If promoting democracy, peace and human rights is the paramount goal of the European Union’s foreign policy, supporting civil society is one of the main means to that end. But “Civil society, conflicts and the politicisation of human right”, based on research funded by the European Commission, suggests that the EU falls short of effectively using the potential of civil-society groups in conflict settings. Many of these shortcomings are self-inflicted, through the EU’s own choices.
In different ways, the four case studies in this book – on Israel/Palestine, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey’s Kurdish question – all show that the policy effects of the EU’s support of civil society have been negligible or, in some instances, negative.
Lack of grassroot input
The EU has a tendency to set policy agendas from above, without systematic input from grassroots groups. This has led to the emergence of a non-governmental sector on the ground that responds to EU calls for proposals rather than to society’s needs. This is especially evident in Bosnia and in Palestine, where a thriving NGO industry – urban, professional and civic in nature – has sprung up to service the EU’s priorities, with little impact on the wider society. This, naturally, has also diminished the impact of EU policies, making it appear bureaucratic, and ignorant about realities on the ground.
Engagement with conflict
The core finding of this collection is in the editors’ essay on “redefining European Union engagement with conflict society”. In this chapter, they write that unless the EU “exerts effective pressure on state actors to engage in political reform, thus altering the political opportunity structure in which civil society operates, EU policy is unlikely to induce conflict transformation through civil society”.
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This means, in effect, that it is up to governments to open up the political space in which civil groups can do their work, and that governments will often do so only when prompted from outside. This is a point that deserved more attention.
Civil society, conflicts and the politicisation of human rights
By Raffaele Marchetti and Nathalie Tocci (265 pages)
United Nations University Press, 2011. €28.