European Civil Society: Theoretical Considerations and Empirical Evidence

  • Abstract:
    This paper aims to critically examine the question of whether there is anything particularly ‘European’ or ‘civil’ in European civil society, ECS herein. For the purpose of explaining the ‘European’ attribute, I develop a conception of a civil society that portrays it as a product of the dialectics between the European single market and the new experimental governance structure. I would claim that at the EU level we have the necessary preconditions, a new polity with regulatory prerogatives and a regional economy, for the emergence of the ECS. The EU governance framework, although not a state in a traditional sense, has the attributes of a public authority that is backed by a combination of its own EU law, binding rules and other non-binding measures. Likewise, the EU economy is not a mere sum of its member states’ economies, but represents a deep integration of these markets. In purely abstract terms there is an external necessity, for the ECS, however thin, to emerge. I deem the pursuit of the European civil society as a promising endeavor, thus after the theoretical elaborations, the paper will proceed by examining the existing evidence of the Europeanization of the civil society. The article would conclude by a discussion on the contours of the ECS with a special focus on the relationship between it and the EU institutions, where a critical reading of three alternative conceptions would be provided. Namely, that of ECS independence, ECS dependence, and interdependence between the ECS and the EU institutions within the new rationality of governmentality.