EK Blog: (Why) do we need civil society organisations?

Tellervo Kylä-Harakka-Ruonala, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), strives for a united Europe.

Tellervo Kylä-Harakka-Ruonala, Member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), strives for a united Europe.

Try to imagine the European Union without any civil society organisations. It is quite difficult to do that – because the existence of civil society organisations has a good fit with the basic EU values, such as the main freedoms and the fundamental rights of citizens.

Civil society organisations are often considered as a synonym of environmental, consumer, development or other social organisations. However, one should not forget that both business associations and trade unions belong to the core of the organised civil society.

Demanding, resisting or providing added value?

Civil society organisations have an essential role as watchdogs of Governmental institutions. They follow the political processes alertly and interfere where needed. This is how they help ensure that defects are revealed. But while it is necessary to point out problems, solutions are needed too.

Participatory democracy cannot be a matter of only demanding or resisting. Ideally, civil society organisations are valuable professionals offering policy-makers facts, identifying new aspects and suggesting improvements. The organisations also have a crucial task to help increase the knowledge and understanding of their own members and the citizens on the topics at hand. Recent reactions around the international trade agreements, however, clearly show that communication is not only a question of facts but of perceptions and emotions as well.

Civil society organisations fulfil the mission given by their background groups. In doing this, they should pursue enhanced transparency and openness which are so frequently required – and rightly so – of the policy-makers. To be credible, the organisations have to make it clear whom they represent and who are those who fascilitate their action.

Call for fascilitators of dialogue and cooperation

It is likewise important for civil society organisations to avoid working in silos and strive for more comprehensive approaches, instead of being a one-eyed movement only. The better they interact with the stakeholders and policy-makers, the more valuable they are for the society. Today, this role is more vital than ever. Europe undergoes turbulent times, where disintegration, confrontation and polarization gain pace. To counteract that, we need civil society organisations that rely on genuine dialogue where fact based reliability and high integrity are a cornerstone.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a unique organisation that represents civil society organisations across Europe and gathers different partners of the civil society: employers, workers, consumers, farmers, environmentalists and scientific professionals. Even so, this community of very diverse stakeholders is able to negotiate common positions on vital questions challenging the EU. This can only be achieved through a profound debate and true commitment to cooperate. Even in those infrequent cases where a common position cannot be reached, it is valuable to be able to discuss, understand opposite views and arguments and provide policy-makers with an analytical overview of different angles of the important topic.

The most responsible organisations not only declare what others should do. On the contrary, they work and cooperate in order to achieve the best possible solution for the common good. And yet – it is good to remember that it is generally not the organizations themselves that create the jobs, reduce environmental emissions or improve social conditions but it’s the ones whom they represent – companies, workers and citizens at large.