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Nothing but consultation: The place of organised civil society in EU policy-making across policies

Connecting Excellence on European Governance (CONNEX) & New Modes of Governance (NewGov): European Governance Papers (EUROGOV)
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  • Civil Society
  • Deliberative Democracy
  • Democracy
  • European Public Space
  • Interest Representation
  • Legitimacy
  • Multilevel Governance
  • Participation
  • European Commission
  • Political Science
  • Linguistics
  • Political Science


In recent years, not only governance, but also civil society has been a veritable growth industry both in politics and academia. Depending on the author, organised civil society was associated with expectations of increasing input or output legitimacy. With regard to the EU, participation of civil society organisations are officially seen as a means of bridging the gap between the EU and its citizens, as materialised in the EU-discourse of participatory democracy. On the basis of an extensive literature review, the article examines the place of organised civil society in EU policy-making processes, in particular in the following policy fields: social affairs, health, consumer protection, environment, and trade as well as in the Convention process. It does so by evaluating the democratic core norms of participation, representation and accountability and comes to disillusioning conclusions. The inclusion of organised civil society contributes little to the democratic legitimacy of the EU and is instrumental to institutional power games of the European Commission and the European Parliament. Worse, the Commission, through its consultation practices, may be contributing to an aggravation of the democratic deficit. Furthermore, there is little empirical evidence that would confirm the normative expectations of deliberative democracy.

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