Parties and Interest Associations


To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
Iceland has many active, noneconomic interest organizations in various fields. Although many have a reasonable level of prominence, only a few have the capacity and competence to exert significant influence on public policy. The largest are the Organization of Disabled in Iceland (Öryrkjabandalagið), with 43 associated organizations and a staff of 18, and the Consumers’ Association of Iceland (Neytendasamtökin), had a staff of five and 7,300 members in 2018 (information was not accessible in October 2019). The Nature and Wildlife Conservation Organization (Náttúruverndarsamtök Íslands), which had 1,400 members and one member of staff in 2018, is also influential. This group has managed to feature prominently in public debates about hydro and geothermal power plants, and expressed reservations about further construction of aluminum smelters around the country. Landvernd, the Icelandic Environmental Association with 5,000 members and eight employees, also has influence.
Landvernd, Accessed 20th October 2019.

Consumers’ Association of Iceland (Neytendasamtökin), Accessed 22 December 2018.

The Organisation of Disabled in Iceland (Öryrkjabandalagið), Accessed 20th October 2019.
The government and the opposition parties listen carefully to the opinions expressed by business, farm-sector and union leaders. Intellectuals and academics also receive attention. Environmental groups have a substantial influence on environmental policy. The large organizations are professional in communicating their messages to politicians and to the public, and are sometimes able to set the political agenda.

In addition, there are numerous formal arenas for routine consultation between governments and various kinds of interest organizations. In many areas, such consultations are formalized and have become a routine mode of policy formulation.
For noneconomic interest associations, their capacity to conduct analysis and produce relevant policy proposals varies significantly depending on their size.

For instance, in the environmental policy field, the major interest organizations have large staff that conduct high-quality studies and present highly relevant policy proposals. In other policy fields, small interest associations do not have the staff to produce high-quality policy proposals. Yet, if we assess the quality of noneconomic interest associations over the very broad range of all Swedish interest associations, most of them produce high-quality policy proposals.
Jochem, S. (2020), Das Politische System Schwedens (Wiesbaden: Springer VS).

Pierre, J. (ed) (2015), Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
A number of social interest groups, environmental groups and religious groups take responsible and well-considered positions and are, therefore, taken very seriously by government, although there are also groups that take extreme positions. The extent to which the proposals are well thought-out and feasible varies considerably. In general, the proposals from mainstream interest groups are of high quality in part because many elected representatives are drawn from these groups, or have had considerable contact with them prior to their election. The proposals also tend to be of high quality because of the expertise of the groups themselves and their narrow (often single-issue) interest, which means the groups can focus exclusively on a single problem and the ways in which it can be resolved.
Many social-interest groups, environmental groups and religious communities develop policy proposals that identify the causes of problems, make use of scholarly research to support their analysis, propose technically feasible measures to attain policy objectives, take account of long-term interests, and anticipate policy effects. However, as these groups have fewer resources than economic-interest groups, they generally do a somewhat less competent job in proposing reasonable policies. A 2011 report prepared for the Canadian Council for International Cooperation found that for many civil society organizations, broad policy ideas are not always translated into concrete proposals due to a lack of expertise. While some coalitions, such as the Americas Policy Group, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, the Climate Action Network, the Policy Working Group on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, and the Global Call Against Poverty/Making Poverty History, among others, have a strong record with respect to governmental relations, both political and legislative, they represent a minority in this regard.
A Map of Canadian Civil Society Organization Coalitions’ Governance, Capacity and Agendas: Common Challenges, Shortfalls and their Implications, report prepared for The Canadian Council for International Co‐operation (CCIC), 2011.
In accordance with the corporatist tradition, major interest organizations are often members of committees and commissions preparing legislation. They provide information for the government and legitimacy for the policies adopted, thereby facilitating implementation. Some civil society organizations may find it more difficult than the larger labor market organizations to get access to the government. Despite occasional criticism of the role of experts and commissions, they remain important.
Peter Munk Christiansen og Lise Togeby, Magten i Danmark. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.

Jørgen Grønnegård Christensen og Jørgen Elklit (eds.), Det Demokratiske system. 4. udg. 2016.
Most associations’ policy-relevant positions are based on expert knowledge and feasibility analyses. In this sense, associations clearly contribute to the general quality of decision-making. True, exaggeration and one-sided arguments are in the very nature of interest organizations and the ensuing negotiation process, but the prevailing style of policymaking grants access to various and often competing interests. The contribution of interest associations’ expert knowledge is therefore on the whole a valuable asset that enhances the quality of policymaking. Interest associations also have a high profile in public discourse, and often help shape public opinion. The fact remains, however, that the function of interest associations is to promote certain interests at the potential expense of others.
As of May 2019, the government’s official list contained 2,337 registered associations (Bundestag 2019), which again represented a moderate increase. One-third of those can be considered noneconomic interest associations. Within the process of policy formulation, interest-group expertise plays a key role in providing ministerial officials with in-depth information necessary to make decisions. Citizen groups, social movements and grassroots lobbying organizations are increasingly influential actors, particularly at the local level. Policy proposals produced by noneconomic interest groups can be described as reasonable, but their suggestions often appear unrealistic.
Interest groups have and can have an important impact on policymaking. However, drawing on academic knowledge within Luxembourg is limited. Some larger non-governmental organizations maintain small research departments and propagate their opinions through publications (e.g., Caritas, Mouvement Écologique, CEFIS and SOLEP) and conferences, by offering comments on draft bills, or by proposing policies.

Interest-group communications are often made via social media, as well as through other communication channels. For younger voters, important issues include refugee aid, the lack of affordable housing (i.e., the vacancy report project, “Leerstandsmelder”), heritage protection (including the “Mouvement patrimonial” association) and environmental protection (e.g., refill initiatives). Public participation in traditional organizations is on the decline.
New Zealand
There is a rich tradition of consultation with societal groups during policy formulation. The degree of consultation with groups and individuals and the way in which their proposals have been dealt with is reported in regulatory impact statements (RIS). Recent RISs claim that consultation has had a substantive impact in several cases. Still, resource shortages prevent some interest associations from developing specialist policy knowledge that would give them tangible impact in the consultation process.
There is a rich tradition of consultation with societal groups during policy formulation. The degree of consultation with groups and individuals and the way in which their proposals have been dealt with is reported in regulatory impact statements (RIS). Recent RISs claim that consultation has had a substantive impact in several cases. Still, societal groups differ significantly in their organizational resources and thus in their ability to make an impact on policy consultation processes. The Zero Carbon Act that was passed in early November 2019 is a case in point. While the consultation process received around 15,000 submissions – including those from environmental organizations and Māori groups – the law has been criticized for giving undue benefits to dairy industry lobby groups: the law stipulates a reduction of greenhouse gases to net zero by 2050, with the exception of methane from meat and dairy herds – New Zealand’s largest greenhouse gas emission (the target for methane is a cut between 24%-47% from 2017 levels).
Regulatory Impact Statement Information Release: (accessed November 30, 2015).
Dunlop (2019) “Māori seek direct input into govt’s climate change policy.” Radio New Zealand (
Toop (2019) “Agriculture’s role in getting to Zero Carbon.” Stuff (
Slovakia has a vibrant third sector and many competent interest associations whose analyses and proposals have featured prominently in the media. Think tanks are an integral part of civil society, feature close links to academia and other experts and profoundly influence public discourse. They often serve as a substitute for political opposition. The election of former civil society activist Zuzana Čaputová as first female president of Slovakia represents an meaningful signal. Čaputová previously worked as a lawyer for the NGO-watchdog VIA IURIS, which focuses on improving the rule of law and judicial system.
Slovenia’s vibrant third sector has been quite active in monitoring government activities. Despite a decline in public funding, most interest associations have considerable policy knowledge, and many can rely on think tanks that involve various experts from the universities and research institutes in their work. Policy proposals developed by interest associations, although not numerous, have been featured prominently in the media. During the period under review, interest associations have been heavily involved in two major political issues: the environmental impact of frequent fires that have taken place at waste-management plants and various infrastructure projects (e.g., the second railway to the port of Koper and the Karavanke tunnel). As a result of growing political polarization in Slovenia, the political pressure on NGOs has increased, and NGOs have become less independent.
Policymaking in the Netherlands has a strong neo-corporatist (“poldering”) tradition that systematically involves all kinds of interest associations in the early stages of the policymaking process – not just with regard to business and labor issues, but also in the education, care and health sectors. Owing to their well-established positions, associations such as the consumer association, all kinds of environmental NGOs, religious associations, municipal (Vereniging voor Nederlandse Gemeenten) and provincial interests (InterProvinciaal Overleg), and medical and other professional associations (e.g., teachers, universities, legal professions) can influence policymaking through the existing consensus-seeking structures. Trade-offs are actively negotiated with ministries, other involved governments, stakeholder organizations and even NGOs. Furthermore, non-economic interest organizations react to policy proposals by ministries and have a role in amending and changing the proposals in the early stages of the policymaking process. They may also become involved at a later stage, as policies are implemented.

During the cabinet-formation process from April to October 2017, many non-economic associations – representing the arts, education, the elderly and the care sector – inundated negotiators with policy memos and demands. For example, the citizen initiative led by Hugo Borst and Carin Greamers contained 10 policy recommendations, and was later underwritten by practically all relevant stakeholder associations and received support in parliament. Sometimes, as in a recent taxation debate between the association of social housing corporations and the government, the tradition of building consensus through “poldering ” can quickly become a process of hard bargaining. A collaboration of activists opposing low-altitude flights (Samenwerkende Actiegropen Tegen Laagvliegen) justified their resistance to a new airport using reports that countered departmental policy research, and by citing expert opinions on EU rules (e.g., on issues of nitrogen thresholds and a level playing field in business competition).
F. Hendriks and Th. Toonen (eds), Schikken plooien. De stroperige staat bij nader inzien, Assen, Van Gorcum, 1998

J. Woldendorp, The Polder Model: From Disease to Miracle? Dutch Neo-Corporatism 1965-2000, Free University Amsterdam, 2005

Woldendorp, J.J. (2014). Blijvend succes voor het poldermodel? Hoe een klein land met een kleine economie probeert te overleven op de wereldmarkt. In F.H. Becker & M. Hurenkamp (Eds.), De gelukkige onderneming. Arbeidsverhoudingen voor de 21ste eeuw (Jaarboek voor de sociaal-democratie, 2014) (pp. 211-227). Amsterdam: Wiardi Beckman Stichting/Uitgeverij Van Gennep.

NOS, Woningcorporaties: belastingmaatregel van tafel, anders huren omhoog, 6 October 2018

NRC Next, 25 juni 2019. ‘Maatschappelijke kosten Lelystad Airport onderschat.’
The United Kingdom has a tradition of close scrutiny of policy proposals. The quality and realism of policy proposals determines the degree to which any interest group is taken seriously in the country’s national political discourse and there are many NGOs that have had a tangible impact on policy thinking. Green interest groups in particular have helped to shape the policies of successive governments. There are vocal campaigners for rural interests, while both sides of the migration debate have been nourished by interest groups.

There is an abundance of NGOs with often-narrow policy agendas that tend to be pushed forward without much consideration of the wider ramifications of the pursuit of their issue. By the same token, the diversity of such bodies allows a wide range of proposals to obtain a hearing.
Public-interest or civil society associations’ competence in proposing reasonable policy initiatives is unusually high in the United States. This high level of competence is in part due to associations’ ability to attract highly qualified professional staff, and in part due to their media and communication skills. This holds true for groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Common Cause and the National Taxpayers’ Union. From the standpoint of developing credible policies, these associations have the advantage of focusing on broad interests, rather than self-interested ones, as their central mission. However, they are subject to ideological biases and membership demands that tend to favor extreme views. Citizens’ groups do not receive public support for their policy development or representational activities.
There is a wide range of civil society groups with influence on policy formation in Europe, and Belgium performs well in this regard. A number of noneconomic interest associations receive state funding, including environmental, cultural, religious/philosophical, sports/leisure and minority (such as individuals with handicaps) groups.

The largest groups can both make proposals and influence policy. Consociationalism also implies that some socially important decisions are made smoothly. The decisions to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003 and euthanasia in 2002 followed intense but quite dispassionate debates. The contrast with France or the United States over similar issues is all the more striking.

The main reason why this can happen is again related to the predominance of political parties. Some groups and associations that receive funding either initially have, or subsequently develop, preferential political relationships with political parties and/or government actors. This means that social groups, associations and (to some extent) publicly funded schools often have long-standing ties to a political group. It implies that there is a strong incentive for noneconomic interest associations to propose policies, and further to ensure that these proposals are well founded, as there is a high probability that the proposals will be debated in parliament.

Obviously, the negative aspect of this structure is its dependence on public funding. On the positive side, some groups are able to coalesce into broader umbrella organizations (e.g., around environmental protection), which are able to hire stable staff with policy expertise.
A substantial number of autonomous, self-organized groups, associations and organizations exist in Chile. Civil society’s organizational landscape has become increasingly differentiated since the return to democracy. Religious, environmental and social organizations, as well as NGOs, academic groups and professional associations often present substantive policy-reform proposals that contribute positively to policy discussions and government reforms and take long-term perspectives into account. Various political foundations and think tanks play a decisive role as formulators of relevant policies. On the other hand, there are great disparities in the durability and organizational strength of associations, mostly as a result of social inequalities. In addition, numerous think tanks are directly connected to economic-interest groups.
Interest associations have grown considerably in Czechia since 1990. As of 2019, there were over 130,000 autonomous, self-organized groups, associations, foundations and organizations registered in the country, although not all of them were active. Over the last decade, a number of new NGOs have emerged with a focus on areas such as corruption, city planning, LGBT rights, food safety and participatory budgeting on the local level. Many of these have the resources and expertise to formulate relevant policy proposals.

The Prague 2018 municipal elections saw a host of new political issues emerging from NGOs successfully enter the municipal government: radical improvements in transport infrastructure, spending on education, safety, dignity and inclusiveness, effective and transparent governance. The group “Prague for itself” (Praha sobe) was able to draw the support of voters (16.54%) by clearly identifying these problems, proposing concrete policy solutions, and making clear that implementation will consider the benefits and costs of these policies for everyone. They emphasized the need to carry these policies out by experts while including citizens.
There is a strong tradition of interest associations and advocacy groups in Ireland, especially in the areas of health and social policy. While their influence was diminished by the financial constraints of the last six years, they continue to have an impact on policies relating to issues such as drug abuse, provision for people with disabilities, homelessness, asylum-seekers, and perceived inequalities and injustices in Irish society. While many of these associations prepare relevant policy proposals, their emphasis is on advocacy rather than analysis. The most influential of these associations, Social Justice Ireland, evolved from an association of members of Roman Catholic religious orders.
For Social Justice Ireland, see
Along with economic interest groups, organized religious communities, particularly the officially recognized denominations, have a formalized role within the decision-making process. The peculiar Austrian institution of “officially recognized religious denomination” institutionalizes the participation of major religious groups within policymaking. Like the economic interest groups, they are consulted before the cabinet approves the draft of a law. This is a critical stage of the process, as most cabinet-approved drafts are also approved by parliament.

It must be emphasized, however, that not all draft proposals are subject to consultation procedures. A ruling majority can push a legislative agenda through its members in parliament, without formal consultations with interest groups. This happens from time to time when the government is in a hurry to pass a bill.

A number of other groups occasionally exert notable influence, including the physicians’ chamber, various environmental groups (such as Greenpeace) and some human rights organizations (such as Amnesty International).

The capability of noneconomic groups to formulate policies is not as stronger as in the case of economic interest groups, particularly professional associations.
A number of social-interest organizations in Croatia have the capacity to propose relevant policy proposals. For instance, experts from Citizens Organize to Oversee Voting (Građani organizirano nadgledaju glasanje, GONG), an association of various organizations for the protection and promotion of human rights originally formed in 1997, have participated in the process of drafting various laws on lobbying and elections. Green Action (Zelena Akcija) is another example of a social-interest organization with strong analytical capacity and the ability to promote its issues in the media. Recently, the NGO Franak has played a very important role in gathering debtors and former debtors in order to sue foreign banks for alleged malpractices in issuing CHF loans since 2005.
The policy-formulation capacity of noneconomic interest groups varies across fields of interest and with the scope of the intended impact. Most civil society associations are small and possess limited financial and human resources. Therefore, their in-house capacity is very low, and most analyses have been carried out as single projects on a contractual basis. The level of capacity also depends on the formal policy agenda, as it is easier to add a new proposal to the existing agenda than to set the agenda. Environmental groups are mainly local, but their actions can have a nationwide impact on transport and industrial policy. Religious groups are only sporadically active in domestic politics. In recent years, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church has actively criticized the legalization of same-sex partnerships.
Noneconomic associations and NGOs have become increasingly influential in recent years, with over 47,000 non-profit organizations registered with the Ministry of Justice. Along with professional consultancy firms, they fill the gap left by state’s privatization policies. Both social and environmental interest groups often formulate relevant policies and cooperate with government and academic bodies. According to official reports, the majority of organizations are focused on education and professional training (22%), religious matters (21.6%), and welfare (20.3%). According to a recent report by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, welfare NGOs account for 15% of all civil society organizations and their annual activity volume amounts to ILS 13.8 billion. The report also claims that donations made to these organizations increase Israeli welfare spending by ILS 3.45 billion, amounting to 28% of Israel’s total annual social welfare expenditure.

In 2016, the Knesset passed highly controversial legislation that requires NGOs to publicly declare all foreign funding sources (if the funds account for most of their budget), and the purpose and use of the funding. It should be elaborated that in the law, “foreign” (or, the more accurately, “foreign state entity”) is defined very widely, and includes foreign states, state authorities and international NGOs. Left-wing and civil rights groups have argued that the so-called NGO transparency bill harms organizations that promote democracy and democratic worldviews. The bill is regarded as part of a growing trend of legislative attempts to erode the strength of democratic institutions in Israel.

In May 2018, new regulations regarding the submission of representative action came into force. The regulations dictate the payment of relatively high fees (with varying quantities according to the court’s status) to be paid by a claimant to submit a suit and to cover the cost of the litigation process in its entirety (though payment of the latter fee is dependent on the ruling’s result). The former minister of justice, Ayelet Shaked, explained in the regulations’ memorandum (i.e., before these were enacted) that the purpose of the new rules is to limit the submissions of “pseudo representative actions,” meaning lawsuits that are not meant to achieve any result or compensation but rather to deter the party being charged, thus wasting public funds. Nevertheless, the regulations were still criticized by legal experts and social activists and associations that use representative actions to fight social and consumer injustices. Recently, a lawsuit was presented to the Supreme Court demanding that the regulations be rescinded for the disproportional harm they cause to the right to access to courts. In January 2019, the lawsuit was eventually dismissed. In its ruling, the court ordered the minister of justice to present data to the Knesset’s constitutional committee for deliberation in the committee’s May 2019 meeting. However, national elections were held in the intervening period and the Knesset’s records show that a discussion of the regulation never took place.
ACRI. Anti-NGO Legislation in the Israeli Knesset. February 2016,

“Collaborative discourse in the Civil Society” March 2016, Civic Leadership in Israel, (Hebrew)

Guidestar, the NGOs’ website of Israel. By the Ministry of Justice. (Hebrew). Last seen: October 31st, 2018.

HCJ 3646/18 Yedid Centers of Rights in the Community V the Minister of Justice (Hebrew)

Kalian, Gil “The non-profit sector in Israel is smaller than thought,” Calcalist 16/3/2016,,7340,L-3683649,00.html (Hebrew)

Madhala, Shavit, et al. Israeli Welfare Organizations: A Snapshot. Policy Paper 03.2018. Internet Edition. Jerusalem: the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, 2018.

Memorandum of Ordinances of Courts (Fees) (Representative Action), 2017. (Hebrew). Full text:

Nisan, Limor, “Civil society and the third sector in Israel,” IDI paper for the 10th Caesarea conference, June 2010: (Hebrew)

Regulations of Courts (Fees), 2007 (Hebrew)

Shamai, Barkat. “Starting Today: Significant Fees on Submission of Representative Actions.” In Globes website. May 8th, 2018. (Hebrew)..

The Associations Act, 1980 (Hebrew)

“The Clinic for Representation Populations from the Periphery Presented a Lawsuit Against the Ordinances Dictating for the First Time a High Fee at the Time of Submitting a Request for the Approval of Representative Action.” In the Center for Clinical Legal Education’s website. Last seen: November 4th, 2018. (Hebrew).. [Here the statement of claim can be found]

The Obligation to Reveal as to Who is Supported by Foreign Statal Entity Act, 2011 (Hebrew)

“The transparency law has passed finally” Knesset website 12.7.2016, (Hebrew)
Malta has a large number of non-economic interest associations. Though typically short on resources, they access external support through international membership or regional federations, which helps them, on occasion, to formulate extremely well-informed policy papers. EU funds and other structures (e.g., the internship programs) have also helped them improve their policy capacities. Few organizations employ full-time staff, but many have academics as part of their leadership structure, thereby utilizing their expertise. In some cases, organizations are able to attract research support on a voluntary basis from like-minded academics and other volunteers. Nonetheless, many of them still need to become proactive, rather than reactive to events or government proposals. Having said that, some organizations provide the government with frequent expert support, at times providing resources, support and direction in policy areas in which the government has little internal expertise. This has been the case for migration, asylum, integration and environmental policies, for example. In recent years the number of domestic NGOs has increased rapidly, but most are of an activist bent rather than research-oriented. Extinction Rebellion is one of the most prominent recent additions to the country’s landscape.
Against the background of corporatist authoritarianism in 20th century Mexico, economic interest groups in democratic Mexico could draw on many associational experiences. Moreover, since the early 2000s, there has been a considerable increase in the quantity and the sophistication of non-economic interest groups in Mexican civil society. Many talented graduates have found positions in domestic and international NGOs, and work to influence policy in Mexico via advocacy-oriented strategies. Several tertiary-education institutes (e.g., ITAM, Colmex, CIDE) both teach and conduct public-policy research, and some are highly influential in the political sphere as think tanks and/or advocacy institutions, often through the personal linkages to the government and its administration. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the number of national and international advocacy NGOs that, depending on the sector and the government in place, are also relevant in the agenda-setting process. Moreover, many grassroots organizations founded in the last 10 years aim to influence local and regional policymaking. Finally, the degree of movement of personnel between NGOs, think tanks and government is high compared to other OECD countries. While the capacity of most of these organizations to propose policy reforms in complex policy settings is rather restricted, it has been growing steadily and their role influencing public opinion is more relevant every year. Examples of these associations include IMCO, Mexico Evalua and Mexicanos Primero, which have been able to affect the policy agenda of the government in the last years on issues related to transparency, accountability and development effectiveness.

The record of the new government of President López Obrador and his party MORENA toward social movements and NGOs has been mixed so far. On the one hand, MORENA is associated with social movements and is trying to establish a new style in Mexican politics, away from traditional vested interests. On the other hand, the government’s austerity measures have cut state subsidies for NGOS, for which NGOs have heavily criticized the government. Moreover, the populist legacy of the current government also indicates tensions between “popular consultation” on the one hand and top-down, populist decision-making on the other hand.
El Universal (2018). Mexican NGOs to keep working on the development of civil society.
Poland has a large number of interest associations beyond business associations and trade unions. However, compared to other countries, there are comparatively few environmental groups. Though the groups that do exist have become more important in the current discourse on how to mediate the effects of climate change.
Most independent non-governmental organizations are relatively small and do not benefit from the funds distributed by the National Freedom Institute, the official organization in charge of helping NGOs with capacity-building. However, many NGOs have good international contacts, can rely on academic expertise and are thus capable of developing full-blown policy proposals. The Catholic Church, still the most influential interest group in Poland, pursues relatively narrow interests and is largely preoccupied with stabilizing its influence within an increasingly secular society and has to deal with cases of sexual abuse. It currently has good access to the new government, but some of its priests also asked for more national solidarity, peaceful cooperation and a friendlier approach toward refugees.
Pazderski, F. (2019): Indeks rozwoju i stabilności organizacji społeczeństwa obywatelskiego w Polsce. Warsaw: Instytut Spraw Publicznych (
While many NGOs have suffered from a lack of resources, quite a number of them have significant analytical capacities, especially in areas such as environmental policy and social protections. Many NGOs have benefited from international funding. The Romanian Orthodox Church, which represents as much as 85% of the population, has been a powerful actor, but has promoted a relatively narrow and conservative agenda.
South Korea
The rise of civil society organizations has been one of the last decade’s most important political trends in South Korea. The massive peaceful protests against President Park were largely organized by civil society groups that have proven their ability to mobilize the public and their competence in organizing peaceful protests on a massive scale. Some of the largest NGOs, such as the Korean Federation for Environmental Movement, the Citizen Coalition for Economic Justice and the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy have built up considerable expertise in specialized fields such as environmental policies, electoral reform, corporate reform, welfare policies or human rights. They provide reasonable policy proposals and are supported by a large group of academics and professionals. They also provide a pool of experts for the government. President Moon has appointed several former members of civil society groups to government positions. Unfortunately, this increased level of influence has to some extent undermined their ability to criticize the government. For example, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy has lost some of its independence, acting to suppress internal criticism of key former members who had become members of the government, such as former Blue House Secretary and Justice Minister Cho Kuk. Highly competent international NGOs such as Transparency International, Amnesty International and Save the Children are also playing an increasingly prominent role in their respective fields.
Noneconomic interest groups are very heterogeneous in Switzerland. Some, such as environmental groups, undertake cooperative efforts with academic bodies, offer reasonable proposals and feature considerable capacity for political mobilization.
Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
The number of, and membership in, non-business associations has been increasing. If the phenomenon of dependency on the financial support of public authorities exists, especially at the local level, there are noneconomic associations that are combining pluralistic approaches, long-term perspectives and a public perspective. This can be seen in fields such as urban policy (where national programs and local public actors rely on the expertise and commitment of associations dealing with local issues), environmental policy or social policy (aid to people with different social problems or handicaps). This said, only a few associations have the capacity to make relevant and credible proposals. Some groups (such as environmental groups and social workers) have a real proactive strategy; however, most associations are reactive and prefer to object rather than make their own proposals.
Greek civil society is relatively underdeveloped. After the onset of the economic crisis in 2010, the receding welfare state encouraged civil society engagement and mobilized citizens. The number of volunteers increased, new organizations were formed and older organizations became more active in providing social services to impoverished Greeks and migrants. Also, new movements and organizations with political agendas appeared.

Most noneconomic interest associations do not have the resources to become involved in policy formulation nor does the Greek state usually invite them to do so – though there has been some improvement. There are, however, exceptions regarding religious and migration matters.

The Greek Orthodox Church plays a preponderant role in formulating ecclesiastical matters and (to some extent) matters of education. For instance, religion is a compulsory subject in all grades of primary school and high school. Greece’s constitution grants the Greek Orthodox Church a privileged position among all churches and dogmas, and the Greek Orthodox Church enjoys a tailor-made taxation regime which allows it to sustain a large amount of property. This pattern of heavy church influence on policy formulation has been preserved regardless of the political profile (right-wing, centrist or left-wing) of the governing party or parties in power.

Finally, there is a vast array of small and medium-sized NGOs which are active in providing social protection and legal assistance to refugees and migrants. NGOs are located in major cities and on the Greek islands of the Aegean where refugees and migrants continue to land. In the period under review, their role probably declined, as the Greek state took it upon itself to manage refugee camps on several Greek islands (albeit with very ambivalent, if not negative, results, as indicated by the living conditions in these camps). However, after the government turnover of 2019, there was a renewed interest on the part of government officials to reach out to NGOs and public benefit foundations. Somewhat worryingly, some members of the new government have been quite critical of international NGOs operating in the country, and have expressed their willingness to monitor the sector through legal means.
The provisions of the constitution of Greece on the Greek Orthodox Church can be found in article 3 of the constitution.
The landscape of non-economic interest organizations is increasingly rich and diversified. But only few of them are able to formulate articulated policy proposals and most operate in a reactive mode instead. Among the most professional associations, some religious (such as Caritas, which deals among other things with immigration policies, Comunità di S. Egidio), humanitarian (such as Emergency) and environmental groups (such as Legambiente, FAI and WWF) deserve special mention, and are able to provide well-articulated, expert analysis. An increasing number of single-issue movements are gaining ground in Italy, and are contributing to policymaking in their respective areas.

There are also a series of foundations and think tanks in the field of international affairs (IAI, ISPI), social and economic problems (Censis) producing critical studies and conducting oversight activities. But their infrastructures, resources and personnel are in general limited.
The capacity of nonacademic interest associations to formulate well-crafted and relevant policy proposals varies by group. Most lack skilled staff members and do not engage in cooperation with academic bodies or individual experts. Moreover, the lawmaking and regulatory impact-assessment processes do not sufficiently ensure the participation of relevant stakeholders. Business interest groups tend to have stronger abilities to formulate policies than do social or environmental groups. The Lithuanian Catholic Church is an important player in Lithuanian politics, with its influence typically focused on a small number of policy issues. However, this interest group unsuccessfully lobbied the president to veto legislation designed to make it easier for families to access assisted insemination services. The Non-Governmental Organizations’ Information and Support Center facilitates cooperation between NGOs as they seek to represent their interests.
Despite the alleviation of austerity and initial signs of economic recovery, non-economic interest associations continue to have little impact. The focus in recent years on economic issues means that proposals by established groups engaged with other issues attract less visibility than before Portugal’s bailout (e.g., proposals by the environmental groups Zero and Quercus). The same is true of religious communities and social interest groups. Interaction with associations appeared to be largely instrumental and related to political or group objectives rather than policy-driven. Few associations have the ability to formulate policy proposals, while those that are able to formulate policy proposals tend to have very limited resources, often relying on the voluntary contribution of qualified members to formulate policy.
Lobbying is still not regulated in Spain, and despite the entry into force of the new on access to information, it is still almost impossible for the public to find out who is influencing which decision-makers, with what means, and to what effect.

Non-economic interest associations are relatively weak, and it has been difficult for them to influence political decision-making with relevant policy proposals. Furthermore, the lack of a strong, organized civil society is a disincentive for the government to take these associations’ views into account as it formulates policy (since the process would then become much more complex without necessarily adding social legitimacy as a compensation). Thus, there is no virtuous circle encouraging social, environmental and religious groups to improve their policy competence. Even the strong Catholic Church lacks a research unit capable of formulating policies, although it remains influential on education and moral issues. Leading environmental groups and some NGOs devoted to human rights (such as Amnesty International) or development aid have gained technical competence, and increasingly rely on academic expertise and specialized publications to influence public opinion and policymakers within their areas of interest. Women’s associations are weak as autonomous organizations, but influential within the political parties (especially in the PSOE). The LGBT movement has successfully defended homosexuals’ rights.

Finally, social protests triggered by the crisis have made a mark in recent years, though this is increasingly less the case as the crisis wanes. Platforms and networks have been able to gain media attention and even shape public policy by demanding more transparency, better regulation of mortgages, and changes in areas such as healthcare and education. Social movements promoting or opposing the Catalan government’s bid for independence also have experts that conduct research on issues related to independence.

However, far right movements have also been able to articulate their demands. For example, Vox has launched tirades against “feminazis,” legislation to tackle gender violence and what it sees as the scourge of political correctness, and has also defended traditionalists who feel that contemporary Spain is moving too far, too fast.
Societat Civil Catalana (2019), Societat Civil Catalana ofrece asesoramiento a los damnificados por la violencia de los independentistas en las calles de Cataluña para que puedan recuperar el dinero perdido -
The most active noneconomic interest groups in Bulgaria are largely engaged in four fields: education (especially parents’ associations), health (patients’ organizations), minorities and the environment. While there are many associations, which often act in accord, they seem more activist than analytical in their efforts. Their proposals are rarely accompanied by attempts to encompass the relevant issues fully, assess potential impacts comprehensively, or argue in favor of or against specific proposals on analytical grounds. The religious communities in Bulgaria have their channels of political influence, but are not broadly active in the public sphere.
Civil society groups have an increasing presence in society. Funding from the EU and others has led to the creation of subject-oriented associations. Notwithstanding, the capacity of CSOs to formulate policy proposals has always been limited.

In recent years, some groups have focused actions on politics, the economic crisis, and social and environmental issues. However, in many cases, the momentum that their proposals and lobbying initially seemed to gain appears to have faded. Issues such as promoting transparency and combating corruption, electoral system reform, and protecting the rights of minority groups receive only a limited response. Despite media attention and quality proposals on such significant subjects, political forces choose to promote sectoral interests, mostly counting on votes.

Bicommunal civil society organizations create spaces for dialogue between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. The Church of Cyprus continues to play an important role in society, fueled by its financial and organizational capacities. This influence does not recede despite statements and actions from the church leadership that do not comply with the spirit of Christianity.
1. Bird groups say illegal shooting in Cyprus must stop, Cyprus Mail, 27 September 2019,
Civil society organizations with a public-policy focus are rare in Japan. With few exceptions, such organizations in Japan have limited depth and breadth. Japan has only a few well-resourced public-policy-oriented think tanks. Some non-profit organizations are used by the government bureaucracy as auxiliary mechanisms in areas where it cannot or does not want to become directly involved.

Following the 3/11 disasters, and more recently in the context of the controversy over the government’s security-law extension, civil society groups have taken on an increased role in expressing public concerns and organizing mass rallies. High levels of engagement on the part of activists notwithstanding, it is difficult for such actors to create professionally operating, sustainable organizations. Among the general population, the idea of NPOs does not enjoy strong support.
Susanne Brucksch, Japan’s Civil Society and its Fight against Nuclear Energy, Sustainable Governance Indicators Website, 09.04.2014, society-and-its-fight-against-nuclear-energy/

U.S.-Japan Council, Japan’s NPO Sector Today, Summary of a breakout session of the 2018 Annual Conference,
A number of environmental interest groups have the capacity to propose concrete policy measures and provide capable analysis of policy effects, often in cooperation their international networks or academic bodies. Environmental organizations engage in structured policy dialogue with the relevant ministries, which supports sustained involvement in decision-making and has contributed to further capacity development.

Social interest groups are very diverse. However, most lack the capacity to propose concrete policy measures or analyze likely policy outcomes. While the government consults regularly with some social interest groups, such as the Pensioners’ Federation, these groups do not produce high-quality policy analysis. Groups representing patients’ rights or reproductive health interests are skilled at producing policy proposals, but most lack the resources to engage in sustained advocacy or policy development.

Religious communities have largely remained outside of the public-policy development process. The notable exception has been conservative groups advocating for “traditional Christian values.” These groups have sought to limit LGBT and reproductive rights and influence the school system. They have gained ground by changing their modus operandi from protest activities to active advocacy at the parliamentary level. In 2015, they secured a controversial change to the Law on Education, leaving schools vulnerable to charges of ethical breaches in teaching.

The Civic Alliance is an umbrella group of NGOs that serves as a platform for common issues. In 2017, the alliance galvanized a group of influential NGOs to call for increased transparency and participatory opportunities for NGOs in the government’s budget planning process. The NGOs are demanding the type of access and consultation already in place for other social partners, such as the National Tripartite Cooperation Council (NTSP).
The Orbán governments have created a big, lavishly financed pro-government network of fake civil society associations and foundations. In public life they have presented themselves as independent and autonomous organizations, although they clearly support government positions and provide a democratic façade for the government. A series of scandals have arisen as it has become clear that these organizations have received financing from state-owned enterprises. By contrast, Hungary’s genuine civil society has suffered from decreasing financial support and increasing legal restrictions. This has clearly infringed upon their capacity to formulate relevant policies. Nonetheless, a number of interest associations with extensive expertise exist. As a result of an infringement procedure initiated by the European Commission, the European Court of Justice will conduct a hearing on the controversial 2017 anti-NGO act, which has forced NGOs that receive Western financial support (over €21,000 annually) to register as foreign-supported agencies, as NGOs in Russia have to do.
The number of noneconomic civil society organizations has increased in the last decade, indicating a growing degree of public engagement within many segments of Turkish society. As of November 2018, 109,864 associations with more than 7 million members were active. Most are professional, sport or religious organizations. A total of 5,208 foundations are active nationwide. Among others, TESEV, TESAV, TEPAV, SETAV, ASAM can be regarded as semi-professional think tanks which conduct research and publish reports on various policy issues. SETA is a very influential pro-government policy research organization.

Most civil society organizations are not professionally organized, and lack financial and human resources. The number of pro-government and pseudo-civil society organizations (i.e., GONGOs) benefiting from public and EU funding has increased recently. Several CSOs lack the staff, resources and visibility to carry out face-to-face fundraising. Turkey ranked 131 out of 146 countries in the 2018 World Giving Index. The government has excluded opponents from government decision-making processes. Instead, the government has created its own loyal civil society groups, such as TÜRGEV – a foundation led by President Erdoğan’s son, which has gained political influence in the executive and expanded its financial resources.

Local and global environmental pressure groups such as Greenpeace have increasingly demonstrated against dam and hydroelectric-energy projects throughout Turkey, but their protests are regularly suppressed by the security forces and subjected to criminal investigations. The Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitat (TEMA) is the most established environmental organization in Turkey with 500,000 volunteers.

The Association for Support of Women Candidates (KA.DER) has for years promoted the equal representation of women and men in all walks of life. KA.DER sees equal representation as a condition for democracy and calls for equal representation in all elected and appointed decision-making positions. It conducts several EU- and UNDP-sponsored projects and advocates its objectives. A pro-government research establishment, SETA, conducts research projects on current political, economic and social issues with a view toward providing policy recommendations. Similarly, KADEM (Women and Democracy Association) was founded with the patronage of Erdoğan’s family members and is used as a social policy instrument.

The Oy ve Ötesi Girişimi (Vote and Beyond) initiative – in collaboration with the Unions of Bars of Turkey, several bars, and the Checks and Balances Network – monitors local and presidential elections. The Computer Engineers Association also made an analysis of ballot box results with regard to inconsistency of electoral results.
TC Cumhurbaşkanlığı Strateji ve Bütçe Başkanlığı, 2018 Yılı Genel Faaliyet Raporu Haziran 2019, (accessed 1 November 2019)

“Yıllara, Nevilere ve İllere Göre Dernek ve Üye Sayısı,” (accessed 1 November 2019)

TC Başbakanlık Vakıflar Genel Müdürlüğü 2018 Faaliyet Raporu,
(accessed 1 November 2019)

“Türkiye’deki Düşünce Kuruluşları,” (accessed 1 November 2017)

CIVICUS, State of Civil Society Report 2016, (accessed 1 November 2016)

Ka.Der, Projects, (accessed 1 November 2019)

“Sayıştay açıkladı, devletin kasasından 3.7 milyar lira kayıp!,”,716145 (accessed 1 November 2018)

Ç. Toker, “İBB’den vakıflara’hizmet’ raporu,” Sözcü daily newspaper, 28 January 2019,
Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Back to Top