Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law


4. Conclusions - the Paradox of Transnational Civil Society and the Ironies of Myopia

If the Commission is serious about making sense of the gap between the EU's concrete achievements and the disappointed expectations of its citizens, then the lessons lie in the White Paper itself. In its focus upon a transnationalised and governmentalised European civil society, the White Paper asks what civil society can offer the EU in the delivery of the EU's policies or its message, instead of asking what it might learn from a civil society rooted as much in the structures and traditions of domestic civil society as in those of transnational organisations. At best, this is unwise neglect of the multi-level nature of civil society. At worst, it is a failure to move beyond the top-down model of European technocracy.

This is not to deny that one can give a credible theoretically defensible account of the role of transnational civil society in the support of processes of democratisation. One could, for example, defend a civic republican conceptualisation of transnational civil society as part of the processes by which different constituencies of interests are balanced and deliberation secured. But even this account would, nonetheless, recognise that, in a multi-level context, the issue of balance is not merely one of balancing interests within a level of governance, but also across different levels.

In the final analysis, we are left with both a paradox and an irony. The paradox is this: by placing so much emphasis upon the need for a transnationalised and governmentalised European civil society, the White Paper seems to undermine the very claims for the inclusion of civil society which prompted the search for a means of bridging the gap between society and transnational governance. In other words, if the consequence of transnationalisation and governmentalisation is autonomisation, then not only is the gap between transnational governance and society not bridged, more dynamically, domestic civil society actors may further lose influence as transnational governance and transnational civil society take on greater roles. The result is a paradoxical dilution of participative democracy (which parallels the dilution of representative democracy through transferring powers to the EP).19

The irony of all this focus upon transnational structures of organised civil society is that EU policies do open up spaces for civic engagement which do have potential to connect societal actors to transnational systems of governance. For example, the Open Method of Co-ordination - to which the White Paper shows an unnecessary defensiveness - has the potential for a multi-level governance which brings together both domestic and transnational civil society actors in important areas such as social exclusion. But in its paranoid defence of the Community method, the Commission, ironically, blinds itself to the current and future possibilities for civic engagement with EU governance.

The conclusion may well be that the White Paper ought not to be taken too seriously. What counts is what really happens on the ground in particular policy spheres. But, in so far as the White Paper does indicate the general trend of the Commission's vision of European civil society, it is a myopic vision that fails to grasp the multi-form, multi-dimensional and multi-level nature of European civil society. The Commission's vision is not helped by donning the distorting lenses of its own institutional defensiveness and its hankering for the Community method.

19 See Weiler et al above n 5.




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