Priority actions 

jeunesEvery two years the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decides on the programme of activities and the corresponding budget of each sector of the Organisation.

The main work priorities of the Directorate General of Democracy are centred on strengthening human dignity, participation, innovation and diversity:

Human dignity: action to ensure respect of human dignity without discrimination, and to protect the victims of violence and trafficking in human beings. Major Council of Europe strategies include those related to the rights of the child, gender equality and disability, as well as the programme to tackle discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Participation: action to strengthen social cohesion and participation in democratic societies. Key programmes in 2014-2015 include activities promoting quality education, the empowerment of vulnerable groups like young Roma, young people in disadvantaged areas or migrants, preparations for the next strategy and action plan for social cohesion, and the preparation of a new Council of Europe “Participation Index”.

Democratic governance and innovation: action to build a secure democratic future, good governance and the promotion of democratic competences. Among the most prominent programmes and projects in 2014-2015 feature the annual “World Forum for Democracy”, support for modernisation reforms at all levels of government, preparations for a reference text bringing together existing principles and standards of democracy, and the development of a new European convention against match fixing in sport.

Diversity: action to strengthen the capacity of European societies to positively value the growing cultural diversity of society, to protect minorities and their languages, and to reject discrimination and intolerance. Prominent programmes and projects include the “No Hate Speech” campaign against hate speech on the Internet, the network of “Intercultural Cities” and the work of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

 Why these priorities?

jeunesThe Council of Europe regards the protection of human dignity, innovation, participation and diversity as the most burning challenges of democracy today.

“Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” — the opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) have lost nothing of their relevance. In Europe today, the dignity of many is threatened by discrimination, violence and marginalisation. Addressing issues like racism, intolerance, hatred against minorities, violence against women, the trafficking of human beings or sexual violence against children is vital for a continent committed to common human rights values. Injustice and bias often have deep historic roots, but new threats to the dignity of the human being are emerging constantly.

The fast social, economic and technological change makes it imperative to adapt the institutions of democracy to the requirements of the 21st century. The need to “re-wire” democracy in the digital age — the topic of the 2013 “World Forum for Democracy” — is just one aspect. Implementing the principles of good governance at all levels of public authority is an ongoing challenge. A vibrant civil society and the ability of public services to manage the diversity of European society in a democratic manner are crucially important elements of a “culture of democracy”.

The participation of the citizen is the lifeblood of democracy. The long-term trend of falling voter turnout in general elections almost everywhere on the continent indicates a growing problem, echoed by the widespread withdrawal from trade unions and other types of civil society organisations. Specific population groups still experience acute problems to participate actively and without discrimination in public life. The legitimacy of democracy, its future, depends on the ability to open up new, attractive ways to engage with all citizens.

The cultural diversity of European societies is growing, due to globalisation, migration and increased mobility. Mounting populist and xenophobic trends in many parts of Europe, often aggravated by economic problems and the weakening of human rights protection and social cohesion, are crisis symptoms which need a constructive response: the development of intercultural competence and dialogue based on shared human rights standards. Europe, faced with serious demographic challenges, must learn to realize the benefits of diversity.

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