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Representatives or Experts? Civil Society Organizations in the EU’s External Relations
It is often claimed that the participation of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can mitigate the democratic deficit of the European Union. This claim rests on the assumption that civil society organizations channel citizens’ concerns to the European institutions, a view which is also shared by the European Commission. But whom do Brussels-based CSOs actually represent? Some have accused Brussels CSOs of being elitist and detached from their membership bases, but not much evidence has been provided by either these critics or by the CSO sympathizers. This paper contributes to filling this knowledge gap by exploring the geographical representativeness of EU CSOs and the extent to which they involve their members in organizational activities and decision-making. CSOs in European Trade Policy (ETP) and in European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) serve as case studies. It is assumed that the different political opportunity structures in these policy fields, namely the Commission’s demand for geographical representativeness and member representation in ETP and the Council’s interest in CSOs’ knowledge and expertise in ESDP, are also reflected in the organizational structures of CSOs. The results confirm this hypothesis with regard to the geographical outreach of the organizations interviewed, but not with regard to the ways CSOs involve their members. CSOs in External Trade Policy have member organizations in a large number of European countries while many CSOs in ESDP lack a membership base. However, the member-based organizations of both policy fields involve their members in strategic decision-making and in diverse organizational activities and they communicate frequently with them. Evidence for a detachment of CSO secretariats in Brussels from their membership bases is scarce in the CSOs subject to this study.
No. 137/2010
Meike Rodekamp

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