New network encourages active citizenship in Europe

New insights into the role of cultural diversity and active citizenship in Europe have emerged from a research network set up to encourage more citizens to participate in policy making at all levels of society. Mass emigration, dual nationality, the rise of nationalism and inter-ethnic conflicts are all important current issues that question society’s previous straightforward understanding of state citizenship. The CINEFOGO network believes that in order for people, especially young people, to practise active citizenship, they need to form an identity, develop a set of civic values and develop a sense of belonging to a democratic entity.

In order to define citizenship, policy makers must, therefore, understand the subjective definition of the political entity with which people identify – this could be their immediate locality, their region, the continent of Europe, or the world. One of the main outcomes of the CINEFOGO network has been the breaking-down of barriers between institutions from different Member States and the enabling of joint European integrated and coordinated research in this area.

The CINEFOGO network received input from over 200 researchers from 45 universities and research institutes in 16 countries. It ran for more than four years from September 2005 to November 2009, under the EU’s 6th Framework Programme.

The network was set up to take forward EC strategy papers including the 'White Paper on Governance'1 (Brussels, 25.7.2001COM (2001) 428 final) and the communication strategy entitled 'Action Plan to Improve Communicating Europe'2, the so-called ‘Plan D’ for democracy, dialogue and debate in Europe.

Thanks to the participation of outstanding scholars and institutions from both older and more recent EU Member States, a strong and lively network has been created that is especially valuable for young researchers. Collaborative research was conducted and disseminated on three main themes:

  • Identities, values and civic cultures in Europe – integration and diversity.
  • Citizenship and civic participation in relation to social protection.
  • Multi-level governance and organised civil society.

These themes were aimed at improving the understanding of what constitutes European citizenship and how Europe’s citizens can participate in civil society.

The network’s research also identified a new move towards decentralisation, especially in highly centralised states, and innovative forms of horizontal collaboration between state actors and civil society that are replacing strong state power.

The network recommended three particular issues that need further consideration:

  • The ways in which welfare services outside state institutions are accessed.
  • The mechanisms by which citizens can participate in society.
  • Broader forms of participation including the voluntary sector.

Active citizenship and the organised civil society fulfil a broad range of tasks in the democratic process of decision-making in all EU Member States. A number of advantages derive from the inclusion of civil society and active participation in political processes, such as:

  • Engagement in dialogue with civil society is a viable way to enhance public participation, in the context of decreasing trust in political institutions.
  • Civil society organisations can supplement political parties in informing debates and aggregating preferences, and they can take account of the increased cultural and ethnic differentiation of European countries.
  • Civil society organisations have to be involved in the implementation of policies, because public authorities are often no longer able to deliver services that meet the needs of an increasingly differentiated population.
  • Participation of civil society at the EU level is a useful way to address the perceived democratic deficit of the European Union as well as other supra-national institutions.

CINEFOGO has, with its database of more than 200 publications, and its other research and dissemination activities, including numerous conferences, seminars and workshops during more than 4 years, established a solid platform for improving dialogue and integrated research on new forms of governance and citizenship in the European Union.

The network has paved the way for a continued dialogue between researchers, policy makers, public service institutions and organised civil society on the political future of the European Union, especially with respect to promotion of citizens’ involvement and participation in policy making. This goal has been pursued particularly through CINEFOGO’s programme for the dissemination of scientific results, the OUTCOME database and a monthly e-letter with news from the CINEFOGO network.

 

1 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/com/2001/com2001_0428en01.pdf

2 http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/communication/pdf/communication_com_en.pdf

CINEFOGO - Civil Society and New Forms of Governance in Europe (duration: 1/9/2005 – 30/11/2009) was a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.cinefogo.org/

Contact: Thomas Boje, boje@ruc.dk