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Civil Society and Legitimate European Governance

Edited by Stijn Smismans

This book explores the concept of ‘civil society’, which over recent years has been revived and introduced into the institutional debate within the EU. Significantly, EU institutions themselves have made reference to civil society and, on an academic plane, it has been argued that the debate on the legitimacy of European governance should value the role of civil society organisations.
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Chapter 6: Civil Society Organisations and Participatory Administration: A Challenge to EU Administrative Law?

Carol Harlow


Carol Harlow FROM CITIZENSHIP TO CIVIL SOCIETY The term ‘civil society’ is one of a number of words and phrases, such as ‘globalisation’, ‘good governance’, ‘transparency’ and ‘accountability’, which have entered the language in the context of debates about transnational institutions and sources of power. Even here, it is a relative newcomer, having, I believe, made its initial entry in justification of the growing role of NGOs or non-governmental organisations in international affairs. Modern systems of democratic government are built on the concept of citizenship and envisage ‘citizens’ as the force to whom an electorate government is ultimately responsible or, in the modern expectation, ‘accountable’ (Mulgan 2000). Increasingly this relationship is analysed in terms of legitimation with legitimacy conferred on those who wield power by the approval of the citizens, usually through the process of democratic elections (Barker 1990). But the structures of international governance are not democratic in character, or at least only indirectly so. International institutions are not democratically elected and citizens take part in international affairs only through the medium of state machinery, which may or may not connote democratically elected government. This democratic deficiency should not in principle affect the European Union, whose Treaties commit the Member States to democratic institutions and whose Parliament is democratically elected. Yet election has not been judged sufficient to fill the so-called ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU. Despite eclectic argument over the respective roles of Parliament and Council, the first directly elected, the second indirectly elected but argued by some...

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