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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 7: When EU Civil Society Complains: Civil Society Organisations and Ombudsmanship at the European Level

Peter Bonnor


Peter Bonnor1 INTRODUCTION The links between EU ombudsmanship and civil society organisations are numerous. They nevertheless appear to be unexplored in the academic literature, and this chapter is therefore a first tentative step at examining the issue. Before doing so in detail, it seems helpful to give a general introductory idea of the relationship between civil society organisations (CSOs) and ombudsmanship in Europe. The relationship may seem simple: CSOs can complain, they do complain, and sometimes they get what they want, sometimes not. In actual terms, the issue is a little more complex. It is complex in two particular respects: first, CSOs do not only complain to obtain redress (for example ‘money back’ claims). They also complain to promote general interests. Second, CSOs’ exercise of their right to complain is in many respects a two-way thing because ombudsmen themselves benefit from the input that CSOs provide. Frequently, it is not only a question of what the ombudsman can do for CSOs, but also a question of ‘what can CSOs do for the ombudsman’. These complexities are apparent in recent statements by some national European ombudsmen who have expressly formulated a relationship with civil society. The first Greek National Ombudsman – Professor Nikiforos Diamandouros, a political science Professor of high reputation and European Ombudsman (EO) as from 1 April 2003 – informed the European Parliament during his EO election campaign that ‘I have been an active member of national and international organizations devoted to the empowerment of civil society and to familiarizing citizens...

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