The transnational experience of domestic civil society organisations: Italian CSOs exploring the EU multilevel polity

This policy paper sheds light on the transnational political mobilisations that take place in the European Union’s (EU) complex multilevel polity by exploring the opportunities and limits that Italian civil society organisations (CSOs) have encountered in the last decades. These are presented as a relevant case study for the transformation of CSOs’ political activism in a time dominated by populist politics and the reduction of the civic space. In the same period of time in which the relationship between civil society and political parties was changing at domestic level, the EU political and legal space has seen a notable consolidation opening new avenues for the mobilisation of CSOs at European level. The examples analysed include legal actions, legislative proposals, advocacy, and monitoring actions carried out by CSOs operating mainly in the field of protection of the fundamental rights of migrants and LGBT+ people, gender, and environmental issues.

Although there are considerable organisational and political obstacles to successfully using the transnational arena, the case of the Italian CSOs shows how the European multilevel system offers important opportunities to contrast populism. Our findings indicate that national civil society organisations are increasingly including transnational action into their toolkit. The transnational commitment of CSOs in a "vertical" sense is the most common one, but  in order to address common challenges the “horizontal” dynamics should be actively fostered. The final part of the paper is devoted to recommendations addressed to the EU institutions and civil society to strengthen European participatory democracy.

By: Luisa Chiodi & Fazıla Mat, OBC Transeuropa

Language: English and Italian