A more progressive NGO Law adopted in Cyprus
In July 2017 the Parliament of Cyprus approved progressive amendments to the Law on Associations, Foundations and Clubs that improve the regulation of CSOs in Cyprus. In a wave of recent negative reforms in Europe (1 , 2) , this is an important victory for enabling CSO reforms.
There has been a long discussion that started 10 years ago, to adopt new legal and regulatory framework for NGOs in the Republic of Cyprus. Back in 2007 ECNL has prepared an assessment of the legal framework for CSOs in Cyprus with the objective to push for reform of some of the regulations dating back from the British rule.
In November 2013 ECNL was invited by the NGO Initiative* (a group of civil society organizations which is leading the CSO efforts with regard to the review process of the two draft laws proposed by the government) to provide comments to two draft laws that the government has developed – a new law on Public Benefit Organizations and the modernization of the existing law on Associations, Foundations and Clubs (called Associations Law). ECNL took part in a visit to the island in February 2014 to meet with key stakeholders and advocate for adoption of supportive to CSOs acts. ECNL has continued to provide advice to the NGO Initiative in the following years.
Among the issues identified by ECNL in the Associations Law initially were:
- The unclear distinction between associations and clubs;
- The requirement for mandatory registration and annual re-registration of clubs that is not in line with international guarantees regarding freedom of association;
- The draft law provides for personal liability for violations of the legal entity which contradicts international standards;
- Registration requirements for associations are excessively strict;
- There is excessive interference in the internal affairs of institutions and the rights of the Attorney General exceed what is necessary to guarantee the public interest.
One of the key problems that had to be overcome in order for the law to be adopted was the fact that some of the existing clubs had special status with regard to gambling e.g. in horse riding and they did not want any change in their status.
A number of the issues identified by ECNL have been changed in the adopted law. The new law promotes financial and managerial transparency of CSOs and provides for the establishment of federations or other types of CSO unions. CSOs will have an one (1) year period to adapt to the changes provided in the new law, while inactive CSOs will be removed from the registry, after a Court decision and a warning period of three (3) months, if within two (2) years they have not submitted any of the required documentation (convened a general assembly of members and/or submitted their annual accounts). The law eliminates the existing form of clubs which will have also one year to choose another legal form in which to transform.
There are a few remaining issues to be improved e.g. the number of founders for an association remains too high (20 persons).
The initial implementation period of the new law is expected to be challenging. CSOs will need to be informed about the changes in the law and comply with the new, more rigorous, requirements, while the workload of the Ministry of Interior is expected to multiply since they will have the monitor this process. The fact that the government has not planned for an information campaign addressed to CSOs but also to the various regional District Offices that will now be responsible for the implementation of the law (up to now this was done by the Ministry of Interior) is worrying.
*The NGO Initiative is an informal group of the following organizations: The Association for the Development of Life Skills, BirdLife Cyprus, Cyprus Family Planning Association, INDEX Research and Dialogue, NGO Support Centre, PeacePlayers Cyprus, Terra Cypria and Politeia