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Social Platform annual conference on civil dialogue

On 9 and 10 December, the Social Platform - the largest platform of social NGOs in Europe - organised a conference titled “Civil Dialogue: how can we shape the Europe we want?”.

The conference brought together participants from 23 different European countries and aimed to assess the current structures and processes of civil dialogue at European level and agree concrete recommendations on how to improve these structures and processes.

The conference, which was attended by HEAL, addressed the following questions:

  • Why do NGOs and decision makers engage in ‘civil dialogue’?
  • What civil dialogue structures are necessary for a more ‘social’ Europe that is based on fundamental rights?
  • What role should be played by European networks: drivers of European integration, watchdogs or merely facilitators of European propaganda?
  • How can the hard to reach communities bring their voices to too often inaccessible European decision-making processes?

In the opening session, to which representatives from DG Education and Culture and DG Enlargement were invited, it became clear that everybody agrees on the importance of civil society. As is laid out in article 11 of the Treaty, the European Union should be a participatory democracy, which actively involves citizens and ngo’s in the policy making processes.

However, the social platform conference wanted to go beyond this recognition of the important role of civil society, and encouraged the invited speakers and audience to discuss about how civil dialogue can be organised and which structures should be put in place for this. As these are very difficult questions, the conference participants could not provide clear-cut answer. Nevertheless, the experiences of the different ngo’s which were gathered, ensured an interesting exchange of ideas and further food for thought.

Another question that was raised at the conference was how the existing problems in the dialogue between ngo’s and the European institutions can be addressed. These problems include for example funding difficulties (project funding does not cover the operating costs...) and the fact that seemingly, input from the ngo-community is sometimes (often?) ignored by EU policy makers.

The conference included four workshops, covering the main aspects of civil dialogue:

  1. What is the future for the Open Method of Coordination on social inclusion?
  2. Funding for public concerns: where should the money come from?
  3. What is the role of European NGO networks in bridging the gap between European and national levels?
  4. New faces in Europe: how can we connect with the ‘hard to reach’ communities across the EU?

Based on the conference and further discussions with its members, Social Platform will issue a common position with concrete recommendations on how to move civil dialogue forward, and will start a campaign on this in 2009.

Written on 15 December 2008.



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