Freedom Not Fear 2011/Brussels/day-of-protest/freedom-of-assembly-in-the-eu

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Some basic informations about our fundamental right to demonstrate, our freedom of assembly



Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union

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It says:

Article 12 - Freedom of assembly and of association


1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters, which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests.

2. Political parties at Union level contribute to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.

Legal Explanations

Paragraph 1 of this Article corresponds to Article 11 of the ECHR (...)

The meaning of the provisions of paragraph 1 is the same as that of the ECHR, but their scope is wider since they apply at all levels including European level. In accordance with Article 52(3) of the Charter, limitations on that right may not exceed those considered legitimate by virtue of Article 11(2) ECHR.

This right is also based on Article 11 of the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers.

Paragraph 2 of this Article corresponds to Article 191 of the Treaty establishing the European Community.

Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

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It says:

Article 11 – Freedom of assembly and association

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

(2) No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

Belgium Constitution

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It says:

Article 26 - Assembly

(1) Belgians have the right to gather peaceably and without arms, in conformity with the laws that regulate the exercise of this right, without submitting it to prior authorization.

(2) This provision does not apply to open air meetings, which are entirely subject to police regulations.

Belgium police law

The police law of Belgium "rules" the freedom of assembly under open air.

Unfortunately it is only available in french and dutch language and Brussels police is not able to give any link to that in the web. In preparation of fnf11bxl (after several requests) we got a fax of the relevant articles in the law.

Putting some effort in it we digitalized it, find it here also including a google-translation into german and english as pdf and here its odt-source.

German translation under construction


Thilo Marauhn: Freedom of Assembly ans Association

III. Freedom of Assembly

As with the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, included in Article 11(1) of the ECHR, is of ultimate importance for a democratic society. The formation of an assembly is not only a particular form of expression. It overcomes isolation, establishes an idca of togetherness and allows the formation and transmission of individual as well as collective opinions. Thus, freedom of assembly supports freedom of expression and is an essential factor in the forefront of institutionalized political decision-making within a democratic society. Freedom of assembly protects the Organizers as well as the participants thereof.

l. Scope of Protection

No definition of what an assembly is was included in Article 11(1) of the ECHR. However, commentators and jurisprudence agree that an assembly means the coming together of individuals in order to impart ideas among themselves or with others and to discuss or to symbolically express opinions. In the absence of a common awareness, a common objective or a minimum of organization, there is no assembly. A simple gathering of people is not an assembly. Although freedom of assembly contributes to democracy, its scope of protection should not be limited to political meetings. There is no reason why social gatherings should only be protected by Article 8 of the ECHR even though they may contribute to the formation of opinions.

Article 11(1) of the ECHR protects various forms of assemblies, their preparation and their realisation: assemblies of a public or private character, open air as well as in-door assemblies, stationary assemblies or processions, short or long-lasting assemblies. Freedom of assembly is not only protected in private premises or on private property. Rather, public places are of importance for the Implementation of freedom of assembly, since they effectively facilitate collective expression. Article 11(1) of the ECHR thus does not only guarantee freedom of assembly, but also encompasses the broader notion of freedom of demonstration. The latter includes so-called "sit-ins". Thus, the occupation of a church, tolerated by the church council, by a group of illegal immigrants has been considered to be an assembly. In contrast to Article 8 of the German Basic Law, which guarantees freedom of assembly "without prior notification or permission", mere requirements of authorization and notification with regard to public places are not considered as interferences with freedom of assembly under the ECHR.

Being an indispensable part of a democratic society based on the rule of law, Article 11(1) of the ECHR only protects peaceful forms of communication. The wording of Article 11 of the ECHR explicitly refers to "freedom of peaceful assembly“. Given that provocations are an essential form of expression during demonstrations, however, only extreme cases of violence can be considered to be outside the scope of Article 11(1) of the ECHR a priori. An assembly is not peaceful if the Organizers plan to violently enforce their objectives. In contrast, an assembly remains peaceful notwithstanding; violent activities on the margins pf a demonstration or attempts of extremists to undermine the assembly.

It is noteworthy that Article 11(1) of the ECHR imposes a positive Obligation on governments to actively protect demonstrations. Otherwise fear of violent counter-demonstrations would in practice prevent the exercise of the rights and freedoms included in Article 11(1) of the ECHR. The choice of means is left to the government, however. This positive obligation has an impact on the admissibility of counter-demonstrations. It is arguable that counter-demonstrations are considered to be outside the scope of protection of Article 11(1) of the ECHR if they exclusively aim at the disruption of another demonstration. Nevertheless, it is preferable to assess the protection of counter-demonstrations on the basis of Article 11(2) of the ECHR.

2. Interference

Whereas a licence requirement with regard to assemblies on public places is not considered to be an interference, a prohibition of an assembly constitutes an interference with the freedom of assembly. Other limitations of freedom of assembly which concern the preparation, organization and implementation of assemblies easily qualify as interferences. Likewise, disciplinary and penal sanctions related to participation in a demonstration must be considered an interference.

3. Justification

Article 11(2)(i) of the ECHR follows the model of the limitation clauses included in Articles 8 to 10 of the ECHR. Interferences with freedom of assembly are justified, if they "are prescribed by law", if they serve one of the aims listed in Article 11(2)(i) of the ECHR and if they "are necessary in a democratic society". All conditions must be equally met.

a) Permissible Aims

Among the aims listed in Article 11(2)(i) of the ECHR, measures adopted in the interest of public safety are of particular importance. The other objectives (national security, the protection of health or morals, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others) are of limited relevance in practice.

b) Principle of Proportionality

The application of the principle of proportionality is decisive also with regard to the freedom of assembly. It is necessary to distinguish between the justification of direct and indirect interferences as well as between an assembly ban and rnore modest measures.

Indirect interferences require strict scrutiny in so far as disciplinary and penal sanctions can only be imposed under narrow circumstances and with regard to persons who commit reproachable acts themselves. In light of the prime importance of freedom of assembly, the rights of other participants can not be legitimately encroached upon.

Direct interferences, in particular assembly bans, are only permissible under exceptional circumstances. A prohibition of public events over a period of two days in the context of the partly violent conflict with regard to the establishment of the canton Jura in Switzerland was considered proportionate by the then Commission. Even a prohibition of demonstrations in the City of London over a period of two months was considered to be proportionate. However, the Commission underlined the exceptional character of such a general prohibition.

When assessing the permissibility of interferences below the threshold of an assembly ban, the proportionality of direct measures has to be evaluated on the basis of a balancing of individual and public interests involved. This necessitates taking into consideration the freedom as such, the extent of governmental interference and the possibility to adopt less intrusive measures. In case of substantial effects on public order it is permissible tto limit the choice of the assembly's venue and the route of a demonstration or procession.


Source: Dirk Ehlers (editor): „European fundamental rights and freedoms“, De gruyter textbook, 2007, pages 118-120

Banned areas in Brussels

The picture is not proven by Belgian police, therefore please have this in mind.

Forbidden/banned areas are being titled as "neutral zones" from the police. Here are those, we went aware of:

  • Grand place in the city of Brussels including all the direct ways towards it
  • Places and streets around Belgian Parlament and Royal Palace.
  • The Parc of Brussels
  • The esplanade in front of the European Parliament (that pedestrian area behind the old station building with the clock at the place luxembourg)

It seems as if the place royale west of Royal Palace is not forbidden at all (as it is shown in the map)!


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