Civil society in Europe is increasingly active in the public sphere, according to a new report from the Maecenata Institute for Philanthropy and Civil Society, commissioned by the Institute for Foreign Relations (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) in Germany.
The report ‘Understanding Civil Society in Europe’ highlights ‘striking’ differences in civil society at a national and subnational level, with wide variation noted in terms of the activities, legal frameworks, relationships with the state and the private sector.
However, authors Siri Hummel, Laura Pfirter, Johannes Roth and Rupert Graf Strachwitz maintain that civil society has a long tradition in European culture, that it has well established structures and legitimacy, and will remain a decisive factor and indeed driving force in the future development of Europe.
The study gives a brief and condensed insight into the composition of civil society in Europe. It assesses whether there is a European civil society and to what extent it is visible and active in the European public sector.
Dr Strachwitz says:
“What we find is that European civil society is really quite vibrant. The old theory that a functioning democracy is a precondition to the development of civil society no longer holds. It is actually the other way round. When you consider the transformation process to civil society in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989/90, this is a shining example.”
“Civil society is by no means a 20th or 21st century phenomenon. It is just the name that is new. So obviously, many traditions, and historical and legal developments have had a profound influence on the emergence of modern civil society in different parts of Europe.”
The study identifies trends in the focal areas for civil society across different parts of the continent. In Eastern Europe, the key focus is found to be mainly on efforts to achieve freedom, the rule of law, human and civil rights, democracy, and other socio-political objectives. Meanwhile, it is the social, educational and cultural sectors that tend to dominate in Western Europe, and community building in Scandinavia.
Despite the striking differences in national histories, cultural traditions, focus of work, funding, scope, and self-perception, the study also highlights that a joint civil society is gradually developing at EU level.
Currently, the potential of a dynamic civil society and further development of an open, cosmopolitan, and democratic society appears to be of particular importance.
The Maecenata Foundation is an independent think tank that focusses on civil society, civic engagement, and philanthropy.
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