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Consumers, an Active Role in the Construction of European Governance?

Elizabeth Covington
European University Institute
Elizabeth Covington
European University Institute
Open Panel

Abstract

Elizabeth Covington, University of Wisconsin-Madison “Consumers, an Active Role in the Construction of European Governance?” This paper builds off of a broader study on organized civil society and European governance, which studies the emergence of European NGO networks in recent years as influential players in EU governance and policy making. The European Consumer’s Organsation (BEUC) acts as the “embassy” for 41 independent national European consumer organizations in Brussels. The national-level consumers’ organizations, loosely organized under this umbrella, are the explicit group targeted. I am currently interviewing the presidents/directors of individual European consumer groups as well as implementing a short anonymous preliminary survey which will be distributed to a small sample of their targeted members and/or “subscribers.” The qualitative interview and survey results will allow for preliminary answers to the following questions: 1) how the BEUC’s current lobbying presence in Brussels is affecting the basic structure of the national-level consumers’ groups and how the Brussels presence may be changing their links to and influence upon national governments; 2), if individual consumers are now viewing their own participation in subscriber networks such as the BEUC-affiliated national consumers’ groups as something distinctly European, or if membership is reinforcing national affiliation and sentiment. Comparatively little is known about the structure and dynamics of these networks, their relationship to their national affiliates, and the participation of both in governance processes at national and European levels. Since these consumer organizations also participate in the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), they have a specific “international” dimension which is managed by their participation in the BEUC Brussels-based structure. In short, the paper aims to produce some exploratory evidence about how cross-national differences in the structure of civil society – such as the varying historical and current roles of consumer organizations as “voluntary” associations—has changed in the past decade.