BARRIERS - The endangered sector? How to find voice in policy discourse
At European level expectations of the third sector have changed over time, moving from interest in the sector as economic partner, mostly in terms of job creation, over legitimising factor of EU policies, to a more pragmatic approach that reduced expectations of third organisations to provide expertise, represent the interests of citizens and consumers, and to provide services in a decentralised way. At the recent TSI Midterm Seminar in Brussels third sector stakeholders expressed numerous grievances that result from this vision of partnership:
- The near impossibility of maintaining democratic process and governance when invited to respond to policy initiatives at short notice.
- The limited scope for participation in policy discourse if organisations do not have the funds to have an ongoing presence in Brussels.
- The fact that to some extent the presence of NPOs depends on being on the right mailing list.
- The lack of European funding and growing competition.
Access to policy-makers is combative: “You have to get in early, you have to follow everything that moves. And if you start missing things you are out of the picture”, which fits more the profile of lobbyists than third sector organisations. The legacy of third sector input to policy discourse is also hard to assess, as there is no guarantee that expertise and advice given will ever be reflected at national level.