Five years after our study “Civil Society Index – Rapid Assessement” we asked ourselves: How have the climate and the framework conditions changed for civil society in Austria since 2014?

In cooperation with the WU, University of Economics and Business of Vienna, we updated the CSI 2014 and focused on the general political climate in relation to civil society, democracy and participation, fundamental rights and financing. Our new study is based on 53 interviews with experts and representatives of civil society organisations conducted between August 2018 and February 2019. In February 2019, a quantitative survey was conducted on changes in resources, the climate and the legal situation and 310 CSOs’ representatives responded. Further, a representative survey was made on the perception of civil society by the population. This was complemented by three focus groups in which the results were discussed.

With regard to the general climate, a clear polarisation of the discourse and delegitimisation of civil society have taken place in Austria. This can be seen for example through the imputation of profit interests, the devaluation of CSO´s work, and the increase of a generally negative rhetoric. According to democracy and participation, CSOs are much less involved in legislative procedures. Review periods have been shortened, and the CSOs are no longer included in the legislative process. Civil rights are well developed in Austria by international standards. However, freedom of assembly has been restricted in recent years, above all through the extension of the notification period for assemblies and the establishment of so-called protection areas. A detailed examination of public funding shows that the situation is stable, but in particular areas, like migration, art, women’s policy or labour market policy  some CSOs have experienced existentially threatening restrictions of public funding.

Although Austria is a fundamentally liberal democracy with well-developed fundamental rights,  its quality is threatened: The changes as a whole result in a clear pattern and correspond to the processes of development of authoritarian governments known from the literature. There are clearly observable tendencies to limit the critical potential of civil society and its participation in political decision-making processes. By analysing the gradual process of the development of authoritarian politics in a relatively stable and developed democracy, the findings are relevant for current tendencies in many European countries.

Translation: civicspacewatch.eu

Download Link (Report in German)

Relationship Status: It’s complicated. Civil Society Organisations and the EU.

In 2018, during the Austrian Presidency of the EU Council, IGO joined forces with the European Civic Forum in carrying forward the legacy of civil society forums in countries holding the EU Presidencies over the last ten years.

A recent report by Civil Society Europe shows there is a desire for the European Union to play a greater role in upholding democratic principles and setting guidelines to ensure an enabling environment for civil society.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty commits the “institutions” – including the European Council and its 28 members – to an “open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society”. Yet, the reality often shows a different picture: in many Member States civil society organizations are either ignored or facing open hostility. In addition, the scarcity or conditionality of public funding is restricting civic organisations’ ability to take action to ensure access to fundamental rights for all.

On day one, participants were primarily those in charge and members or employees of civil society organizations from Austria and abroad. Working language was English.

Picture Gallery Day 1.

Welcome and Opening

  • Franz NEUNTEUFL, IGO, Vienna
  • Iva TARALEZHKOVA, Bulgarian Citizen Participation Forum, Sofia
  • Jean Marc ROIRANT, European Civic Forum, Paris

Panel 1 – All for rights and rights for all: the state of civic space and fundamental rights in today’s European Union

With contributions from

  • Veronika MORA, Hungarian Enviromental Partnership Foundation, Budapest
  • Waltraud HELLER, European Fundamental Rights Agency, Wien
  • Dr Vedran DZIHIC, Austrian Institute for International Affairs, Vienna
  • Alexandrina NAJMOWICZ, European Civic Forum, Paris (Moderation)

Panel 2Funding civil society activities with public money: Too much to die, too little to live

With contributions from

  • Judith PÜHRINGER, arbeitplus, Vienna
  • Jean Marc ROIRANT, European Economic and Social Committee, European Civic Forum & Civil Society Europe, Brussels
  • Dr Daniela BANKIER, European Commission, DG Justice, Programme and Financial Management Unit, Brussels
  • Franz NEUNTEUFL, IGO, Wien (Moderation)

Outlook on the Romanian EU Presidency from a civil society point of view

  • Iuliana RADA, Civil Society Development Foundation, Bukarest.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Article 2 has a prominent place in the EU treaties, yet a vast gap exists between these rights and values and their exercise and implementation. In Europe today, rights and liberties are increasingly sacrificed in the name of austerity, security, anti-terrorism or money laundering, transparency or business secrecy.

This was the starting point for the inputs and panel discussions on the second day of the event. Working language here was German.

Picture Gallery Day 2.

Welcome and Opening

  • Dr Jörg WOJAHN, Representation of the European Commission in Austria, Vienna
  • Dr Alexander VAN DER BELLEN, Federal President of the Rep. of Austria – Video Message
  • Franz NEUNTEUFL, IGO, Vienna

Panel 1Make Europe Great for All: about the spaces between values& policies

With contributions from

  • Andreas SCHIEDER, Candidate to the European Parliament, SPÖ, Vienna
  • Dr Daniela BANKIER, European Commission, DG Justice, Programme and Financial Management Unit, Brussels
  • Dr Michaela MOSER, European Anti-Poverty Network, Vienna
  • Dr Frank HEUBERGER, Bundesweites Netzwerk Bürgerschaftliches Engagement, Berlin (Moderation)

Keynote

  • Karoline EDTSTADLER, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Interior, Vienna

Panel 2Climate change in politics: how can we go against the tides in the EU?

  • Dr Othmar KARAS, Austrian MEP, ÖVP, Brussels
  • Leonore GEWESSLER, Global 2000 | Friends of the Earth, Vienna
  • Verena RINGLER, European Commons, Innsbruck – Vienna
  • Franz NEUNTEUFL, IGO, Vienna

Closing Remarks

  • Franz NEUNTEUFL, IGO
  • Alexandrina NAJMOWICZ, European Civic Forum, Paris.

 

Since the last workshop in June 2018, where key stakeholders discussed relevant topics for the Civil Society Index Update, the work of IGO and the NPO & SE competence center has been going on has been going on. For the survey of significant changes in the framework for civil society engagement since 2014 we have conducted more then 40 qualitative in-depth interviews. In these, experts and stakeholders of Austrias civil society are asked about following issues: democracy, legal situation, financial resources, general climate related to trust, media and public debates, as well as how the changes affect the framework conditions for CSOs in Austria.

The next step will be evaluation of the collected data and comparison the status quo with the results of the Civil Society Index 2014. In addition, a media analysis will show changes of how civil societiy is represented in the last four years.

One new topic will enrich the update: the condition of political participation in Austria. Even if a comparison won’t be able, paying attention to the legal regulations and their execution promises to be interesting.

„We are all responsible for the Europe of today. And we must all take responsibility for the Europe of tomorrow“- that’s how the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker commented recently on the situation of the European Union. But does the current political development in Austria continue to allow this form of cooperation for civil society organisations?

Civicus, a global network of civil society organisations, is also taking a closer look at the current conditions for civil society in Austria. Civicus was found in 1993 and today counts over 4000 members from 175 different states. Various instruments are used to show how national realities affect civil society organisations.  The Civicus Monitor is such an instrument that provides reliable data on the situation of each national civil society and communicates it to media and important stakeholders worldwide. Freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are the three columns of the Civic space. On an interactive world map, the Monitor documents all practices and legislative changes that have a negative impact on them. Depending on the events, the individual countries are given a specific rating, which is based on various qualitative and quantitative surveys in order to cover the complex economic and political influences on the scopes of action for civil society.

Austria’s rating stood for a long time on “open”, as the country guaranteed the three columns for civil society organisations. However, since the situation has changed appreciably, Austria, as a small black spot on the world map, is now “under review”. The results of this observation are still unknown, but there is the possibility that there will be a downgrade for Austria’s rating to “narrowed”, as the three columns are increasingly under attacks. With this rating, Austria would be ranked among countries such as Poland, Romania and France.

United in diversity – this is the official motto of the European Union since the year 2000. Growing inequalities, the ever-widening gap between rich and poor and populist politics endanger the unity in an increasing way.

In order to fight social divisions, the European Civic Forum launched a campaign in February called “#MEGA-Make Europe Great for all”, which is to run for 2 years. It is based on the conviction, that our common future lies only in a united Europe. In its own manifesto, the future image of a more democratic Europe is drawn, in which social and environmental concerns are more important as economic interests. The focus lies also on inclusive and sustainable solutions to the problems of all European citizens. Central to the manifesto is also the call for European policy, which takes active measures in terms of cohesion and against all forms of inequalities. Furthermore, the campaign also aims to raise awareness for the role of civil society in the Union.

In the course of the campaign, events are organized in many European member states, which provide space for the exchange of views on the manifesto and its demands. This year’s event of IGO, which will take place in November 2018 and is titled “Relationship status: It’s complicated. Civil Society Organisations and the European Union “, is part of this series of events.

Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty requires the institutions – and this includes the European Council and its 28 members – to “maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society”.

The reality often shows a different picture: in many Member States civil society organizations are either ignored or facing open hostility.

In this context, IGO – the Interest Group of Public Benefit Organizations has already organized a dialogue in and with Austrian civil society twice: 2016 focused on charitable law, 2017 on the future of democracy. In 2018, during the Austrian Presidency of the EU Council, IGO joins forces with the European Civic Forum in carrying forward the legacy of civil society forums in countries holding the EU Presidencies over the last ten years.

We are pleased to launch the invitation to a two (half)day long discussion regarding the role and challenges faced by civil society organizations in Austria and in the European Union in their daily work and relations with the governing institutions.

On day one, the invitation primarily goes to those in charge and members or employees of civil society organizations from Austria and abroad. Working language will be English.

On day two, in addition to those attending on day one, representatives of Austrian and European institutions as well as all interested citizens are invited. Working language will be German. For simultaneous translation English – German will be taken care of.

Participation is free of charge. Limited space. Registrations will be considered in the order of their receipt.

Full program and registration here

So far, IGO has hardly been involved outside Austria. The forthcoming EU Presidency of Austria in the second half of 2018, however, justifies stronger networking and cooperation with NGOs and associations in other member states and in Brussels, which pursue similar goals as IGO.

For this reason, IGO CEO Franz Neunteufl participated in November 2017 in the Forum on the State of Civil Society and Civic Space in Europe, organized by the Estonian NGO umbrella organization Hea Kodanik. Now, from May 29th to 31st, he has accepted the invitation of the Bulgarian Citizen Participation Forum to the Civic Days in Sofia.

These events are co-organized and co-funded by the Paris-based European Civic Forum (ECF).

This also applies to this year’s CIVIL SOCIETY IN DIALOGUE event of IGO on 21st and 22nd November, which this year, on the occasion of the Austrian Presidency, will address the situation of civil society organisations in the member states and their contribution to a united Europe.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) make indispensable contributions to a more sustainable and solidary society in Austria and worldwide. On the one hand, they assist and improve the lives of people in difficult situations; on the other, they fight for environmental protection, democracy, human rights and international solidarity – to name but a few fields of action.

With the Civil Society Index – Rapid Assessment (CSI-RA), in 2014, IGO and the NPO & SE Competence Center, in cooperation with CIVICUS, have examined the climate and framework conditions for CSOs in Austria. Both supportive and inhibiting factors were assessed from the point of view of experts and stakeholders with the help of the internationally proven instrument CSI-RA. 2019 – five years later – IGO intends to establish what has changed since then in an updated version of the Index.

Objectives

  • Description of the most important conditions for civic engagement in Austria in 2019.
  • Survey of significant changes in the framework for civil society engagement since 2014 by contrasting the status quo with the results of the Civil Society Index 2014.
  • Development of common strategies to improve the framework conditions with stakeholders.
  • Joint implementation of the developed strategies.

Project Responsibiltites

In an advisory and support body, whose members should be as representative as possible of Austrian civil society, the focal points and questions are defined and the project progress is monitored. IGO takes over the coordination, the NPO & SE competence center the scientific work.

The advisory and support group will be consulted in three stages:

  • To determine the research focus, so that the project treats the most burning issues for CSOs.
  • For feedback on the collected data and intermediate results. The panel should participate in the analysis of the data.
  • To review, review and release the results and recommendations of action.

 Timetable

The project is divided into four phases:

  1. Projektinitiation: Here the partners are identified, the financing secured and a first work plan and budget designed.
  2. Project adaptation: In this phase, the concrete research interest, the goals, the methods and indicators are determined. The concrete project plan and budget will be decided at this stage.
  3. Project implementation: Implementation of agreed research activities, analysis of data, preparation of the report, review and review of results and recommendations by stakeholders.
  4. Action Phase: publication of the results / report; Broad dialogue on possible activities to implement the project recommendations; Development and communication of a policy catalog;

In a first workshop in early June 2018, key stakeholders will discuss which topics are relevant to the Civil Society Index update.

In addition, lessons learned during the first CSI project in 2013 and 2014 will be collected and included in the planning for 2019.

What happens to the results?

With the CSI-RA, we will create a basis for negotiations with politicians and the private sector to improve conditions for CSOs in Austria and facilitate their work. Both the organizations and IGO serve as a multiplier.

For more information, please contact

Franz Neunteufl: franz.neunteufl@gemeinnuetzig.at

Dr Ruth Simsa: Ruth.Simsa@wu.ac.at