The impact of governmental policy on the effective operation of CSOs: a French case study

Co-authors: Damien Mourey, Philippe Eynaud, and Carolyn Cordery

Worldwide, civil society organizations (CSOs) are an integral compo- nent in the complex network that comprises the public sphere improving the welfare of our communities. In the second half of the twentieth century French CSOs’ contributions to their citizens’ welfare have become increasingly valued. Nevertheless, radical changes to employment policies during the Sarkozy regime (2007–2012) impacted social services to unemployed migrants. In addition, central government constrained local governments’ ability to fund social ser- vices, pushing a shift from a culture of “granting subsidies” to one based on “public procurement contracting” (Langlais 2008). These environmental changes are likely to transform CSO-government relationships. This research asks two questions: what is the impact of such radical changes and what possible responses can organizations make, if they are to survive? To answer these, we utilize a case study of a French CSO (Association), which is highly dependent on public funding to deliver its urban-based migrant pro- grams. We utilize the lens of resource dependency, focusing on the interrelation- ships and interactions that impact CSOs’ legitimacy and support. Effects of the reforms include a change from relatively cooperative relationships with govern- ment to adversarial exchanges. Moreover, this CSO’s activities are apprehended by public funders as short-term single projects considered in isolation from one another so that its overall outcomes are not quantitatively measured. As a result, the CSO’s overarching and long-term social and economic contribution to the territory’s public sphere is in jeopardy.

This article fills a lacuna in the English literature on recent political and cultural changes in CSO-government relationships in France – relationships that Archambault (2001) describes as relatively new due to France’s etatist past. It considers a specific case study in migrant services, analyzing the effects of political changes in work policies and State/local government funding on the CSO’s interrelationships and how it can respond to those changes in power and local interdependencies. As shown in Table 1, the case study organization experienced a “before” and an “after” in its public sphere inter-relationships in respect of its three historically informed pillars: a public funding, the mission and program, and its values. This CSO lost resources because it valued tolerance and engagement with local migrants, rather than narrowing or changing its clientele. Funding availability impacted its mission and projects. Although previously the CSO was perceived as an innovator in the public sphere and enjoyed high levels of legitimacy, social insertion was no longer valued by public funders. The new occupational insertion imperative threatens to force the CSO to transform its focus. An emphasis on project funding has led to unintended consequences; reduced social integration of migrants and refugees, increased societal costs and a mission crisis in this CSO.
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