Greek NGO Registry and its implementation incompatible with international and EU law, according to ECRE expert opinion
An expert opinion by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) released on Thursday finds the Greek legal framework on the registration of NGOs working with refugees and migrants (Joint Ministerial Decision 10616/2020) “in clear violation” of standards of international law, EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). More specifically, the opinion states:
- Rule of law guarantees: The legal framework does not comply with the requirements that rule of law dictates and the European and international obligations that Greece has undertaken in that regard. The vague nature of the reasons for refusal of authorisation in the law, as well as the unfettered discretion of the competent authority to refuse registration, create a clear situation of legal uncertainty and arbitrariness. The practical consequences of such uncertainty are evidenced in the similarly broad and insufficient reasoning on which the refusal of at least one NGO has been based.
- Free movement of services under EU law: The multiple changes in legislation and the eventual establishment of a complex, demanding and costly system of registration as a condition for operation in the country, in combination with a wider domestic climate of harassment against NGOs in the area of asylum and migration, can create a dissuasive effect which can ultimately prevent foreign NGOs, in particular those with limited resources, from pursuing activities in that domain in Greece. While prior authorisation schemes are permitted under EU law, lack of proportionality, inflexibility and unlimited discretion unlawfully restrict the fundamental freedoms that the Union foresees, in particular the freedom of movement provisions under the TFEU.
- Freedom of association: The excessive requirements and complex procedures for registration, the unfettered discretion in refusing registration, as well as administrative decisions which reject applications for registration by an NGO without stating adequate reasons, violate the right to freedom of association under Article 12 CFREU, Article 11 ECHR and Article 22 ICCPR.
- Restriction of the rights of asylum applicants and persons in return proceedings, including under deportation: National legislation regulating the activities of NGOs operating in the area of asylum and migration cannot be enacted and applied in a manner that restricts rights enshrined in EU law, in particular where access to communication with and legal, or other, assistance to asylum applicants and persons in return proceedings, including under deportation, is required for the realisation of those rights. By applying the framework in a manner that designates as unlawful NGO activities which are foreseen and protected under EU law; ultimately, the administrative conduct of the authorities has the effect of defeating the very objective that the measures purport to pursue, namely the protection of the rights of asylum applicants and migrants.
The expert opinion is accessible here.
The Greek Council of State is judicially reviewing the Joint Ministerial Decision on the registration of NGOs working with refugees and migrants. The hearing is expected to take place in June 2022.
For more information:
- RSA, Registry of NGOs working with refugees and migrants in Greece under scrutiny, 26 May 2021.
- RSA, Greece Further Restricts Civil Society Supporting Refugees and Migrants, 18 September 2020.
- RSA, Ombudsman calls for re-examination of rejection of RSA’s registration on the NGO Registry, 13 December 2021.