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How to best utilize the EU-system? Advocacy NGOs in a comparative perspective

Markus Thiel
Florida International University
Markus Thiel
Florida International University
Emek Ucarer
Open Panel

Abstract

Based on the emerging European Union (EU) immigration and asylum regime on the one hand, and the incorporation of the Fundamental Rights Charter in the Lisbon Treaty on the other, advocacy NGOs of various kinds increasingly seek to influence policy making and implementation, albeit with varied success. The success of immigration & asylum NGOs in inserting themselves into the policy making process greatly depends on their existing ties to EU institutions. In contrast, rights-based NGOs received institutional support through the establishment of the Fundamental Rights Agency containing a platform intended to obtain information and to channel input from NGOs to the Union. This paper applies a comparative framework that is derived from the literature on social mobilization, transnational advocacy and multi-level venue-shopping of civil society actors. It seeks to compare and contrast the varying influences of advocacy NGOs in these two different settings. Based on interviews with Brussels-based NGOs, European Commission officials, and members of the European Parliament, a comparative policy tracing account suggests that the EU-NGO interface in these relatively new competence areas of the Union is impacted both by the institutional realities of the EU (which result in variable political opportunity structures for NGOs) and the capacities of EU-oriented NGOs to seize expanding opportunities and utilize venues that most likely will realize their objectives. In conclusion, it is argued that while pluralistic immigration & asylum advocacy may result in fewer opportunities to achieve desired outcomes at the EU level, the inclusion of rights-based NGOs in institutional EU-venues limits the range of strategies these can pursue. The paper thus provides an innovative comparative case study of policy approaches that connect to larger questions of human rights promotion and participatory democracy.