European Program

Over the past two decades, ICNL has worked in several European countries, and at the level of the European Union. Our programs in Europe are led by our affiliates, the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law.

Based in The Hague, ECNL is a leading European resource and research center focused on policies and laws affecting civil society. ECNL aims to build an enabling environment for civil society organizations (CSOs), so that they can operate independently, sustain themselves financially, thrive under strong internal governance, engage in effective policy-making, and mobilize public support. To achieve these goals, ECNL works at every level, from the hyper-local to the international.

The ECNL team has helped shape United Nations resolutions, European Union documents, and progressive national laws affecting freedoms of association, assembly, and participation. We offer expertise on legal themes, research on emerging trends, and peer learning programs to help local groups in Europe and beyond promote and protect civic space and fundamental rights. We also create tools to monitor the implementation of CSOs freedoms of association and assembly in Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries, and we have created a critical mass of groups in those countries that advocate for better laws.

ECNL represents ICNL and its affiliates in the Private Consultative Forum of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and is a core member of the global coalition that, in 2016, helped the FATF introducea better framework for incorporating CSOs into combatting financing for terrorism.

Founded in Sofia in 2001, BCNL provides legal support to the development of civil society in Bulgaria. BCNL’s activities include helping identify CSOs’legislative priorities, co-drafting CSO legislation, organizing seminars and training on issues related to CSOs legal and fiscal frameworks, maintaining a database of civil society laws, and providing legal assistance on CSO registration and other topics. BCNL also conducts research on a variety of issues pertaining to nonprofit law.

To support the development of a vibrant CSO sector in Bulgaria, BCNL has created the country’s largest CSO information portal, only CSO summer school, first CSO entrepreneurship program and bazaar of social enterprises, and first CSO coworking space, the NGO House. BCNL also launched one of the first pilot programs exploring supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship for people with disabilities. BCNL has been a driving force behind the Bulgaria Gives campaign.

Key Resources

ICNL and our alliance members, ECNL and BCNL, have produced many research products related to European civil society. Below is a sampling of our key resources. For more materials and information, we encourage you to explore the ECNL and BCNL websites.

Fundraising Principles

The Fundraising Principles report provides a global overview of current trends in fundraising regulation and self-regulation, addressing seven key areas based on international and regional standards, and country practices. It aims to support advocacy efforts to create an enabling environment for fundraising around the globe. ECNL and ICNL developed the Fundraising Principles with the support of a group of key experts on fundraising.

Handbook on Using EU Law to Protect Civic Space

In partnership with EFC and DAFNE, ENCL wrote a handbook to provide practical guidance for civil society organizations to advocate, litigate, and protect their rights using European Union law to protect their rights and civic space in the EU.

Handbook on Registering a Civil Society Organization

The handbook provides comparative information on founding and operating CSOs in ten countries, including Belgium, Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, and Sweden. The country notes are divided into thematic subsections detailing the legal requirements for organizational forms in each country. The handbook is available in English, Arabic, and Russian.

The Regulatory Framework for Fundraising in Europe

In the past decade, a number of European countries have revisited their regulatory frameworks for fundraising. Their regulatory reforms range from reductions in administrative burdens and regulatory controls to increases in state oversight. To ensure that accurate information is available on this issue, ECNL has published an extensive study that compares the legal frameworks for fundraising in sixteen countries.

Monitoring the Right to Free Assembly

The right to free assembly is essential to a healthy civil society. ECNL supports its network of local partners in twelve countries as they monitor laws, observe protests, report challenges, and engage in legal reforms to protect and promote this fundamental right. This year’s monitoring reports build on previous efforts to explore issues that are relevant for civil society in Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries.

Explore our full global resource collection, which includes reports, legal analyses, and curated collections of materials on an array of issues shaping civic space around the world.