Civil society is the collective name for all kinds of organisations and associations that are not part of government but that represent professions, interest groups or sections of society. It includes trade unions, employer associations, environmental lobbies and groups (NGOs) representing women, farmers, people with disabilities and so on. Since these organisations have a lot of expertise in particular areas and are involved in implementing and monitoring European Union policies, the EU regularly consults civil society and wants it to become more involved in European policymaking.
The importance in particular of the social partners (trade unions and employer organisations) and the social dialogue process is fundamental to the development of EU policy on employment and industrial relations. However, other interests may also provide input to policy-making in this area through a ‘civil dialogue’. The role of NGOs in sectors such as tackling discrimination, social exclusion and unemployment is increasingly acknowledged by the Community institutions. The European Employment Strategy and the open method of coordination on social inclusion encourage their participation.