President Vivien Whyte represented the EUR at the Summer Session of the Conference of International Non Governmental Organisations of the Council of Europe on 29 June 2018.
The opening session addressed two very important issues for the EUR and NGOs in Europe: restoring the people’s confidence in public institutions and preventing inappropriate restrictions on NGO activities in Europe.
Matjaz Gruden, Director of Democratic Participation at the Council of Europe presented the Secretary General 2018 Report, which addresses the role of institutions and the threats they are facing in Europe.
Mr Yves Cruchten, rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights presented a draft resolution and draft recommendation on restrictions of NGO activities in COE Member States. He noted two trends: new obligations on NGOs to declare donations and assets as well as judicial and administrative harassment and smear campaigns. The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has decided to propose the establishment of a Human Rights Rapporteur. This proposal still has to be approved by the Parliamentary Assembly in plenary. A similar proposal was rejected three years ago but chances are higher it will pass now.
In addition, the Committee calls on several Member States to follow the recommendations of the Venice Commission and asks for the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to create an alert and reaction mechanism concerning NGOs.
The Committee also recommends that guidelines on NGO foreign funding be elaborated. Mr Cruchten gave examples of NGOs who have tried to make donations to other NGOs abroad but such transfers have been denied by banking authorities because the recipient NGOs were mentioned on black lists established by private companies. He stressed that foreign funding is often vital for NGOs.
The Rapporteur finally mentioned that in some countries, governments put a lot of pressure on NGOs to register for control purposes. He insisted that NGOs should be free to decide on whether or not to register in their home country. This should be the focus of the Committee’s next report.
Ms Sorina Macrinici, Civil Society and Democracy Programme Director at the NGO Legal Resources Centre presented the current situation of NGOs in Moldova. She reminded the audience that the electoral system in Moldova was modified recently and that the Supreme Court cancelled the results of mayoral elections that took place in March 2018. In this context, a reform of the law on NGOs and foundations is currently before Parliament. According to Ms Macrinici, the amendments presented by the government are aimed at limiting international fundings for NGOs.
Like the Council of Europe, the European Union is kept together by the sheer rule of law. The recent evolutions discussed above are raising concern in Brussels too.