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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 12: The Professionalisation of Interest Representation: A Legitimacy Problem for Civil Society in the EU?

Sabine Saurugger


Sabine Saurugger INTRODUCTION Confronted with ever increasing criticism about its inherent democratic deficit, the European Union calls increasingly often upon the European civil society in its institutional reform projects1 (Commission 1992, 1997, 2001, 2002). European institutions define civil society in a broad way. Trade unions, non-governmental organisations, civic and religious associations, professional associations and grassroots organisations as well as business interest organisations are understood as civil society.2 Linking these groups to the European decision-making process is related to a new understanding of representation. On the one hand, territorial representation is considered to be the basis of a democratic European political system, on the other hand, forms of representation based on elements stemming from deliberative and associative democracy make their way to the institutional and even constitutional debates in the EU. Direct civil society participation is seen as a means to decrease the so-called democratic deficit and bring the European decision-making process closer to the individual citizen. Given this normative conception of civil society participation in the EU decision-making process, empirical findings show an increasing professionalisation of interest representation at the European level. This phenomenon may take two specific forms: 1. On the one hand, business interest groups but also civic associations appeal more and more often to ‘representation professionals’ to represent their interests, for example, law firms, consultancies or lobbyists which leads to an increase in the number of these firms. 2. On the other hand, interest groups, may they be civic groups or economic interest groups, reorganise their internal...

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