The webinar was hosted by the French Institute for Civil Society Organisations, showcasing the work of the working group on Civil Society Organisations in Europe. This group was launched in 2022, a collaboration between the Maecenata Foundation, the Institute for Social Research and the French Institute for Civil Society Organisations. Its 40 members come from 16 European countries.
Oleksandra Matviichuk, President of the Center for Civil Liberties of Ukraine, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, took part in a Q&A, following a few words from Claire Breschard and Florian Covelli from the French Institute for Civil Society Organisations.
Matviichuk, who is also a working group participant, spoke at length about the „huge wave of solidarity among Ukrainian civil society,“ which has expanded following the Russian invasion. She stressed that Ukraine’s victory not only depends on overcoming the Russian invasion but also in instilling democracy. In her view, the role of civil society is to remind the population that they are fighting for democracy and that „freedom and human rights can’t be taken for granted.“ Finally, Matviichuk noted that the work of civil society can only be achieved through public support.
Dr. Hummel then presented her white paper to guide future research by CSOs. She started by outlining the abstract nature of defining civil society, before commenting that a „holistic approach“ of monitoring civil society movements is missing for Europe. It is currently difficult to compare civil society in Europe, due to different research designs, such as when monitoring donations or volunteering rates. Consequently, working group members considered what the main knowledge gaps are in civil society research. These include, but are not limited to, knowledge of the history of civil society, and CSOs‘ contribution to democracy, social trust and basis of civic space.
According to Dr. Hummel, „civil society can […] help to foster a culture of democracy“ and „promote a sense of shared citizenship, which is highly essential for a functioning democracy.“
She also referred to Maecenata’s report on the state of civil society in Germany, available to read in English and German.
Bernard Enjolras, Research Professor at The Institute for Social research in Oslo and the Director of the Center for Research on Civil Society and Voluntary Sector, then presented the working group’s English language digital library, consisting of 650 references. It can be used for generating bibliographies or as a search tool for researchers.
Next, Floriant Covelli shared the working group’s policy recommendations. These include a knowledge programme at the European level in response to CSOs‘ needs, increased cooperation between CSOs and academia (facilitated, for example, through an online platform) and methodological recommendations for researchers.
The second part of the webinar consisted of a roundtable discussion. This was conducted by a panel of experts:
Claire Thoury, President of the Mouvement associatif, Sergey Lagodinsky a German Member of the European Parliament, Sophie van Malleghem, Senior Project Coordinator at the King Bedouin Foundation and Dr. Anna Domaradzka-Widła, Assitant Professor at the University of Warsaw.
Notably, Lagodinsky mentioned the need to talk about a European public sphere, which is essential to democracy. He advocates for a European Association law, to facilitate cross-border activity for European associations, non-profits and non-profit foundations. He also calls for the introduction of minimum standards for national governments when dealing with NGOs – „safeguards.“