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Civil Dialogue


Civil dialogue describes an interaction between public institutions and civil society organisations. It goes beyond information and communication, and is based on mutual recognition and responsiveness. It covers various degrees of formalisation, ranging from informal to legally recognised structures, from ad hoc to continuous exchange.

 

If the development of civil dialogue in the EU found inspiration in practices at national an international level, it is marked by a much softer approach. The approach is characterized by the following elements:

 

  • Strong role of one particular institution, the European Commission
  • Non-binding character
  • Absence of binding representativity criteria and no accreditation system
  • A potentially ambiguous definition of civil society comprising business.

 

The degree of openness and the actual practices of civil dialogue in the EU vary strongly within and between institutions.

 

The white paper on governance  published in 2001 developed for the first time a quite comprehensive approach to consultation and dialogue. The white paper marked a change of paradigm for the EU by clearly defining the EU policy process as the result of different influences and mechanisms of dialogue and participation, which are not limited to the three main institutions (Parliament, Council, Commission) and by acknowledging the need to foster citizens' involvement. The white paper was followed by several attempts to define the framework of dialogue. In 2002 the "General principles and minimum standards for consultation of interested parties"  were published, representing the Commission voluntary 'rules' on how to consult with stakeholders. The minimum standards are the following:

 

  • Clear content of the consultation
  • Involvement of relevant parties must be ensured
  • Adequate information about and publication of the consultation
  • Minimum 8 weeks consultation period
  • Feedback must be given on the contributions received


The momentum of the White Paper on governance was not sustainable. And although the awaited revision of the EU treaties will mark another step forward towards more democracy and participation in the EU many gaps remain to be filled: The revised treaties will in a specific article acknowledge the principle of participatory democracy. It will put legal duty on all EU institutions to consult civil society. However the article raises a number of questions, as the mechanisms to put in place civil dialogue are not clearly defined.

 

The members of the Civil Society Contact Group work together to develop the dialogue between civil society organisations and the EU institutions as an essential part of strengthening participatory democracy in the EU. We believe that NGOs across Europe should form part of a regular, structured, and guaranteed dialogue with the EU institutions and with the national governments on EU policies.

 

The Civil Society Contact Group study "Civil Dialogue: making it work better" provides an in-depth analysis of the state of play on civil dialogue on EU level and for concrete recommendations on how to make it work better.