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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 8: European Institutions and the Policy Discourse of Organised Civil Society

Carlo Ruzza


Carlo Ruzza INTRODUCTION This chapter starts from the assumption that associations can have a positive effect and contribute to a democratisation of supranational systems of governance and examines the conditions under which a democratising effect can develop. It concentrates on the role of public-interest associations in their relation with European institutions, and more specifically on social movement related associations, which it argues are a distinctive type, and proceeds to illustrate their characteristics and impact. In the empirical part of this chapter, a methodology is proposed to examine the specific ways in which they can contribute to democracy. This is based on an analysis of their policy discourse as reflected in policy documents and a comparison with institutional documents. It is argued that the major contribution of movement-related associations can be the representation of sectors of the population that would otherwise be excluded from the policy process, the contribution of policy knowledge relatively unaffected by vested interests, and monitoring functions on the relations between vested interests and European Union institutions. In order to effectively provide these contributions social movements related associations must on the one hand remain independent – that is, free from extensive cooptation which would constitute an institutional capture. On the other hand, their policy discourse must be at least in part compatible with the values and objectives of institutions. Either cooptation or excessive radicalism and unwillingness to co-operate would make their contribution ineffective. Utilising this normative standard the chapter then proceeds to examine their policy discourse and compare it...

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