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A Love Triangle: the EU, civil society and the state

Open Panel

Abstract

The EU’s growing involvement as the main international donor via its integration model in Southeast Europe is acknowledged to profoundly influence reform and development in candidate and potential candidate states. What is more, its ever-increasing role in democracy promotion in the region is evidenced by the recent introduction of civil society empowerment programmes. Yet, despite its strong pre-accession conditionality, which includes democracy promotion elements, its democratization strategy is still unclear. Putting aside the EU’s relatively inexperienced commitment to democracy promotion, why does civil society in Southeast Europe continue to be characterized by low membership and participation levels and why has the EU’s democracy promotion strategy witnessed a serious backlash in the last decade? Furthermore, despite the proliferation of civil society organizations (CSOs), why has this not led to an effective pluralisation and democratization of society? These questions require a dissection and remapping of the EU''s relationship with civil society and the state. The structure of civil society, post-socialist states and the EU Commission relations in Bulgaria and Romania, semi-democratic states, reveals a high level of merging between civil society (or the third sector), the state and the economy, further blurring the division lines between these three sectors and marring citizen’s trust in the third sector. The overlap largely results from corruption but reveals deeper cleavages among society concerning the level of trust and commitment to solving collective problems. The paper also seeks to address questions such as, which CSOs are allowed entry in the decision-making power game and which are excluded and how this impacts pluralization? Is the European Commission targeting the right sources of social capital? These questions will help discern the limitations of democracy strategies both from a structural and public policy options perspective.