Non-Governmental Organisations

Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe

Address by the President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, Jean-Marie Heydt, at the Forum for the Future of Democracy, Yerevan, 19-21 October 2010 – opening of the "Democracy Fair"

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to address you at the inauguration of this Democracy Fair.

This is the first time that our Forum for the Future of Democracy has offered this opportunity for an open exchange of views that is readily accessible to all.

It enables us to breathe life into, and contribute to, participative democracy – the organised and structured expression of the voice of Europe's inhabitants, as a key pillar to complement that of our decision making structure.

This is often the subject of debate but it is not always easy in practice to allow this voice to be heard. Hence this unique Agora. Whether you be elected politician, representative of a voluntary association, public official or diplomat, you will all have the opportunity to express your ideas, your reactions and your proposals in response to what is said in the workshops or on the conference floor. You are free to express your views, which will not commit you or be recorded. I am sure though that what you say will be highly responsible, because what brings us together here is the future of day-to-day democracy and the chance to interact.

The constant aim of the Conference of INGOs, as you well know, is to pass on to decision makers, in a structured fashion, the knowledge and skills of our networks of national and pan-European NGOs. Equally, we try to ensure that the general public have the necessary tools for understanding the decisions and actions taken by the authorities. We also have the ability to identify major issues affecting society and put them into a political context that decision makers will be able to take into account.

It is to this end that we have also developed the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the decision-making process, as a tool for establishing viable relations between civil society and national, regional or local authorities.

The Code first saw the light of day at the Sigtuna (Sweden) Forum in 2007, where the participants in the quadrilogue asked us to draw up such a document. It was approved at the Ukraine Forum in 2009.

This is a welcome development in this period of major reforms because it shows that it is possible to build the future on the solid base of experience. Of course choices have to be made, new policies have to be devised and introduced and others have to be revised. But the ability to define the future by drawing on the wisdom of the old and the spirit of the young is a challenge to us all. With my academic hat on, I obviously cannot resist emphasising my belief that it is thanks to our philosophers, who are constantly balancing political realities and the Cartesian spirit, that society is able to evolve. None of these voices can achieve this in isolation, so it would be utopian to think that we can build the new Rome by destroying Olympia.

Our plenary sessions and workshops, where we can compare ideas and experience, offer us valuable tools and materials for building a democracy of a high standard, such as we are seeking to establish over the next ten years.

Our linking role between the public authorities and ordinary citizens is particularly justified by the fact that a growing number of NGOs are co-operating very actively with government to secure the implementation of consensus-based and realistic social policies.

I trust you will all enjoy fruitful discussions at the stands that have been set up for the purposes of this Democracy Fair.

Thank you.