In May 2020, organisations including Refugee Support Aegean (RSA) had expressed their alarm at regulations adopted by Greece to establish new rules for the registration of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with refugees and migrants, and their members and staff. The rules, set out in a March 2020 Joint Ministerial Decision and May 2020 legislation, were criticised as amounting to a disproportionate interference with the fundamental rights to freedom of association, privacy and freedom from discrimination, and as liable to create a “chilling effect” for civil society in Greece. The Expert Council on NGO Law at the Council of Europe concluded in July 2020 that the “Ministerial Decision and related legislative provisions should be substantially revised so that they are brought into line with European standards”.
The direction taken by the Joint Ministerial Decision published by the Greek government on 9 September 2020 to replace the March 2020 Decision not only does not comply with the Expert Council recommendations to bring problematic elements of its predecessor in line with human rights standards but further exacerbates interference with fundamental rights. Registration requirements for NGOs are now stricter and more intrusive, while state discretion and administrative convenience are enhanced. Furthermore, the new regulations impose additional burden on civil society and demands excessive documentation in a way that interferes with the freedom of occupation and of the right to engage in work. With this antithetical approach, the state shows blatant disregard for Council of Europe recommendations and concerns about risks of rule of law backsliding raised by stakeholders at domestic and international level, while doubling down on maintaining a hostile environment for civil society.