented:
"The EU supports NGOs, including government-critical NGOs outside the EU. It should apply the same standards and principles within its own territory".