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Moldova adopts new, progressive Law on Noncommercial Organisations

On 27 July 2020, new law on Noncommercial Organisations (NCO Law) was published in the Official Gazette of Moldova. The law unifies the regulation for all non-profit/noncommercial (NCOs) legal entities (i.e. associationsfoundations and private institutions). It allows all individuals (regardless of citizenship or residence) to establish and manage associations, it also allows legal entities to establish associations. The new law will also limit the possibility for state officials to interfere in the internal affairs of CSOs. 

The law was adopted after a lengthy, 5-year-long process. Despite all the attempts to introduce limitations on CSO activities during the drafting and adoption process, the adopted NCO Law is in line with international freedom of association standards.  

The new law prohibits NCOs to provide material support and free services to political parties during election campaigns while it expressly allows actions to promote elections and debates between electoral contestants and to monitor the correctness of the conduct of electoral campaigns and elections (art. 6, para 5). In the last moment during the plenary discussion MPs introduced an amendment so that NCOs cannot provide also “paid” services to election candidates. This provision is problematic in that a number of media outlets are registered as NCOs and rely on paid political advertising during election campaigns. 

The adoption of the Law on Noncommercial Organisations represents a step forward in ensuring an enabling legal environment for civil society in Moldova and creates premises for the sustainable development of the non-profit sector. The draft law is a result of a common work of the authorities and civil society sector and of extensive public consultations. The draft law, among others, reduces bureaucracy and establishes guarantees for registration, simplifies internal organisation of noncommercial organisations, institutes principles of fair play in accessing public funds and state support, limits the possibility of unjustified interventions in the activity of ONCs from the state. The adoption of the law in the second reading was postponed for more than two years by the Parliament and the lack of transparency in the law-making process at the level of the Parliament raised reasonable concerns of the civil society in Moldova. Fortunately, the draft law was adopted without the restrictive provisions.“

Sorina MACRINICI – Civil Society and Democracy Program Director, Legal Resources Centre from Moldova (LRCM)

ECNL supported the Moldovan local partners in the drafting process of the law. We provided expert comments, shared comparative information on good European standards and examples from other country laws and supported an inclusive process engaging all stakeholdersECNL specifically focused on the need to support local partners to build their capacity to safeguard civic freedoms.  

The example of Moldova serves as a model and inspiration for other countries for positive civic space reforms, especially in times when fundamental freedoms are often limited because of the political situation or the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the 5 years, CSOs have repeatedly managed to prevent proposed restrictive measures on their right to access to funding, advocacy and freedom of expression to be integrated in the law. These efforts ensured that adopted law will ultimately improve the environment in which they operate.  

Read the text of the NCO Law (in Romanian) here.

Looking back – Major milestones of the drafting process:

  • 2015: The Legal Resources Center of Moldova (LRCM), with support from ECNL, launched an online consultation for public associations to map the legal problems they face.
  • 2016: Based on feedback received, LRCM developed a review of the law on public associations. As a result of the recommendations in the policy paper, the Ministry of Justice established a joint CSO-government working group, which set out to prepare one draft law covering all nonprofit legal entities (associations, foundations and private institutions).
  • 2017: Despite a consultative process, the NCO law had to overcome several hurdles before its final adoption. Unexpectedly, when the Ministry of Justice posted the draft for public consultation in July 2017, it included an expediently introduced section – Articles 26-28 with Special Provisions on CSOs’ Involvement in Political Activities and Transparency. The Special Provisions contradicted international and European standards on freedom of association, right to participation and freedom of expression. If adopted, this would have been especially damaging to the right of CSOs’ to engage in public affairs and their right to funding: the Special Provisions considered a broad range of activities  as political and negatively affected their access to both foreign and public funding. With local CSOs’ advocacy and outreach to domestic and international stakeholders (including EU, UN, Council of Europe, OSCE/ODIHR), the draft law was removed from the government’s agenda on September 1, 2017 but this led also to a halt in the overall process of adopting a new law.
  • 2018: At the end of January 2018 the Ministry of Justice restarted the process and published for consultation the initial version of the draft NCO law (without the restrictive Special Provisions). The NCO law was approved by the government on 28 March 2018. The Parliament adopted it at first reading in May 2018.
  • 2019: The draft law was pending in Parliament.
  • 2020: The process of review of the draft law resumed in March 2020 after a public appeal by a group of CSOs. In May the Legal Committee supported the draft law without any substantial changes. Before the final plenary discussion in June several restrictive amendments were introduced (e.g. limitation for participation in decision-making) but those were withdrawn by the MP that introduced them during the plenary meeting. Eventually, on 11 June 2020 the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova voted unanimously for the adoption of the Law on noncommercial organisations (NCO Law).