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Erik Oddvar Eriksen, John Erik Fossum. The European Union is widely held to suffer from a democratic deficit, and this raises a wider question: can democracy at all be applied to decision-making bodies beyond the nation state? Today, the EU is a highly complex entity undergoing.
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The academic study of political deliberation has made significant progress over the last ten years.

Analytical tools like the discourse quality index DCI facilitate the measurement of deliberative quality of political debate Steiner et al. Yet they are not easy to apply in the field of international relations and European politics because they require a database of verbatim protocols that is rarely available there.

What is more, it cannot cover informal and undocumented discussions on the sidelines, which might also have an impact on the progress of diplomatic negotiations.

Studies that sought to track civil society contributions to such negotiations have identified a certain pattern in the impact that arguments originating from civil society. In particular in the first phases of the policy-cycle, when problems are defined and options for tackling them are debated, suggestions and criticisms by non-state actors are taken up. As the decision-making process draws to a close, points raised by non-state actors are more often ignored, or drop out of the draft document Friedrich In the hot phase of negotiation, when preferences of governments are fixed and the pressure to reach diplomatic agreement mounts, arguments without a sponsor among the relevant parties to the negotiation fall by the wayside.

Whenever political and economic power makes itself felt, the deliberative quality of the process suffers, along with the civil society influence on it. This is true for the EU and for other international negotiation settings Dany The analysis of the emergent European public sphere has been thriving in recent years. It has also become clear that many efforts of civil society actors to push their claims in public and to create a debate about them are, in the end, not taken up by the press and do not reach the intended audiences Altides There is, hence, little evidence to show that the voices of civil society actors are crucial in creating a European public sphere.

A first quite general problem is a potential bias in the representation of societal interest through organized civil society. As we know, some societal interests are harder to mobilize than others. Concentrated interests, a small number of actors to coordinate and abundant financial resources facilitate the organization of interests. To give high numbers of actors a voice that have much less of a stake in the issue and avail of less resources is significantly harder.

It cannot surprise us, therefore, that also the shape of transnational civil society reflects such imbalances Piewitt Interest representation is not even, with industry interests often dominating in numbers over, for instance, environmental and human rights concerns. It is also problematic to assume a priori that civil society organizations are representing citizens in any meaningful way. Many of the civil society groups active at the European level are associations of associations, rather than associations of citizens Kohler-Koch Moreover, many civil society organisations, despite their name, do not have any societal basis.

They are expert organisations, run by experts and mainly targeting experts in their advocacy. They are de facto think tanks, not membership organizations.

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Quite often, the influence of intergovernmental organizations is also felt here. IOs, and particularly the EU, are aggregating transnational civil society into platforms, alliances and caucuses, making outreach easier. The EU also instigates the emergence of a European civil society that is friendly towards its own organizational goals and political purposes. Figures about EU funding disbursed to civil society mainly via the Commission document not only that the sheer amount of money is significant enough to alter the civil society landscape in Brussels and in some member states, especially in the Eastern part of Europe where local civil society remains underdeveloped for historical reasons.

Erik Eriksen and Jan-Erik Fossum

To summarize, deliberative democracy has become a widely accepted ideal for reforming international organizations in general, and the EU in particular. In this context, institutionalized deliberation and civil society participation are often seen as natural friends. There is a gap, however, between high theory-driven expectations and the modest realities of civil society participation. Anecdotes aside, it is hard to show that direct civil society participation makes much of a difference in intergovernmental negotiation processes. The two phenomena may actually be related as journalists preferably approach and cite those who they believe to be crucial players on the political scene.

Many of the civil society organizations, active in international politics, form part of a transnational functional elite. Grassroots or membership organizations that want to play the game of international politics successfully need to professionalize and adapt to expectations. The pressure to professionalize may lead to gradual emancipation of elites within the organization from their membership base Saurugger , or the foundation of think-tank like bodies that do not have much of a membership at all.

It might hence be better to conceive of CSOs as professional advocates of certain political issues, indirectly supported by many citizens, than as representatives of citizens.


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Their influence is probably not to be measured in how they impact concrete formulations in international negotiation. It takes place before formal negotiations start and behind the scenes, through a re- framing of issues, public advocacy, silent lobbying and the brokering of coalitions. It is thus apparent that CSO participation is not a panacea to democratizing European or global governance.

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Nor can it be taken for granted that the mere presence of CSO representatives will enhance the deliberative quality of international negotiation. Still, I would suggest that civil society participation is in many cases a democratic asset to European and global governance: they act as professional watchdogs, they enhance the transparency of the political process, and they contribute to the plurality of voices present in the political process. The probably greatest asset of professional CSO actors is that they are mediators, multipliers and information-brokers.

Even if they do not reach out to every citizen and even if they are rarely cited in the mass media they contribute to the creation of a transnational public sphere and to the public accountability of European and global governance Steffek Global Governance ; vol.


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