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Ground-breaking Handbook on How to Use EU Law to protect Civic Space

“The Handbook is a guide that should empower civil society groups across the European Union to make the best use possible of the resources of EU law to protect the civic space. This fills a gap. And, unfortunately, it responds to a real need. The main message is that EU law offers a number of tools that can be used more systematically, to improve the protection of fundamental rights in the EU, and to allow civil society to effectively exercise its function as a watchdog for civil liberties in the EU.”

From the Foreword to Handbook, Olivier de Schutter, UN SR on extreme poverty and human rights

CSOs have been instrumental in assisting victims of fundamental rights’ violations, helping them identify the legal avenues available and supporting litigation at national and EU level.

But what happens when CSOs themselves become the actual targets and victims and their fundamental rights to associate, operate, express views, seek and provide information, receive funding and campaign are significantly restricted? How can EU law – including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – be concretely used to protect fundamental civic freedoms – such as freedom of association, assembly and expression – as well as the right to privacy, protection of personal data and non-discrimination, thanks to which civil society exists and democracies thrive?  ECNL, in partnership with EFC and DAFNE, wrote a Handbook to provide practical guidance for CSOs to advocate and litigate using EU law to protect their rights and civic space in the EU.

It aims to be a user-friendly guide for CSOs who want to know:

  • What EU law is and how it affects individuals and organisations;
  • When and how CSOs can challenge national provisions or measures that impact their mission, activities and operations on the basis of EU law, including the CFR;
  • Which legal avenues and resources are available for CSOs to defend their civic space within the EU law framework


Download our Handbook in pdf here.

And click here for our briefer on how and why you should use this handbook.

And find below our blogs in our #EUlaw4civicfreedoms series showcasing different practical examples of how to use EU law to safeguard civic space.

Blog #1.Contact tracing beyond the pandemic?

Blog #2.Free speech under quarantine: when emergencies lead to censorship, EU law may help.

Blog #3. Do CSOs have a right to funding in times of emergency?

Blog #4. Can EU citizens be stripped of their right to protest? Public emergencies, peaceful assembly and EU law.

Blog #5.Can confinement restrict CSOs’ services for vulnerable groups? Considerations from an EU law perspective.


See also ECNL’s analysis on ECJ’s landmark decision on Hungary’s Transparency Law here