Study: Risks and Opportunities for Civil Society in a Time of Crisis

  • How have civil society organisations reacted to the EU’s financial crisis and what is the forecast in the years to come, as governments respond to the fall out?
  • Has the capacity of civil society organisations to participate in decision-making processes changed?
  • If so, what are the consequences of this change for participation and democracy in the EU?
  •  How can we reconcile fewer resources with the increasing need for non-state actors intervention and participation (employers' organisations, trade-unions, consumers' organisations etc.) in the reforms needed to put Member States and Europe back on the path towards growth?

These four questions will form the basis of a study initiated by the President of the European Economic and Social Committee. This report will examine the interactions between organised civil society and national (and EU) decision-making processes in light of the drastic political and economic consequences that the crisis has implied for European society. This study will analyse the impact of the crisis on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the EU by first examining trends in terms of the evolving relationship between CSOs and public institutions in light of recent austerity measures. Secondly, the study will focus on a few cases to highlight and how different countries in the EU have reacted to these changes. Finally, the study will focus on risks and opportunities for CSOs in this time of crisis and beyond.

CSOs are vital to the successful functioning of European democracy. They play the role of being an intermediary between governments and citizens, providing support to policymaking processes, and at the same time legitimising decision making processes by increasing opportunities for participation. What role will CSOs have in the new period of austerity that appears to have gripped most of the EU’s member states? Does ‘austerity’ from the public sector mean that CSOs now need to fill a space, thereby generating new modes of governance? Has CSO capacity decreased or have they been ‘filling the vacuum’? What is their relationship to policymakers in light of the financial crisis and its consequences: is there a bigger role for them in the democratic process?

In this four-part study, we shall be describing the impact of the financial crisis on civil society organisations in the EU, analyzing their capacity to deal with these consequences, mapping CSO involvement in national decision making processes, and outlining risks and opportunities for CSOs in a European context.

This study is carried out by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Institute for European Studies. The final report will be delivered in November 2012.

Contact: Prof. dr. Jamal Shahin, European Economic Governance Research Cluster
Vrije Universiteit Brussel - Institute for European Studies, twitter: @jshahin