Beate Kohler-Koch
The three worlds of European civil society—What role for civil society for what kind of Europe?

Policy and Society , 2009: 28, issue 1, p. 47-57
ISSN: 1449-4035

The paper presents results of an online survey among academics on the existing conceptions of civil society as related to the EU. The study reveals that there exist two independent conceptions of civil society, one of which sees civil society as composed of civil society organisations articulating and representing the interests of a constituency, the other locates civil society in the sphere of social interaction. These different conceptions as well as preferences for specific definitions of civil society impact on the classification of general interest groups, trade unions, professional organisations and business interest associations as CSO. As it is only the first, encompassing conception of civil society which is easily incorporated in a governance approach and well in line with the principles of representative democracy conception of civil society as promulgated by the European Commission while scholars lining up with the social sphere approach have difficulties to see EU associations as part of Europe's civil society, the conclusion is that the distinction between the two conceptions of civil society should be brought out more clearly.