Civil society involvement equals support for democracy – NGO Forum Riga 2015
How can civil society involvement in EU decision-making be strengthened? – This was one of the central questions at the NGO Forum in Riga. Over two days, participants debated the implementation of Article 11 TEU. They asked, which mechanisms and instruments can support the participation of civil society organisations in national and European decision-making processes on EU topics?
Under the motto, “Create Europe. Our opinion has power.” the NGO Forum took place in Riga as part of the Latvian EU Presidency. The event was organised by European Movement Latvia and the Society Integration Foundation (SIF).
Engaging civil society in decision making
Bernd Hüttemann, Secretary-General of European Movement Germany and Vice-President of European Movement International co-chaired the session on civil society involvement at national level. He presented German practices on civil society involvement: a pluralistic civil society landscape with semi-corporatist structures. In Germany, political actors actively seek contributions from civil society organisations, profit and non-profit lobbyists. Despite this, involvement regards EU topics is still quite weak (a more detailed report can be found here). With this in mind, the European Movement Germany organises regular events on EU legislative processes in order to bridge the gap between decisions made ‘far away’ in Brussels and those made at the national level (i.e. Green Paper Analysis or EU-Council De-Briefings).
Latvia can be seen as a role model for encouraging good practice in civil society involvement-. Prior to beginning the legislative process there are NGO consultations on relevant issues. Furthermore, online consultations and live streaming enable civic as well as civil society involvement. In this vein, the online platform “My voice” (ManaBalss) for social initiatives and the Latvia 2030 Strategy were named as good examples.
Diogo Pinto, Secretary-General of the European Movement International (EMI), meanwhile, presented on the role of civil societies at the European level of decision-making processes. The European Movement was well-represented in the Forum. Besides EMI and EM Germany representatives and organisers from European Movement Latvia, other National Councils (EM Denmark, EM Finland and EM Italy) also took part. Moreover, there were participants from EMI International Associations: SOLIDAR; Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR); European Citizens’ Action Service (ECAS); as well as EM Germany member organisation National Network for Civil Society. In its current work programme, the EMI focuses on “More Democracy” and the implementation of Art. 11 TEU. The Forum stimulated international discussion on these issues.
Inclusion, participation and representation
During the two-day event, mechanisms to strengthen the inclusion of civil society organisations at national and European level were discussed by all participants. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are major partners in the political system, delivering information, expertise and legitimacy. Therefore, caution is advised in an instrumentalisation of NGOs. An even dialog between partners has to be achieved. Above all, formal and informal education on EU institutions and topics, a balanced representation of interests, transparency and open communication were deemed of great importance by the participants.
With regards to the European section of the road map, it was also pointed out that a matrix model similar to the code of conduct of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe could be established in order to better showcase the most appropriate instruments for dialogue and consultation depending on the stage of the decision-making process (agenda-setting, drafting, decision, implementation, monitoring, reformulation) and on the level of participation (information, consultation, dialogue, partnership). The road map only showcases general guidelines in order to establish a permanent “dialogue” at all levels between CSOs and public authorities. However there is still room to deepen the discussion about the establishment of different mechanisms within a structured dialogue in its different forms (expert groups, consultations, hearings, bilateral meetings, forums, etc.).
The distinction between direct participation mechanisms and the role of CSOs within representative democracies was also discussed. On the one hand, some defended the need to reinforce direct participation mechanisms and the role of CSOs in this process, and, on the other hand, some participants were interested in determining how to enhance CSO participation in the decision-making process. Those two processes are complementary and not exclusive between themselves.
The road map for the implementation of Article 11 TEU is a good starting point. However, there are concerns about its implementation and monitoring mechanisms as it is not binding.
The meeting was streamed live and could be followed via Twitter using the hashtag #NGOForumRiga.
This article is also available in German.