Access and agenda-setting in the European Union: Advocacy NGOs in comparative perspective

Abstract

In the European Union (EU), rights advocacy NGOs increasingly seek to influence supranational policy making. The success of immigration and asylum NGOs in inserting themselves into policy making depends on existing (in)formal ties to EU institutions. In contrast, human rights-based NGOs received institutional support through the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) containing a civil society platform that aggregates NGO claims. This article applies a comparative framework derived from the literature on transnational advocacy, using the distinction between venues and frames as starting points for analysis. It compares both sets of NGOs, exploring issues of institutional access and agenda-setting, and examines the strategies and objectives of advocacy NGOs in these two different political settings: while immigration and asylum advocates rely mainly on pluralistic lobbying strategies and pre-given, exogenous institutional opportunity structures, Fundamental Rights Platform NGOs engage in a novel approach in which civil society actors endogenously co-constitute aspects of participatory governance in the EU. On the basis of interviews with NGOs and EU officials, we conclude that each of these strategies exhibit specific trade-offs based on the nature of the relationship to the EU institutions. It is argued that each type of access has its idiosyncratic drawback: while immigration and asylum advocacy may result in dispersed opportunities to steer outcomes at the EU level, the inclusion of rights-based NGOs in the FRA limits their strategic repertoire. Finally, issue-specificity also conditions agenda-setting as higher issue convergence enables more focused framing, while a diffuse issue spectrum yields weaker frames and authority.

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Figure 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    These interviews are cited as #1a, #2a, and so on to distinguish them from the FRA interviews.

  2. 2.

    Some immigration and asylum NGOs are also formally connected to the FRA through the Fundamental Rights Platform, but they make up only a small part of all Platform groups. (Amnesty International EU Office, CARITAS EUROPA, ENAR – European Network against Racism, European Women’s Lobby – EWL, Jesuit Refugee Service Europe, Migration Policy Group).

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Correspondence to Markus Thiel.

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Thiel, M., Uçarer, E. Access and agenda-setting in the European Union: Advocacy NGOs in comparative perspective. Int Groups Adv 3, 99–116 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1057/iga.2014.1

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Keywords

  • European Union
  • advocacy
  • civil society
  • NGO
  • human rights
  • migration