Fail Again, Fail Better? Transnational Learning and Civil Society Mobilisation

Natasha Wunsch

Civil society has been identified as one of the key drivers of change in transition countries, particularly in the context of EU accession. Yet, studies of mobilisation in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have yielded mitigated results, suggesting an inherent weakness on the part of civil society that precludes their effective involvement in domestic decision-making. Whereas previous research has focused on individual cases or the parallel comparison of different countries, this paper seeks to unwrap the role of transnational learning as a mechanism to improve mobilisation in countries entering accession negotiations at a later stage.To what extent have civil society actors in the Western Balkans drawn on the experiences of their counterparts in CEE? Have such lessons learned enabled them to carry out more fruitful mobilisation efforts? The empirical analysis concentrates on the rule of law sector as a crucial area of pre-accession reform. Building on field research in Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, the paper suggests an important variation in the prominence of transnational learning across the cases: whereas the low awareness of Croatian civil society actors for earlier experiences led to their late and ultimately unsuccessful mobilisation in the accession process, subsequent transnational exchanges with Serbian and Montenegrin organisations shaped their mobilisation strategies much more forcefully, enabling a more strategic and more targeted approach. Whereas the substantive outcome of mobilisation in these countries remains uncertain, learning from previous experiences has enables civil society actors to forge a more favourable formal framework for inclusive policy-making.Besides contributing to the growing literature on civil society mobilisation in Eastern Europe, the paper underlines the interaction between cases and the importance of transnational dynamics. It thus adds both to our understanding of ongoing developments in the region, and to the study of social mobilisation and transnational exchanges more broadly.

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