Incantations and uses of civil society by the European Commission
Over the last decade, civil-society participation as a means to sustain and extend democratic governance has become an important political objective in many countries. Therefore, most political institutions have paid greater heed to civil society and have tried to enhance their relationships with civil-society groups, in particular with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). At the European level, a discourse on the involvement of civil society has emerged in the 1990s and several devices have been tried in order to encourage civil-society participation. The White Paper on European governance, published by the European Commission (EC) in July 2001, can be seen as a key moment formalising civil-society involvement in the policy-making process. It initiated the reinforcement of ‘a culture of consultation and dialogue’ (EC 2001: 428) in European governance. In 2002, the White Paper was supplemented by ‘General Principles and Minimum Standards’. Furthermore, Article 47 of the Constitutional Treaty of 2004 specified, among other aspects, that ‘the Union’s institutions shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society’ (European Union 2004: article 47-1).