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Europe – With or without you?

A conference held in Vienna/Austria on 2nd of April 2008 by the CINEFOGO Network of Excellence brought several discussions together on trends and patterns of citizens’ participation in Europe and their implications on the role of Non-profit Organisations and Civil Society.

44 international researchers as well as CSO members and decision makers from 12 European nations joined the conference with the purpose to compare empirical tendencies of civic and political participation between countries and discuss impacts on and effects of civic engagement for particularly Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Civil Society in general. The aim is to make CSO members and policy makers understand social and democratic processes, citizenship and democratic participation in Europe and to nourish a general public debate on governance. Three plenary speeches were held by Florian Pichler and Claire Wallace from University of Aberdeen (UK), by Tom van der Meer from Radboud University Nijmegen (NL) and finally by Steffi Bixa, Karin Heitzmann, Johanna Hofbauer, Guido Strunk from Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration (AT). Afterwards two parallel sections concerning ‘impacts on and effects of civic engagement’ and ‘country specific aspects of participation and national comparisons’ were held concerning topics such as political consumerism, civic organisations and the defence of human rights in Hungary, political participation patterns in Lithuania etc. Civic participation can result in higher quality of life On the basis of an empirical study Pichler and Wallace discussed aspects on ‘Civil Society and the Quality of Life in Europe’. More precisely, they considered whether participation in civil society leads to more satisfied individuals on the one hand and a better evaluation of society at a country level on the other. Pichler and Wallace emphasized that participation in voluntary associations varies to a great extent across Europe and that at the individual level the civic involvement depends on individual characteristics. As they explained: “as it stands now, there are serious stratification issues and some groups seem to be more excluded from the core than others.” They emphasized for example that younger people more often participate in the ‘periphery’ of the civil society and that unemployed and retired people are partly left out of the civil society. Moreover, Pichler and Wallace concluded that there in the statistical analysis is a weak but significantly link between individual level relationship between civic participation and quality of life. Although, they mentioned that there may not necessarily be a causal relationship between the two. Nevertheless, the results of this study argue that the civil society is part of the good society. At the country level, Pichler and Wallace observe that civil society is strongest in the Northern Europe and weakest in Southern and Eastern Europe, which means that the country plays an important role in determining the level of participation in civil society associations. They concluded: “Where the State ‘delivers’, people engage more often in voluntary organisations and are satisfied with their society to a great extent” The state can be able to stimulate civic participation Tom van der Meer presented an empirical and cross-national study concerning the impact of a range of state institutions on civic participation encompassing activities that take place within voluntary associations. In other words, the study analyzes the effects of a large set of state institutions, and differentiates the various aspects of the container concept of civic participation. He argues firstly that countries differ strongly on the degree to which their citizens are involved in voluntary associations, secondly that these country level differences are to a great extent explained by institutional settings like the welfare state regime and democratic rights, and thirdly that not all citizens are equally affected by the state institutional arrangements. Meer suggests on basis of the study: ”that the state is able to stimulate civic participation by providing a high level of social security, by enforcing civil rights and by abolishing corrupt practices in the state bureaucracy, governments can stimulate civic participation of citizens with little individual resources and profit from the benefits of that ‘all-powerful elixir’”. The ‘social capital’ does not solely explain civic participation Steffi Bixa, Karin Heitzmann, Johanna Hofbauer, Guido Strunk presented a study about Social inequality and civic participation with the main question: ‘What makes the difference? They discussed the interplay between social inequality, exclusion and civic participation both theoretically and empirically and presented their findings on which factors on a micro-level determine whether or not citizens participate in civil society. On basis on the study it is mentioned that a mixture of economic, social, cultural and symbolic capitals explains civic participation and not solely ‘social capital’. In other words, citizenship values together with other variables increase the probability to civic participation. Source web:


Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, United Kingdom