EU’s Civil Society Bias in the Neighbourhood: A Case Study on Culture

    • EUPE_BRUGES_2019
    • Presentation speakers
      • Riccardo Trobbiani, United Nations University – CRIS, Bruges, Belgium
      • Domenico Valenza, United Nations University – CRIS, Bruges, Belgium


    What constitutes ‘civil society’ (CS) in countries that do not share many of the fundamental political, social and cultural features of liberal Western societies? Does the EU engage with societal actors that do not resemble its own idea of CS as either independent from political and religious ties or showing a clear liberal and democratic character in the content and promotion of its political and religious goals? While an encompassing reflection on these aspects is beyond the reach of this work, the following analysis seeks to provide a case study with a thematic focus. It looks at EU cultural relations with Neighbourhood countries and in particular at EU’s financial and technical support to their cultural actors. The EU has developed a sound experience in supporting the cultural sector in ENP countries. However, this study seeks to enquire whether the boundaries of what cultural sector means for the EU are mostly based on a Eurocentric understanding of CS or rather on a more inclusive definition mediated with the nature of societies in partner countries. The works starts from a hypothesis that the EU tends to approach and support Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the field of culture on the basis of their closeness to European standards, norms and values. The findings of the paper highlight a mixed picture. On the hand, a Eurocentric understanding of CS prevails in EU discourses and is enforced upon CSOs by technical means: strict requirements concerning the status and capacity of the organisations involved, with few exceptions. However, a strong emphasis on capacity building partly mitigates this approach, rather aiming at approximation to European standards. On the other hand, the EU does not seem to impose strong requirements concerning the agenda of organisations and aims to be as inclusive as possible. Nonetheless, factors that are structural to the cultural sector, particularly in the ENP South, possibly exclude actors that are far from European values and discourses a priori.