Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Europe’s engagement with civil society: Policy inconsistencies

The European Commission recently published a new communication aiming to set out a more strategic engagement with civil society organisations (CSOs). Entitled The Roots of Democracyand Sustainable Development; Europe’s Engagement with Civil Society in External Relations, the communication draws on a “structured dialogue – for an efficient partnership in development” with CSOs as well as a public consultation undertaken earlier this year. The Communication credits civil society as being ‘an asset in itself’ and a great contributor for bringing about development outputs. However, as Frauke de Weijerin of the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) notes, the Communication fails to explain how the new strategic engagement with CSOs will actually translate into practice.

Although it emphasises the importance of civil society at country level, the Communication is unclear as to how it plans to engage with CSOs, particularly those with who it is less familiar, such as faith-based organizations, unions or even social movements from these countries. For CSOs to be eligible for inclusion in policy dialogue the Commission wants them to be ‘accountable and transparent and share its fundamental values’. However, as Weijerin argues, the ‘full spectrum of perspectives’ must be brought on board in order for the development policy to be broadly owned by society.

A 2008 evaluation of EC aid delivery through civil societyorganizations found an inconsistency between the Commission’s policy objectives and the actual use of the civil society channel. For example, it noted an inability of the Commission to mobilise the CSO potential in governance related processes and a tendency to utilise European NGOs at the expense of local civil society organisations. Additionally, the evaluation noted the existence of an institutional culture within the Commission which is not conducive to the proper engagement of CSOs – mainly due to limited political backing from the top. While institutional changes have been made since the evaluation was undertaken and it is hoped that the new communication will provide the necessary push to remove the barriers to a proper engagement with civil society, according to the EuroStep network.

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