“Dialogue” is a word on everyone’s lips in Brussels these days. There is no European Union institution, commission’s directorate-general or consultative body that has not officially recognized the role played by civil society in the participatory decision-making process; and there is no EU institution that has not established dialogue tools and channels to involve civil society and non-governmental organizations in the policy arena.
This multitude of options for dialogue, while dizzying, represents a concerted effort on the part of the EU to engage civil society in its decision-making processes. The options, which range from engagement with traditional bodies, such as the European Parliament, to more non-traditional mechanisms such as virtual communities, present opportunities for civil society organizations to influence EU decisions.
To date, some of these avenues for dialogue have been more successful than others. According to Gemma Pinol Puig, an officer at the European Centre for Development Policy Management, for instance, notes that the “Structured Dialogue,” launched last year, “can be considered a unique and genuine process that, for the first time, brought EU institutions,” member states, local authorities and civil society organizations from European and partner countries “to talk openly about key issues and responsibilities in development cooperation.”
In 2010 the Concord Cotonou Working Group identified bottlenecks in EU dialogue initiatives, noting a lack of transparency and access to information relating to the “consultation process available on delegations’ websites or HQ website.” The dialogue with EU staff in country offices, which is crucial to the EU’S devolution of decision-making in its international development work, is still not properly structured, the group noted. “In many places the dialogue with civil society is taking place ‘ad hoc’ and/or when instructions arrive from HQs.”