This project was concerned with the potential role of civil society in the democratisation of governance beyond the nation state. Its aim was to explore different modes of civil society involvement in institutions of European and global governance and to assess their respective potential for bringing these institutions closer to their stakeholders. Starting from a model of deliberative democracy we assumed that bringing civil society in holds promises for democratisation.
The empirical research programme was designed to compare the role of civil society in the process of policy formation of the EU and the WTO. The focus of this comparison was on the advantages and shortcomings of various institutional designs for fostering civil society participation. Issue areas were health protection and human rights.
The findings of the project called for caution with regard to the claim that civil society participation might be a cure to the democratic deficit of European policy-making, in particular in conjunction with new, heterarchical modes of governance. A comparison between old and new modes of governance in the field of occupational health and safety revealed that there is no guarantee that new modes of governance will be more participatory or inclusive than old modes of governance. Most of the civil society representatives we interviewed did not feel that the transition from old to new modes of governance improved their access to policy-making.
Second, we addressed fears that the rise of private actors may exacerbate, rather than mitigate, the democratic deficit of European policy-making. The main concern is that private interests may prevail and that lobbying further reduces the public visibility of who is doing what in European governance. We argued that in order to counter such fears of a ‘privatization’ of European politics, complete transparency is needed. A voluntary register of interest groups, as currently under discussion, is very unlikely to create transparency in crucial cases. We concluded that, no matter if under old or new modes of governance, the EU needs a functioning but also transparent system of consultation.