The intensification of the financial, social, economic and political world crisis, the weakness of welfare systems and their difficulties in providing adequate answers to growing risks of social exclusion, urges sociologists to develop adequate reflection and empirical data on social inclusion policies.
The capitalist worldwide regulation system is presently facing a severe test, not only as to state budgets stability or growth of economic investments and monetary stability, but also as to the very possibility of maintaining adequate levels of social protection and social cohesion.
Social cohesion is necessary in order to find ways of mediation, conflict regulation, compensation, and solutions proposal. The relevant actors for social cohesion are still people and their communities. Inclusion policies can reinforce those actors by means of participation, by strengthening the relationship with the territory and its concrete needs. Real needs of people do not necessarily fully coincide with formalized rights. In times of economicistic managerialization and financial redefinition of welfare systems, those needs are more and more subject to limitations, constraints, restraints, deferrals, denials.
The need for social cohesion is to be investigated in relation to participated public policies, opened to non-profit initiatives and targeted to support civil society actors.
Civil society and its organized expressions claim for more discussion and debate opportunities. Thus, initiatives that promote new forms of participation are increasing, especially referring to the principles of horizontal subsidiarity. This increase of the “participatory offer” is without doubt a positive thing. But literature points out that it is not without risks. Literature also highlights the fact that participatory practices can take many forms and pursue different outcomes.
The White Paper on Governance of the European Commission states that “the linear model, whereby policies are adopted and imposed from above, must be replaced with a virtuous circle, based on feedback, networks and involvement at all levels, from policy to implementation”.
The promotion of participation practices and policies within member states by the EU is pursued by means of several measures and actions aimed at involving individuals and organized forms of civil society into the decision-making processes. More recently, the EU has sought to extend such policies to neighboring countries. That idea has not met unanimous consensus, whereas many have perceived it as an expansion strategy of the EU market.
A peculiar critical role was played by the associations that have joined the “Civic Caravan” project launched in Morocco in 1997. The interest of that initiative is that it takes the form of a “concerted action” among Mediterranean civil societies’ organizations aimed at developing projects that can be respectful of different cultural identities, of national sovereignty and aimed at solving real problems in the Mediterranean area. Other considerable examples in that sense are the Réseau European des droits de l’Homme Méditerranéen and the EuroMed Non-Governmental Platform, where many European, North African and Middle Eastern associations are represented.
Those initiatives testify the significant degree of maturity already achieved by the various organized expressions of civil society in the Euro-Mediterranean area, as well as their ability in developing connections to pursue forms of action that are not limited to a local or national dimension.
For nearly a decade now, South Mediterranean civil societies have been undergoing a remarkable dynamism: the number of associations has increased tenfold, and so did the number of members and, more generally, of activists. Faced with the exponential growth of the phenomenon, governments of North African and Middle Eastern countries have adopted different strategies. On the Northern bank of the Mediterranean as well, significant developments of civic organizations are observed.
Forms and purposes of Civil Society Organizations active within the different Mediterranean countries vary significantly and are only partially overlapping. A more detailed empirical analysis is needed to gather useful information for comparison and provide a descriptive picture of the overall situation in the Euro-Mediterranean area.
The associative experience in this part of the contemporary world is very diversified and lively. Therefore, an in depth confrontation is needed within the sociological community, in order to reach a better understanding of the dynamics of Civil Society Organizations in the Southern European Countries, as well as in the whole Mediterranean area.
The main purpose of this mid-term conference is to explore the societal role, main challenges and dynamics of Civil Societies in Southern European countries, and in the Mediterranean area at large.
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