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Third sector European policy: organisations between market and state, the policy process and the EU

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Third sector researchers often talk about ‘third sector policies’, but studies of the third sector as an actor in the policy process per se are surprisingly rare. Studies of policies which cut across the ‘vertical policy fields’ which completely dominate the policy process in all countries are exceptional. At first sight, there seem to be a range of persuasive reasons why this state of affairs could be expected to continue. However, in this paper, an attempt is made to argue that pressures have been building up across the EU which makes ‘horizontal’ policy an issue worthy of attention. The third sector is being connected, with increasing regularity, to policy problems whose credentials as ‘European’ are now accepted: unemployment in the context of globalisation; social exclusion; and the wider overall problem of the EU’s systemic legitimacy. The precise content of this policy domain is now relatively open, and there is much to be contested. But it does seem to have found an increasingly firm place on the EU’s public policy agenda, and as such merits attention from the research community. The first part of this paper examines linkages between the third sector literature and the policy process literature, proposing some guiding propositions and concepts. The second part of the paper examined one particular combination - European horizontal policy - and suggested that, contrary to first impressions, this is worthy of research effort as a space for policy development, even at the European Union level. The third part of the paper summarised the approach being taken by a new network, TSEP, to investigate this phenomenon. The paper also includes as an appendix a working glossary outlining some of the language being used by the network, which has built upon the concepts and categories suggested in this paper.

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