Facts and trends
Complaints against oil companies
Violation of OECD guidelines?
EU offer for GATS negotiations
Interview with Wolfgang Preiser:
SARS: a new epidemic of the poor?
Multilateral Agreement on Investment:
the WTO is the wrong place for negotiations
Clare Short resigns
The Utstein Group
promoted by the state or a countervailing power?
Wieczorek-Zeul praises development in Benin
Civil society: promoted by the state or a countervailing power?
Shortly before his death, Werner Schuster formulated the motion for the promotion of civil society which the German Bundestag passed on June 13, 2002. So it was appropriate to combine the naming of the building in Bonn which accommodates a great number of developmental organisations as the Werner Schuster House, with a symposium on the subject of civil society.
That the term is understood in different ways was made clear by the contribution by Jean-Pierre Madjirangué Madjibaye, of the Forum de la Société Civile Europe-Afrique, in Brussels. He sees "the fundamental mission of civil society" in the exercise of social pressure (by groupes de pression), defines it as a countervailing power (contrepouvoir) against the established powers, and in fact at all levels: political, economic and social. That is certainly a one-sided definition, and there should have been friction over it in the discussion; but that did not happen. The definition common in Germany that civil society is represented by the project implementing non-governmental organisations (NGOs), was added uncontradictingly by Walburga Greiner, of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe (German Agro Action), and Joachim Lindau, of Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World). They said these NGOs must be promoted so that development was promoted. The question of how civil society can see itself as a countervailing power against the state but at the same time expect the state to promote it, was not discussed.
Another dilemma also remained without discussion: One of the demands in the debate of recent years is that civil society in the developing countries must be made to participate in working out political programmes (such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers). This is a demand for grassroots democracy. But no industrialised country is known in which principles of grassroots democracy are applied. At best, Switzerland could be named due to its strong emphasis on citizens' petitions and referenda instruments which in Germany are viewed with the greatest mistrust. In the one political party which has the instrument of a members petition, the parliamentary party leadership recently rebuked its use as "betrayal". It does not work in developing countries, either Gudrun Graichen-Drück, of the German Development Ministry (BMZ), said participation by civil society in the PRSPs was not worth mentioning. So why do we actually expect that such grassroots democratic instruments can be introduced in developing countries without difficulties, and why, if they are so important for democracy, do we not introduce them in our own countries?
Reinold E. Thiel