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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‚ÄĚ but  ‚ÄúCountries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.‚ÄĚ  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")

 

Speech by Lord John PRESCOTT, Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly
(Yerevan, 19 October 2010)

I am delighted to participate in the opening of this year’s Forum on behalf of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr MevlŁt «avuşoğlu, who was prevented at the last minute from attending and asked me to speak on his behalf.

Our organisation is first and foremost a political project – one that aims at uniting the countries and peoples of Europe around shared values and principles. But the Council of Europe is also a laboratory for ideas and a wide and inclusive forum for political dialogue and co-operation. No other institution in Europe can rival the variety and richness of countries that it embraces- with their historic legacy, cultural heritage, political philosophy, different languages and religions among others. We must therefore use this fantastic potential at its best, in order to keep constantly the finger on the pulse of our societies, detect new trends and seek innovative solutions. This is the added value of this Forum.

This year’s Forum sets itself an extremely ambitious, but necessary goal – to look into the future and try to anticipate what our democracies should look like in 10 years time.
Democracy, as a concept and as a political practice, has in different forms been part of a great deal of human history. So one might think that in 10 years our societies would very much look the same.

Nothing would be more naÔve and erroneous at the moment of history that we are facing
now. The present moment is the third most important milestone in the 61 years of existence of the Council of Europe. The first one was right at the start of our organisation, after the war, when everything – from homes and factories to ideas and mutual trust - had to be rebuilt. The second one was after the fall of the Berlin wall, when the demons of the past seemed to have gone forever and when even the boldest dreams for a bright future finally looked within easy reach.

The crossroads at which we are now, is a fascinating one, because it is fraught with challenges, but it also is probably the most complicated one, because of its multiple and global character.

Firstly, as a result of the deep economic and social crises of last years, we have come to realise that democracy needs to be reshaped and strengthened from within. Furthermore, the traditional representative democracy model has to be supplemented by new forms of civic participation.

Secondly, as a result of the globalisation and redistribution of power in the world, our European model of democracy increasingly has to confront itself with different political models from other parts of the world. It has to reassert itself in this new environment, without making concessions on the democratic acquis that it has granted to the people of Europe over the years.

And thirdly, for the first time in history, democracy as a fundamental human value has to confront itself with the forces of nature which, with its huge resources but also its fragility, has become part of the global democracy and human rights equation.
I shall start with the challenges that the traditional European model of democracy is facing.

Of course, we all know that democracy is never perfect, that we constantly have to reshape it and adapt it to the new realities. I am tempted to repeat the famous quote of Churchill that “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. So what makes it necessary to be revisiting our traditional understanding of democracy at this particular moment?
First of all, against the background of the global challenges that have emerged over the last years, such as the economic crisis or climate change, some of the inherent weaknesses of our traditional representative model have become more apparent. For instance, what some philosophers call its “short-sightedness”: the fact that political priorities are mostly set in accordance with electoral and opinion-poll constraints, rather than with long-term needs. Another example: more than ever, the new communication technologies offer potential for public participation. And so the risk is greater than ever that there could be a gap between policies designed by a small circle of governing elite, although on a representative basis, and the popular will.

I would then add a number of specific weaknesses that have resulted from the governance that we have been applying to domestic and international affairs in the last decades. These shortcomings were very well identified by the Parliamentary Assembly in the latest of its traditional bi-ennial debates on the state of democracy in Europe held last June.

Without the list being exhaustive, I would mention:
- the lack of necessary regulation and political control over financial interests at international level;
- concentration of power and money and, in some Council of Europe member states, also an excessive concentration of the media, in the hands of a few;
- a disinterest in the current institutionalised procedures of democracy and a crisis in representation: election turnouts have gone freefall in most European countries;
- the rise of populist, extremist and identity politics, as well as nationalistic rhetoric;
- an ever-increasing collection of personal data by state agencies, as well as by private companies, which represents a threat to personal freedom and privacy

Let me be clear: although the Assembly feels that democracy is in a crisis, representative democracy as such must not be put into question. However, we believe that representation can no longer be the only expression of democracy. We need to find more sustained forms of interaction between people and the authorities and these forms should include direct democratic elements in the decision-making process.

One such way would be by enhancing participatory democracy. It should be a process in which all people, and not only nationals, are involved in the conduct of public affairs, at local, regional, national and European levels. Democracy should be understood as a form of society which implies discussing and living together in dignity, respect and solidarity.

The renewal of politics also requires the development of a new culture of civic and political responsibility. This means greater responsiveness and accountability, as well as transparency, on the part of those who govern, and on the part of civil society actors who participate in the political debate.

How can all these ideas be put into practice?

In the first place, we believe that the right to participate in the conduct of public affairs should be considered as a human right and a fundamental political freedom. Therefore, in close consultation with the European Commission for Democracy through Law /Venice Commission, we have started reflecting upon the elaboration of an Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. The drafting process of the new protocol should be accompanied by open public debates, so that this process in itself offers an opportunity to raise awareness on the need to increase citizens’ active participation.
As far as the accountability and transparency of political parties are concerned, the Assembly has welcomed the adoption of the Code of Good Practice in the field of Political Parties by the Venice Commission and endorsed it. This new code, as requested by the Assembly, aims at reinforcing political parties’ internal democracy and increasing their credibility in the eyes of citizens.

I am now moving to the second set of challenges to our European democracies, those posed by globalisation.

The world economic and financial crisis is a perfect illustration of this point. Since the beginning of the crisis, the Assembly hinted that it could possibly threaten to undermine the very foundations of democracy and reminded governments that despite financial difficulties, citizen’s social, economic and human rights must be safeguarded.
In a recent debate on human rights and business, the Assembly also pointed out that the globalisation of the economy challenges the effectiveness of international human rights protection. Many of the alleged human rights abuses by businesses occur in third countries, especially outside Europe, and it is currently difficult to raise extraterritorial abuses by companies before national courts or the European Court of Human Rights. There is also imbalance in the scope of human rights protection between businesses – which can bring their case against a state before the Court in Strasbourg – and individuals, who cannot effectively raise their claims before this jurisdiction in case of a violation of their rights by a private law company.

Another worrying trend across the world which presents a direct challenge to democracy is the upsurge of racism, xenophobia and all sorts of manifestations of intolerance against people of different religious beliefs. All these are a fact of everyday life in our societies. These manifestations can be flagrant or subtle, but the result is the same: discrimination, social alienation and exclusion, tension between communities and fomentation of political extremism.
Taking advantage of the framework of rights and freedoms guaranteed by European democracies, such extremism is pursuing objectives which are in contravention with Europe’s democratic and human rights values and, in the worst cases, condone or even promote violence.

Amongst these forms of extremism, as the Assembly has pointed out, racism and xenophobia anti-Semitism and Islamophobia represent a major source of preoccupation, also in the light of the rise in the electoral support of parties inspired by racist ideas and the increasing temptation for mainstream political parties or public figures to coin racist discourse as a means of attracting votes

There are no universal recipes for fighting against extremism, but our first and foremost task is to address its root causes. Resolute action against discrimination, emphasis on civic education and inter-cultural as well as inter-religious dialogue, involvement of civil society and non-governmental organisations – especially those representing segments of society which are excluded de jure or de facto from ordinary channels – in consultation or decision-making processes are key instruments to reduce the potential attraction of extremist groups and movements.

I am now coming to the last, but not least challenge, certainly the newest and also the most difficult to tackle: the challenge of the planet on which we are living.
The Assembly believes that climate change represents not only a threat, but equally an opportunity to envisage a new form of economic and human development. Given that the 19th century was founded on mass production and the 20th century on mass consumption, the 21st century should focus on quality of life, respect for nature and sustainable development.

The challenges to today’s democracy are more than ever also of a geopolitical and geostrategic nature. The balance of power in the world is shifting and although it is difficult to design a precise scenario, we know that from now on we would be living in a multipolar world. The newly emerging powers in the world come with newly-asserted self-confidence that their political models work. Yet these political realities are not necessarily the same as ours and they do not necessarily share the values which underpin every democracy. .

Will democracy be able to resist this pressure? We used to believe that the others have to adhere to our principles simply because these principles are right and because they are universal. Sometimes, when they have been met with resentment or opposition, some nations have tried to introduce them even by force. Interventionism, even dressed in the best democratic intentions, has caused a lot of damage to our democratic model.
The time has come to realise that universality can only work if it is inclusive, if it allows everybody to participate, to express themselves, to act.

We also need to rethink our notion of common good. For the poor, it is about global resources that need to be shared evenly. For the rich, the notion of common good relates more to the idea of collective security and prosperity. Solutions that combine both interests at world level certainly exist. But for this to happen, we urgently need to make globalisation more human. Here is probably the biggest challenge to our democracies.

I am sure that this Forum will make an important contribution to the ongoing reflexion on our political priorities. I therefore wish you a stimulating and productive work. Finally, I wish to thank most warmly our Armenian hosts for their hospitality.