For a Sustainable and Just Europe: Can Civil Society Effectively Influence the EU? The case of Trade Policy


  • Lucy Ford Oxford Brookes University


Within critical debates about European governance scholars have highlighted the role of social forces in both maintaining and challenging the dominance of market liberalism. The works of Antonio Gramsci on the links between ideology and governance provide some powerful tools for understanding these relationships that have been applied by neo-Gramscians. Working from this starting point, this paper provides a broad analysis of civil society actors that are engaging and challenging European hegemonic governance, including NGOs and social movements. These questions are explored through the retrospective case study of EU trade policy questioning the extent of the opportunities for civil society to influence this policy area, with implications for current challenges.

Scholars on the left have habitually dismissed new social movements as not being properly class based actors, and thus helping to maintain current forms of governance. In addressing this, the paper discusses the self understanding of such movement actors and how they see their interventions in a wider context of campaigning and mobilisation. From the point of view of systemic change, this paper raises interdisciplinary questions of how we see second order (or radical) system change in the sphere of discourse, concepts and beliefs about social and economic systems. Again, this is a relatively unexplored area in system change discussions which tend to be focused on desired outcomes, or economic levers, and tend to leave out the cultural aspects that are also needed help achieve transformational change.