Structuring accountability: non-governmental participation in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)

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Gilson, Julie (2007)
  • Publisher: University of Warwick. Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation
  • Subject: JZ

This paper issues from a conference on ‘Civil Society and Accountable Global Governance’, organised by Jan Aart Scholte in May 2007. It examines the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the role of parallel summitry that has established itself on the margins of the official biennial gathering. Now comprising thirty five ‘cooperation partners’ from the regions of Europe and East Asia, ASEM summits, and the many other meetings in its name, focus on a host of issue areas for cooperation, from the further development of ICT to climate change and anti-terrorism. However, while business groups and trade unions are accommodated within the formal structures of ASEM, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are not. Nevertheless, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF) has established itself alongside the summitry process, and the ways in which it has been able to influence government actions within ASEM to date have been contingent upon the particular structural conditions in which they have had to function. In demonstrating the tensions and opportunities inherent in the interregional space created by ASEM, this paper claims that accountability, itself a contested concept, is shaped by the structural frames of reference of agents, by their (power) relationships with one another and by both the internal and external mechanisms available to them to ensure accountability.\ud \ud As ASEM has yet to allow the formal inclusion of NGOs within its framework, claims and consultation to date have been conducted on the edges of the official track. In addition, the multitude of NGO types within the AEPF make it difficult to reach consensus and to organise difference. This difference also implicates and reinforces different levels of influence by NGO participants and highlights the fact that different NGOs may approach their remit quite differently. In addition, the ASEM process embeds an Asian versus European participation that is mirrored within AEPF, with the result that at times in the civil society realm, too, there is evidence to suggest that the structure can bring into conflict Asian versus European ways of doing business. Can accountability be ensured within structures whose modes may not be conducive to transparency and scrutiny? And what claims can the NGO community make for its own accountability? The conclusion examines whether the existing paradigm of civic engagement sets up an impossible hurdle for the establishment of open and accountable policy making behaviour within ASEM.
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