The report showcases the challenges civil society faced throughout the year 2020, with a particular focus on how the public measures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic affected civic space, and how civic actors responded.
It contains a general analysis of EU trends of deterioration and expansion observed in 2020, seven interviews with inspiring activists that protected human rights during the lockdown and six case studies.
2020 has been characterised by the COVID-19 health emergency that produced consequences on our societies, economies and democracies that are unprecedented in Europe in times of peace.
We have changed our life to protect ourselves and others. We have all been expected to act responsibly as individuals and as a community.
On the one hand, the need to provide a quick and strong response in a short time has increased the use of exceptional powers by the Governments at the expenses of democratic checks and balances.
Some Governments took advantage of this exceptional situation to legitimate their attempt to concentrate powers in their hands but, even in countries where governments have been praised for their balanced approach, the situation of exception has exposed serious risks for European democracies, adding to the trend of deterioration documented in previous years.
On the other hand, 2020 has been characterised by an awakening of active citizenship to ensure at the widest possible scale effective access to basic rights that the crisis has put at risk. Many have found creative ways to be useful to their communities, to offer social and cultural tools against isolation, to volunteer for providing support to the weak and vulnerable which often happen to be the poorest, to act as watchdogs vis a vis the consequences of the democratic and social crises, and to propose societal alternatives.
Everywhere, organised civic actors, as well as citizens and people spontaneously, have been and are in the front line to witness the precarious situations people suffer from, trying to respond to people’s needs, to alert on the limitations and adverse consequences of implemented public policies, to react against abuses of power, to put solidarity for all at the centre of the response to the crisis. Civic space under the lockdown has been narrowed but, even under detrimental conditions, has shown a high level of dynamism.
The European Civic Forum, together with its members, has contributed to this dynamism and observed these trends through the Civic Space Watch, a platform collecting resources on threats to fundamental rights as well as positive initiatives, including those aimed at countering these threats. Over 350 resources collected in the period between January to October 2020.