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Forum History

 

The Forum was established by the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe  (Warsaw, May 2005), to strengthen democracy, political freedoms and citizens' participation.

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Forum previous sessions

Forum_Democracy2011

(Limassol, Cyprus, October)

Interdependence of democracy and social cohesion.

New: Proceedings

"Radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable” but  “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”  declared Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland while opening the Cyprus Forum.

2010

(Yerevan, October)

Perspectives 2020 Democracy in Europe - Principles and Challenges

Proceedings

 

''The Council of Europe has a unique strategic role to play in strengthening good democratic governance at all levels in the European space''. Democracy, or rather good democratic governance, is now not only intrinsically linked to the respect of human rights but is also recognised as the most effective form of governance to ensure stability, sustainability and well-being.

 That was the main message of the 2010 Forum.

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2009

(Kyiv, October)

Electoral systems: strengthening democracy in the 21st century

(Proceedings)

 "In a genuine democracy, the citizen is sovereign and the voter decides" - that was the main message of the 2009 Forum, which highlighted the need for greater public involvement, with a view to increasing voter turnout and ensuring that all stages of public life are democratic..

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2008

(Madrid, October)

"E-democracy: who dares?"

 

The discussions addressed the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on democracy.

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2007

(Stockholm, June)

"Power and empowerment - The interdependence of democracy and human rights"

 

This event addressed issues such as the role and responsibilities of the opposition, representative democracy at the local and regional level, empowerment of the individual and non-discrimination, respect for freedom of expression and association for civil society, and fostering democracy, human rights and social networks.

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2006

(Moscow, October)

"The role of political parties in the building of democracy"

 

The Forum reflected on  the role and responsibilities of political parties in finding democratic solutions to contemporary challenges, the interaction between political parties and with other actors in the democratic process, and the building and strengthening of democratic institutions.

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Launch meeting (Warsaw, November 2005)

"Citizens' participation"

 

 

The discussions addressed the state of contemporary democracy in Europe.

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Previous projects

("Making

Democratic institutions work")

 

Report on Workshop 1: e-participation
Ella Taylor-Smith
Napier University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Introduction
The overall theme of Workshop 1 was e-Participation. The scope of the morning session was broad, with the theme ICT for Participatory Democracy. In the afternoon the focus moved towards e-Parliament with the theme Opportunities for and Challenges to Representative Democracy. Throughout the day, 12 experienced and renowned speakers interacted with a lively and informed audience. E-democracy research, projects, ideas and recommendations were introduced and discussed from all angles –practical, theoretical and political, the emphasis on democracy, rather than technology. To provide a comprehensive account of the workshop is beyond the scope of this summary report. The aim is to identify common themes and salient points. To this end the report provides an outline of each speaker’s presentation followed by the main themes that arose throughout the day, with speakers’ and participants’ input drawn together under these themes.1
ICT for participatory democracy
Mr Thomas Buchsbaum (Ministry of European and International Affairs, Austria, and Chairman of Council of Europe’s Ad Hoc Committee on e-Democracy – CAHDE2) chaired the morning session. He began by noting that e-democracy was already with us and suggesting opportunities and risks, emphasising trust, inclusion and sensitivity to context.

Professor Ann Macintosh (Director of the Centre for Digital Citizenship3, University of Leeds, UK) presented an overview of the current state of eDemocracy in Europe, questioning its rhetorical claims and impact and identifying challenges, barriers and research priorities.

Mr Göran Lindblad (Chairman of the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe4) drew on his experiences as a member of the Swedish Parliament to talk about opportunities and limits of e-democracy, in the relationships between citizens, their representatives, parties and government.

Mr Csaba Madarasz (Council of Europe INGO Conference5) focused on the experience of citizens. He spoke about people’s involvement in governance in everyday life, through “micro-democratic” environments, like NGOs or school boards and councils.

Professor Herbert Kubicek (Institute for Information Management, Bremen, Germany6) presented the results of a study of eParticipation in Germany: current initiatives, citizen’s perceptions, SWOT analysis and recommendations7.

Mr. Gotzone Mora Temprano (Regional Vice-minister of Immigration and Citizenship, Valencia8) was not able to attend in person, but distributed a presentation on CD which described the goals of the region of Valencia in the promotion of citizen participation and the e-democracy initiative, Citizen Mailbox.

The morning session concluded with a discussion of CAHDE’s Draft Recommendation on eDemocracy9. Various expert groups have been involved over two years in producing these recommendations. It is hoped that they will be finished by the end of this year and endorsed by the Committee of Ministers10. The Council of Europe is the first international body to draw up comprehensive guidelines on e-democracy and the extent of participation in the drafting processes is innovative.
Opportunities for and challenges to representative democracy
E-Parliament was a major element of the afternoon session, which benefited from the partnership of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The session was chaired by Mr Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Chairman of the Ad hoc Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly on the Forum for the Future of Democracy.

Mr Andreas Gross (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) spoke of e-democracy as an enabler for democratic methods which could modernise the roles of representatives and citizens and support trans-national democracy.

Mr Gherardo Casini (UNDESA11, Rome) introduced the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament and the World e-Parliament Report 200812.

Mr Alessandro Villani (e-Government and Innovation, City of Florence, Italy13, and Council of Europe Congress of Regional and Local Authorities14) spoke about the Municipality of Florence’s experience in using ICTs for both administration and engagement over the last 12 years.

Mr Bruno Kaufmann (Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe15) spoke about the best use of elements of “Modern Direct Democracy”, such as referenda, to improve the quality of representative democracy and address trans-national governance and increasingly globalised societies.

Mr Dick Toornstra (DG EXPO, European Parliament16) gave a practical view of e-Parliament from the perceptions of a cross-border parliament. He outlined the aims and assumptions on which e-Parliament policies are based and described specific projects both for the European Parliament and parliaments internationally.

Ms Joanne Caddy (Policy Analyst, OECD, Public Engagement17) presented the results of an investigation into citizen engagement in policy-making18, outlining barriers to citizen participation, but also the advantages for everyone.
Themes and ideas
Reasons for promoting e-participation
We should promote activities which build a culture of citizen engagement and participation.

E-Participation can increase the involvement of citizens in policy-making. This has advantages in terms of improving policies: better outcomes at less cost, innovative solutions and policies responsive to greater diversity. Citizens are resources of expert knowledge. Participation increases people’s investment in, and likely compliance with, government, advancing social cohesion.

Changes in our societies and developments in democracy, governance and globalisation have led to concern over the health of our democracies. The quality of democracy seems to be at a historic low at the same time as its acceptance (nominal use by states) is at a high. Whether this is a “crisis in democracy” or not, representative democracy is in need of improvement. Citizens’ relations with their representative and governmental bodies need to be improved. Understanding of parliamentary democracy needs to be improved.

Globalisation and trans-national governance are having a big impact on the way power is shared and leaders interact. Global citizens have specific needs and need accessible types of representation.

ICTs have the potential to support a great variety of activities that could help to:

    · build stronger relationships between citizens, representatives and governments;
    · involve more people in agenda-setting, policy-making and decision-making;
    · increase transparency and understanding of parliamentary and government processes;
    · enable forms of participation that can function on a large-scale or transnational level.

E-democracy is here already, with a wealth of initiatives in many countries and varieties of good practice and success. Society is increasingly using e-tools. Governments and politicians are behind the curve and need to join in and promote quality e-participation.
Citizens and Trust
A change of culture is needed, among representatives and government, to enable more power sharing with citizens. Governments and representatives need to trust citizens as well as citizens trusting government. Equally, citizens need to take on responsibilities, if they are to be more involved in decision-making, and our societies need to promote the necessary skills.

People and communities are experts, with specialist knowledge. In our educated and complex societies, the gap between representatives’ and their constituents’ knowledge and expertise has narrowed considerably. Our democratic processes need to reflect this change.

Participation needs to extend to agenda-setting. People need to be persuaded that their input is valued and will be adequately considered. However, it will take more than technology to improve trust between people and representatives.
Democracy and public spheres
The online public sphere extends beyond government websites. Discussions on various “social networking” sites need to be considered as part of democratic culture and citizens need to see these discussions as valuable parts of active citizenship, rather than separate cells or fragments. E-Participation strategies need to acknowledge the network structure and avoid atomisation and duplication. It would be a mistake to assume that people will move their input to government websites because space is supplied.

Guidelines on e-democracy need to recognise citizens’ role in initiating e-democracy, not take an exclusively top-down perspective.

Many people’s day to day experience of governance takes place in “micro-democratic” environments –school, student and work councils and associations and various non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs benefit from increased use of e-tools to support governance. Further, e-democracy tools developed by governments could be used by NGOs and community groups who govern themselves. These experiences of e-governance contribute to society’s democratic skills. Citizens become increasingly media-literate and empowered.
Equity, inclusion and social cohesion
E-Participation has the potential to increase social cohesion, but, so far, certain groups have been more involved than others. We need to investigate digital and cultural divides more thoroughly and understand their impact on participation. The OECD “Mind the Gap” report began to investigate why people are not participating, finding that while some people were willing but unable, others were able but unwilling.

We live in multi-cultural societies and need to understand how to develop e-tools and initiatives that can support the participation of all groups, equally if possible. There are extra benefits in including specific groups –for example, bringing migrants and young people into society to share its governance.

It is extremely important that e-participation does not create a 2-tier society of people participating or not participating through ICTs.
Young people, their skills and needs
Young people need to be seen as a specific, though diverse, stakeholder group. They have skills in terms of technology and media literacy. Many young people’s groups already use e-democracy in governing themselves. There are also topics on which young people’s specific involvement is necessary, such as environmental issues with long term consequences. Young people could have been better represented at the Forum. The Council of Europe could make its work more accessible to young people by presenting it in more detail online and providing opportunities for online interaction.
Changing democracy and changing roles of representatives
The role and power of representatives within democracy is changing. Executive bodies can seem to extend their abilities to form policy and act, with decreasing scrutiny and deliberation from their legislative assemblies. Within countries, people lobby ministers and departments directly, rather than through representatives. Internationally, decisions are made by councils of leaders. Representatives are also affected by the decline of political parties and public alignment with “issue-based” politics. Modern media seems to encourage “sound-bite” politics that lacks depth, experience and long-term strategy. Within this climate, e-democracy has potential to strengthen the roles and status of representatives and parliaments. However, representatives’ attitudes to e-democracy, particularly power-sharing, need to be acknowledged and understood. The role of parliaments needs to be strengthened and cooperation between national parliaments supported.
Trans-national Democracy and the EU
Internationalisation leads to people, services and data moving across borders. Global, and particularly displaced, citizens need tools and structures for participation.

The institutions of the European Union, particularly the European Parliament, need to increase citizen understanding of their work and participation in their processes. The Citizens’ Initiative, described in the Treaty of Lisbon19, gives specific power to one million citizens, from a number of Member States, to call on the Commission to bring forward new policy proposals. This is an opportunity requiring ICTs. It also marks a new phase in large-scale and trans-national democracy, giving citizens power to set the agenda, as well as for decision-making.
Referenda
Managing the relations between national and EU democracy has led to a number of referenda in Europe, some better managed than others. Referenda are a way to increase citizens’ power and reflect modern preferences by being focused on issues, rather than people and parties. ICTs can support successful implementation, if countries share their experiences, learn from each other and develop best practice.
E-Parliament
Progress with e-parliament varied across the world, but was not necessarily correlated with economic status. The priority is a parliamentary information system, comprehensive and accessible to citizens, and integrated with the “back office” structure. This is essential in terms of transparency and in delivering e-participation effectively. Use of open standards and Open Source technology helps to support inter-parliamentary and 3rd party initiatives.

Use of video can help to increase understanding of parliaments’ work and make them more accessible. For example, VoxBox20 is a studio, provided between the European Parliament plenary hall and offices. Members of the European Parliament can use the free facilities to record interviews, take part in panels and transfer footage to their websites. This improves members’ control over their communications with media and constituents. It was also suggested that public organisations who filmed parliament could increase accessibility by making footage available to 3rd parties, e.g. for documentaries.
Processes for instituting e-democracy
Throughout the day, various recommendations were made about creating effective e-participation processes and also warnings about badly conceived initiatives.

    · Make objectives explicit and clearly communicate the purpose of participation.
    · Align the initiative to the context, in terms of cultural and political differences, as well as technology preferences.
    · Be in a position to let initiatives have real influence. Public authorities need to mainstream citizen engagement.
    · Record outcomes in a transparent and accessible manner: what happens with the result and the kind of response expected.
    · E-Democracy needs to be conceived as a whole process, with transparency at every stage. A well-run process gains the trust of more passive citizens and they increase their interaction.
    · Processes also need to be trusted by those not using them.
    · Systemic evaluation and longitudinal studies need to be supported, primarily for learning rather than audit. Research should support observation of the impact of e-democracy on our societies.
    · Need to budget for marketing of online initiatives.
    · Be careful with privacy, especially in terms of cross-border initiatives, cultural differences and outsourced systems.
    · Beware of overlapping initiatives between government departments.
    · Badly organised e-democracy or e-democracy with a malformed purpose (i.e. marketing) will have a negative effect on later and similar initiatives.

The Council of Europe has been working with various bodies to draft guidelines and recommendations on e-democracy. These were appreciated as comprehensive and useful, and various improvements were suggested. Additionally it was suggested that COE should increase use of e-democracy in their processes; specifically provide more comprehensive information about events like this Forum online.
Technologies and media
E-democracy needs to use a wide variety of technologies. We have not really exploited the potential of technology to meet democratic needs yet.

E-democracy needs to use wide variety of media, including mobile technologies and TV. TV is the primary information medium for most people. Ignoring this will increase the information divide. We should also be aware of ways in which TV promotes imitations of democracy.
Governance of the Internet
The governance of the Internet is relevant to e-participation and on the political agenda: devising appropriate regulation, avoiding heavy-handed control and promoting digital rights and ethical codes21. We need to promote responsible activities in cyberspace and ethical values for Internet use, through investment in education and culture and promotion of media literacy and citizenship skills.
Conclusions
There was a consensus that all governing and parliamentary bodies should support e-participation, whether as providers, enablers or as a responsive audience. Participative governance is necessary for healthy societies and ICTs can be used to strengthen parliaments and involve citizens, as our democracies grow and change.

To sum up, a scenario collected by the OECD seemed to catch many people’s imagination. This was Finland’s Vision for 2012:

    “In 2012 the interplay between citizens and political and administrative actors consists of a continuous, natural and valued interaction to discuss societal issues and make decisions.”

1 More information about the workshop, including some of the presentations is available here:
http://www.coe.int/t/e/integrated_projects/democracy/02_Activities/D_Democracy_Forum_2008/Presentations_Madrid08.asp

2 http://www.bmeia.gv.at/index.php?id=70339&L=0

3 http://ics.leeds.ac.uk/

4 http://assembly.coe.int/

5 http://www.coe.int/T/E/NGO/public/

6 http://www.ifib.de/home.html?area=2

7 IFIB 2008 “eParticipation –Electronic Participation of Citizens and the Business Community in eGovernment Study on Behalf of the Federal Ministry of the Interiorhttp://www.ifib.de/publikationsdateien/study_e-participation_engl.pdf

8 http://www.comunitatvalenciana.com/

9 http://groups.dowire.org/groups/europe/files/f/686-2008-10-17T132629Z/cahdedraftrecs-viii-08.pdf

10 http://www.coe.int/t/cm/

11 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs http://www.un.org/esa/desa/

12 http://www.ictparliament.org/ and http://www.ictparliament.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=245

13 http://www.comune.fi.it/

14 http://www.coe.int/t/congress/

15 http://www.iri-europe.org/

16 Directorate-General for External Policies http://www.europarl.europa.eu/

17 http://www.oecd.org/gov/publicengagement

18 Mind the Gap: Fostering open and inclusive policy making. An issues paper

http://www.olis.oecd.org/olis/2008doc.nsf/linkto/GOV-PGC-OPEN(2008)1

19 http://europa.eu/lisbon_treaty/index_en.htm

20 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/freetext_page_press/20080519FTX29200-1202/default_en.htm

21 See Project “Good Governance in the Information Society” http://www.coe.int/T/E/Integrated_Projects/Democracy/