Organized civil society and its activities of political representation in the EU arena
Dept of Sociology University of Leicester Leicester, UK
With specific reference to the EU level, this paper discusses the implications of the concept of political representation when applied to the advocacy activities of non-state actors. Political representation, as the activity of (re) presenting opinions and interests to the policy making process, can take place by representatives holding elected office or by others. Representation can take place in several arenas. Whilst democratic theorists often focus on the activities of office holders in democratic arenas, representation activities of interest groups of different kinds are increasingly the focus of analysis. Their activities are examined in a broad set of arenas - including EU institutions. They present some of the same organisational and political dynamics studied by theorists of democratic representation. The literature on representation in such more varied contexts has grown in recent years and has often focused on the representative activities of associations, social movements and other informal groups. These social formations experience the same tensions that occur in elected institutions, such as the tensions between acting as delegates or as trustees. The often examined multiple meanings of the concept of representation, and the related internal tensions apply to all of the various arenas and agencies engaged in representative activities. However, as Pitkin and others have pointed out, the contexts in which the concept of representation is deployed colours which dimensions are more salient. Prevalent political practices make different usages of the concept of representation more or less relevant and specify its analytical and normative context. In this sense, processes such as the growing relevance of supranational integration and the prevalence of governance structures have broadened what is topical in relation to issues of representation. This paper will identify and discuss issues connected to representation - particularly issues of transparency, openness, accountability and representativeness. It will discuss issues of cooptation by public authorities, and the related attempts of using civil society to facilitate government-sanctioned goals of social change.