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EU Economic support to European Civil Society: constituency building strategy or democratic governance?

Rosa Sanchez
University of Amsterdam
Rosa Sanchez
University of Amsterdam
Open Panel

Abstract

This article investigates the impact of European economic opportunities on EU level-networks working on social issues and the role of this same EU-level networks in EU policy-making. For more than 30 years, the European Commission has offered funding opportunities to EU level networks (Geyer, 2003; Sanchez Salgado 2007). Such support to civil society organizations can be considered as an opportunity for democratic governance, but also as a hindrance. According to the most optimistic view, public authorities should promote "healthy" voluntary organizations to ensure their contribution to democratic governance (Cohen and Rogers, 1995; Hirst 2001). This article will first focus on European economic support (European funding opportunities), which is currently used as a means to encourage ‘legitimate’ voluntary organizations at the EU level. How would the European NGOs landscape look like without the economic support from the European Commission? Are the effects of EU funding opportunities to be considered desirable from a democratic standpoint? Secondly, the attention will be drawn to European consultations and the policy making process. How are this same EU-level networks contributing to the policy process?. Are they just being instrumentalized by the European Commission in what has been referred to as a constituency-building strategy? Are they playing any of the democratic functions highlighted by the defendants of the “associative democracy” argument? Empirical evidence comes from the analysis of the EU register for interest representatives (where all relevant EU-networks are currently registered) and documentary analysis (EU-level networks policy papers). Our attention will be specifically drawn to EU-level based networks working on social issues and involved in the activities and consultations of DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.