Foreign funding restrictions on civil society don’t necessarily go against democratic norms

Online article by Annika E. Poppe and Jonas Wolff on the phenomenon of “closing space”

During the last ten years, many states around the world have taken measures to restrict or openly resist the activities of foreign governments and non-state actors that support local civil society groups. The 2011 raid on foreign and foreign-funded NGOs in Egypt and the harassment of what are now called “foreign agents” in Russia are only the most prominent cases of a trend that is manifold and covers all world regions and regime types. This phenomenon, which has been dubbed the “closing space” , is part of a general increase in resistance against the international promotion of democracy and human rights.

In recent years, the closing space has received increasing attention by civil society activists, policy-makers and academics, resulting in a series of studies that map the phenomenon, identifying its scope and depth as well as its characteristics and evolution over time. Yet, what existing accounts largely, or deliberately downplay, is the normative dimension of the problem at hand.

On the basis of PRIF-Report No. 137 “From Closing Space to Contested Spaces. Re-assessing Current Conflicts over International Civil Society Support”, an online article of the two authors, Annika E. Poppe and Jonas Wolff, is now being published on In “Foreign funding restrictions: far more than just “an illegitimate excuse””, the authors show that those governments spreading global spaces have serious concerns about the foreign funding of domestic civil society groups. Thus, a promising response to the spread of closing spaces cannot but include a serious engagement/global debate with these concerns in order to discuss, revise and advance the international norms that regulate—enable and constrain—foreign civil society support.

The article was published in German, English, French, Spanish and Arab.

Besides, Annika E. Poppe and Jonas Wolff are members of the German Research Network 'External Democracy Promotion' (EDP). The joint interest of this interdisciplinary and inter-institutional working group of scholars from the social sciences, among them Annika Elena Poppe and Jonas Wolff, is in the range of cross-border activities by states, non-state actors and international organizations aimed at establishing, improving or defending democracy in third countries. Their goal is to deepen and focus research on democracy promotion as well as strengthen policy advice.

Online Link

Free Download of PRIF-Report No. 137

Website EDP