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Study on civil dialogue

The Civil Society Contact Group published in autum 2006 the study Civil Dialogue, making it work better, which reviews and assesses NGOs' participation in the European project. "NGOs have played a key role in the development of a more democratic and accountable European Union. Over the years we witnessed the multiplication of opportunities for citizens to take part more directly in the EU project, going from online consultations to citizens' forums or juries" said Ilona Kish, chair of the Civil Society Contact Group. "However, more is not necessarily better: time has come for a common reflection on how to make participatory democracy work better in the EU", she added.


Based on case studies analysing key moments of the EU public debate (such as the constitutional process and the Service Directive), the study is intended as a contribution to the heated debate on how to better connect the EU to its citizens.


The study identifies three main challenges:

  • Making it happen beyond Brussels - Strong campaigns around the Service Directive or the Constitution have highlighted that involving civil society can be a channel to take citizens on board of the EU project, but this is a difficult process that needs time and commitment, including from the Member States. They clearly stress the need to find a better transmission belt between Brussels and the national, regional and local level.
  • Turning the talks into results - Consultation without clear accountability from decision-makers can create an enormous amount of frustration, as was dramatically stressed by the debate over Corporate Social Responsibility. "There is more to civil dialogue than a PR exercise:  it needs to be enshrined in a dialogue culture, in a political will to listen", Kish adds.
  • The need for a better balance between public and private interests - Consultations limited to business are much too frequent in fields where public interest is directly at stake, such as industry, trade or public health. This bias is a major threat to citizens� trust in the EU and should be tackled urgently by more transparency.


"Bringing the EU debate out of Brussels is a major challenge upon institutions and political parties, but also upon us as NGOs. Member of the Civil Society Contact Group will devote all their energy to act as motors of the EU debate and face these key challenges ahead of 2009, and beyond", Kish concludes.



The study Civil Dialogue - making it work better and its recommendations can be downloaded in English and Croatian here.