Academic journal article Global Governance

The Cardoso Report on the UN and Civil Society: Functionalism, Global Corporatism, or Global Democracy?

Academic journal article Global Governance

The Cardoso Report on the UN and Civil Society: Functionalism, Global Corporatism, or Global Democracy?

Article excerpt

The Report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on United Nations-Civil Society Relations was published in June 2004. It strongly endorsed the case for wider participation of civil society in all aspects of the UN's work, both at the headquarters and at the country level. However, the Panel members displayed little understanding of the existing NGO consultative arrangements. Many of its recommendations were impolitic or impractical. The report was intellectually incoherent because it embodied three competing theoretical frameworks: functionalism, neocorporatism, and democratic pluralism. The functionalist emphasis on expertise and the neocorporatist emphasis on engaging stakeholders cannot offer criteria for participation on an all-embracing democratic basis. Reform is needed to provide facilities and resources to enhance participation by marginalized groups. KEYWORDS: nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations, global civil society, Cardoso Report, functionalism, neocorporatism, legitimacy, participation.


Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been important participants in the United Nations system since 1945. They have access to intergovernmental meetings, present written statements, make speeches, and lobby for specific texts to be adopted. For the first twenty-five years, fewer than 400 NGOs were registered with the UN, and at any particular meeting only a few of these were active, mainly behind the scenes. During the 1970s, a series of major UN conferences stimulated a tremendous growth in the number of NGOs, the range of issues addressed, the types of activities undertaken, the amount of media coverage, and the extent of influence achieved. Now more than 3,000 NGOs are registered as having consultative status, and many more have some involvement in UN policymaking. However, NGOs are still predominantly limited to conferences and the subsidiary bodies of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). (1) They have no formal status within the General Assembly, the Security Council, or the international economic institutions. Many NGOs want their participation rights to be extended to these forums, but there is significant opposition to this among the UN's member governments. A second problem is the imbalance within the NGO community at the UN between the numbers of individuals from North America and northern Europe and the lower numbers from other parts of the world, particularly from Africa. In this article, I analyze the conclusions of a review, known as the Cardoso Report, that was intended to address these limitations to the consultative arrangements and to generate new ideas for civil society engagement with the UN. (2)

There are three normative arguments for enhancing NGO participation in policymaking: the functionalist appeal for the use of expertise; the corporatist desire to involve the affected interests; and the pluralist belief in democratic policymaking. The three arguments are all clearly present in the Cardoso Report, but confusion results because they are not compatible with each other. The first two approaches represent a threat to the NGO participation rights that have been operating for the last sixty years at the United Nations. The only morally sound and politically feasible basis for legitimizing wider NGO participation in the UN system is the democratic claim for all voices to be heard in global policy debates. The goals of extending ECOSOC participation rights to other forums and of increased participation from civil society in developing countries will be analyzed below in this light.

The Cardoso Panel on United Nations--Civil Society Relations

The work of the Cardoso Panel must be seen as part of the reform process that Kofi Annan initiated as soon as he took office in January 1997. His first report to launch the reforms called for the United Nations "to engage civil society and make it a true partner in its work." (3) Progress was slow and many new ideas met with opposition. …

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