Strasbourg, 23 November 2004
Council of Europe conference
THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY IN EUROPE
(also available in French and Catalan)
The conference has brought together parliamentarians, senior civil servants, expert academics and representatives from civil society. We have discussed the challenges and opportunities facing democracy at the present time, as well as proposals for future reforms. It is these future possibilities that I will now concentrate upon.
We have undertaken a review of the acquis of the Council of Europe in the field of democracy and agreed that this constitutes a firm basis for future developments. We have analysed the work of the Integrated Project on ‘Making democratic institutions work’ and focused specifically upon the proposals in the Green Paper presented to this conference.
The conference has agreed that democracy is not an end in itself but an objective. Democracy is always incomplete and always changing. Our challenge is to maintain but also to re-create our democratic ways of working, in order that they may be adapted to changing political, social and economic contexts. Democratic reforms must take into account the new realities of the information society. All new developments need to express the Council’s firm commitment to improve gender balance and extend the involvement of young people in political life. We must address these challenges in a way that builds upon the fundamental values of the Council of Europe and also reflects the diverse traditions and aspirations of the 46 member states.
The main conclusion of the conference is that the Council of Europe should establish a Forum for the Future of Democracy to build further the acquis and take forward the work of the Integrated Project. This body would harness the momentum established at the Barcelona conference. It would develop systematically the conceptual and practical resources generated through the Integrated Project and the Green Paper.
The purpose of the proposed Forum is to exchange ideas and information about the development of democracy in member states. Its task would be to identify and evaluate significant innovations, to develop standards for innovative democratic practice and to disseminate learning among member states. The Forum would build upon the working practices pioneered in the Integrated Project. It would take an inclusive, transversal and multi-disciplinary approach. The Forum would bring together representatives from Council of Europe member states, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Council of Europe’s INGO Conference, civil society and expert academics. The conference recommends that consideration be given to this proposal in the preparatory process for the Council of Europe’s Warsaw Summit of Heads of State and Government to be held in May 2005.
The conference has discussed a broad range of democratic innovations – some more radical than others! It is important here to specify those issues that have received the most support and attention. These issues should constitute the initial focus for the proposed Forum.
First, consideration should be given to the reform of electoral systems with the purpose of increasing voter turn-out and also enhancing inclusion. The development of remote forms of voting – by post and by electronic means – is a priority. It is important to emphasise that new voting forms should not replace traditional methods but be developed in the context of a ‘multi-channel’ approach. Further work should be done on the feasibility and implications of including an option for ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) on ballot forms. The aim here is to stimulate the engagement of those citizens who do not wish to express support for existing candidates or parties. Attention should also be given to providing voting rights for denizens – or legally resident foreigners – starting at the local level and ‘scaling up’. Versions of these electoral innovations are already happening within certain member states, and the Forum will specify and evaluate models.
The second area of priority concerns innovation in the role and practice of political parties, which remain the crucial representative and intermediary bodies between citizens and rulers. The new Forum should focus upon new ideas and practices on the financing of political parties and their internal democratic functioning. The Green Paper group commends for further investigation its proposals concerning vouchers for the funding of parties and experiments with shared mandates among representatives. These are proposals with the potential to link improvements in party functioning with increased citizen interest, involvement and inclusion.
An important theme has been the democratic potential of the information society. The Council of Europe has already adopted a recommendation on e-voting and anticipates the adoption of a recommendation on e-governance. The challenge now is to investigate systematically the ways in which new technologies can enable democratic reform. This would be a key objective of the proposed Forum on the Future of Democracy, in association with the new Council of Europe project on Good Governance in the Information Society.