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Whose Voice? Transnational CSOs and their relations with members, supporters and beneficiaries
It is often claimed that the participation of civil society organisations (CSOs) can mitigate the ‘democratic deficit’ of international organisations and the European Union. The underlying assumption is that transnational CSOs are, through their advocacy work, voicing citizens’ interests, anxieties, hopes and ideals. In this paper we report the first results of an empirical research project in which we investigated if, and in what precise way, transnational CSOs are actually reaching out to citizens. In our interviews with officials from 60 transnational CSOs we found that, in most cases, communication between the CSO offices and members is dense when discussing strategic decisions. However, in tactical matters CSO officials seem to rely more on consultation with peers, and the international secretariats often act autonomously. We were also able to identify two prevailing models of consultation in transnational CSOs. First, there is a ‘formal and federal model’ of consultation that features representative bodies in which sub-units are represented. The second is an ‘informal participatory model’, which contains a great deal of ad hoc communication between the office and interested individuals. From the point of view of democratic theory, both models have specific advantages and, thus, it cannot be said that one is generally preferable. Within each category, however, there are CSOs that perform better than others.
No. 113/2010
Jens Steffek
Kristina Hahn
Meike Rodekamp
Martina Piewitt

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