Civil Society and the State: Partners or Competitors

16:00 – 17:30
October 12

In the 21st century, the market, state, and civil society are generally believed to be the main pillars of any societal order. While societal order is commonly envisaged in terms of governance – and when performing well, of good governance – civil society has increasingly assumed a role in any governance arrangement over the past decades. This role is expressed in terms of a number of distinct functions and relates to many issues, ranging from economic development, provision of health care, and the fight against poverty, to ethnicity, gender, and religious equality. Intergovernmental institutions such as the World Bank, UNDP, the European Union are increasingly taking this into account. For example, the EU is allotting €1.3 billion in its next financial forecast to bolster civil society development activities. The interactions between the state, the market, and civil society differ considerably, relative to time and geography. Recently, a broad international debate has arisen over what is sometimes termed as ‘a shrinking civic space’. Contrary to the enthusiasm with which both the concept and the activities of civil society have been embraced, there appears to be an urgent need to unpack the relationship between the state and civil society, both at an academic and policy level and in practical political terms. The panel will discuss and map these developments from an intercultural perspective and will attempt to develop policies that may ease tensions. Any dialogue of civilisations requires civil society and its members – organised or not – to communicate and relate to each other in an unconstrained mode of free deliberation. Politics and markets should help making this form of communication possible, rather than complicating it.

Among the questions to be addressed:

  • How do governments respond to newly emerging civil society initiatives driven by identity politics, driven by nationalistic movements?
  • Which have been key factors for policies, legislation, and regulation resulting in shrinking spaces for civil society in a number of countries?
  • Which types of civil society organisations were mostly affected by such restrictions? How did civil society react to new restrictions?
  • How did civil society react to new restrictions?