When evaluating participatory democracy in the European
Union (EU), it is unavoidable to consider that European institutions have come to
favour a very narrow and pragmatic understanding of civil society. Civil society is iden-
tiﬁed with the umbrella non-governmental organisation (NGO) networks that are
characterised as ‘standing’on behalf of Europe as a whole. CSOs are described as trans-
mission belts, mediators, connections and bridges, but such metaphors should not be
taken at face value. They deserve critical attention. But the literature, with few excep-
does not question such a conceptual relationship between CSOs, participation
and representation. This article ﬁlls this gap.
Third, what are the potential pathologies of participatory democracy? Civil society
participation promises the building of the general will from the ‘bottom up’. However,
we should be aware that under the appearance of widespread participation, we might
ﬁnd the manufacturing of participation or what is generally labelled ‘participatory en-
Political interference in ﬁxing the presumed accountability issues of CSOs
in terms of managerial principles
and neo-plural forms of interest intermediation might
result in the domination of bureaucratic and neoliberal rationalities within the CSOs.
Thus conceived, the legal norms of participation and current consultation practices
might in fact be deﬁning and prescribing the boundaries of a legitimate civil society
in a de-politicised way. If that were so, the result would be to restrict, exclude and
de-legitimise other groups in civil society.
On the whole, the aim of this article is not to suggest that the provision on participa-
tion should be deleted or that CSOs should be eliminated. Rather, the democratic legit-
imacy stemming from the involvement of civil society in EU governance must be
considered in relation to other structural factors. Among such factors, we should
include the current mode of EU integration, the roles of EU institutions, the nature
of the EU Commission’s consultation regime and, not least, the place of representative
democracy as enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty, where it is characterised as one of the
founding principles of European constitutional law.
As is argued infra, Article 11 conceives participation as a different source of democracy from that of repre-
sentation, even though the Lisbon Treaty established representative democracy as the founding democratic
principle of the EU (Article 10). However, the generally accepted deﬁnition of representation provided by
Hanna Pitkin—to make something present in some sense—makes it possible to read the contentions of par-
ticipation literature and the discourse of the Commission through the lenses of representation. Ingeneral, both
the supporters and critics of civil society participation appear to agree that CSOs bring forth the interests,dis-
courses or lived experiences of the citizens, which requires some kind of representation: delegate, discursive or
functional, respectively. See, H. F. Pitkin, The Concept of Representation (Univ of California Press, 1967).
S. Kröger, ‘Creating a European Demos? The Representativeness of European Umbrella Organisations’,
(2013) 35 Journal of European Integration 583–600.
T. Zittel & F. Dieter (Eds.) Participatory Democracy and Political Participation: Can Participatory Engi-
neering Bring Citizens Back In? (Routledge, 2007).
Commission of the European Communities, ‘The Commission and Non-governmental Organisations:
Building a Stronger Partnership’, Com (2000) 11 ﬁnal, available at http://ec.europa.eu/transparency/
civil_society/ngo/docs/communication_en.pdf; D. Castiglione and M. E. Warren, ‘Rethinking Representa-
tion: Eight Theoretical Issues’, Presented at the Conference on Rethinking Democratic Representation, Uni-
versity of British Columbia, Vancouver (2006), on ﬁle with the author; R. Goodin, ‘Democratic
Accountability: The Third Sector and All’, Working Paper no. 19, (Cambridge: MA: The Hauser Center,
Harvard University, 2003).
Neo-plural interest intermediation, in this case, refers to the competition between partial particular interests
to inﬂuence policies and decision-making processes. It also implies the aggregation of particular interests from
the local level. See J. Greenwood, Interest Representation in the European Union (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
European Law Journal Volume 21
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.804