Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy
“E-democracy: who dares?”
Conclusions by the General Rapporteurs
1. The 2008 Session of the Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy, held in Madrid (Spain) from 15-17 October 2008 under the general theme “e-democracy, who dares?”, addressed the opportunities and challenges of the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in democratic life.
2. The Forum reiterated that e-democracy, as an additional channel for democratic practice and participation, can significantly contribute to achieving more transparency, accountability and responsiveness of democratic institutions, to facilitating people’s democratic engagement and deliberation, and to increasing the accessibility and inclusiveness of the democratic process. E-democracy therefore presents a tremendous opportunity for people and public authorities alike, it being understood that all stakeholders join together to harness its benefits and control its potential risks.
3. The Forum considers that it is essential to build people’s trust in e-democracy in order to achieve its full potential.
Principles of e-democracy
4. E-democracy is about making use of the opportunities that ICT offer in order to strengthen democracy, democratic institutions and the democratic process. Introducing and developing e-democracy to enable people to become more involved in the democratic process and democratic institutions requires a conscious effort by all stakeholders, and determined leadership.
5. E-democracy is above all about democracy and not simply about technology. The evolution of e-democracy through the use of enhanced technologies should therefore rest upon and be pursued in accordance with the principles of democratic governance and practice.
6. E-democracy also involves challenges and risks, not least of which the digital divide and “e-discrimination”. These need to be addressed and overcome, including by political will, significant investment, solid risk-assessment, risk-management measures and mechanisms for ongoing monitoring and improvement.
7. E-democracy presupposes the existence of a basic democratic environment, including free and fair elections, and the enjoyment of human rights by all, in particular freedom of expression, an open and secure access of all people to the Internet, and the protection of their privacy and personal data. People will only trust e-democracy if they are confident that the information and data they disclose in the context of e-democracy processes are not being used or stored for any other purpose, let alone used against them.
8. E-democracy can help to restore the declining interest in politics and the democratic process. It is an opportunity to reinvigorate representative democracy and to revisit its traditional concepts.
9. E-democracy is not a new form of democracy. It is additional and complementary to, and interlinked with, traditional processes of democracy. It is a tool to widen the choices available to the public for engaging in the democratic process. Many of the traditional participatory processes undoubtedly benefit from, and can be implemented more effectively through, ICT.
10. E-democracy provides new opportunities for the people to become more involved in all stages of the democratic process. However, this presupposes that its design takes into account such requirements as accessibility, ease of use and inclusion. Furthermore, people need to be confident that their contributions to e-democracy processes are taken into account in decision-making.
11. E-democracy creates new opportunities for civic initiatives from the bottom upwards. They should be encouraged and given specific support by public authorities and international organisations as a healthy manifestation of democratic participation.
12. Political will is required to involve everyone - institutions, interest groups and individuals - in the development of e-democracy from an early stage, thus avoiding the risk of fragmentation of society.
Recommendations to e-democracy stakeholders
13. The Forum calls on all actors in the democratic process to use the opportunities offered by e-democracy in their communication with the public. In particular, e-democracy provides elected representatives with new opportunities to engage in discussions with their constituency. It is imperative that e-democracy should be embraced by all politicians in order to increase their interaction with the people.
14. The Forum welcomes that, in several countries, different e-democracy initiatives are being developed, tested and implemented. The Forum calls upon all governments to commit themselves to developing and implementing substantially more initiatives within their own countries, at all levels, where relevant drawing on existing expertise and examples of good practice. The Council of Europe and other European and international institutions should promote such initiatives.
15. Recent developments in the field of e-voting have shown that increased attention should be paid to certification and observation to guarantee security and transparency and to build trust in the electoral process. The Forum therefore calls on national policy-makers to include these important aspects in their work and to engage in dialogue, at all stages of the process, with both the supporters and critics of e-voting.
16. New media and service providers have made it possible for people to gain better access to information and thus to have a better basis for engaging in the democratic process. The Forum calls upon such services to fully exercise their ethical responsibilities, especially with regard to children and youth.
17. A right balance between empowerment and protection of the individual should be struck. It is important to keep options open for e-democracy initiatives from the grass roots to develop without being submitted to restrictions, other than those designed to protect the rights of the individual and the general regulations that protect against all forms of abuse on the Internet and other digital technologies.
Recommendations to particular e-democracy stakeholders
18. The Forum is confident that the draft recommendation on e-democracy, to be considered for adoption in the near future by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, will offer all European governments substantial guidelines and principles when dealing with e-democracy. The recommendation will offer a number of practical tools to those who require hands-on information about combining modern information and communication tools and democratic requirements and practice.
19. The Forum welcomes the current work of the Parliamentary Assembly on e-democracy and calls on it to take further initiatives, in particular with regard to e-parliament. Indeed, e-parliament can help parliaments at all levels, as well as elected representatives, to better fulfil their role as representatives of the people.
20. The Forum commends the Council of Europe’s Conference of INGOs on its current drafting of the Code of Good Practice on Civic Participation, a proposal that originated in the Forum for the Future of Democracy, and notes with interest that the Code will include a section on e-democracy.
21. The Forum calls on all stakeholders in local and regional governance to embrace the opportunities of e-democracy. It welcomes the work of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe on e-democracy in local and regional planning and, in particular, on e-tools as a response to the needs of local authorities and on e-democracy and deliberative consultation on urban projects.
22. As experience in several cities shows, participatory budgeting can be a way of empowering people. The Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR) is called upon to examine the potential of participatory budgeting and use of ICT in this context.
23. The implementation of the Council of Europe’s draft convention on access to official documents, when adopted, should take into account the consequences of the widespread use of ICT on the way in which public authorities and users of ICT interact.
24. Special attention should be paid to those who need help in acquiring the skills required to become an active e-citizen. Information and Internet literacy should be promoted, as well as education for democratic citizenship and human rights education. The Forum calls on the different bodies of the Council of Europe to intensify their efforts in elaborating policy instruments and developing tools to this effect, building on earlier efforts in the field of democracy.
25. On the occasion of the Forum, representatives of Council of Europe member states reviewed developments in the field of e-voting since the adoption, in 2004, of the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on legal, operational and technical standards on e-voting. The Forum encourages the Council of Europe to maintain its prominent role in this important and complex field, thereby providing a platform for discussion and exchange of experience, and a standard-setting body.
26. The Council of Europe Programme “Building a Europe for and with children”, in its work on participation of children and young people in political life, is invited to include aspects of ICT use in its work. The Forum welcomes the setting up, by the project, of a children’s e-platform and the prospect of creating an e-forum within the pilot scheme on child participation. The programme should continue to promote measures to protect the dignity, security and privacy of children in cyberspace and generally empower children in the new information and communication environment.
27. Regulation in the field of e-democracy, as a means of building trust among the people, can take the form of public regulation, co-regulation and self-regulation, as well as international standard-setting. The Forum recognises that more consideration needs to be given to this issue and proposes that the Committee of Ministers initiate work in this field, and closely involve the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission).
28. Regulatory action may also be taken in respect of Internet governance. In this connection, the Forum has taken note with interest of the joint initiative at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) on “Public Participation in Internet Governance” by the Council of Europe, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), and encourages the involved partners to pursue this initiative.
29. The Forum invites representative assemblies and governments, as custodians of the general public interest, to actively seek links with social networking activities concerned with political issues and to draw upon ideas and discussions held in these new democratic participatory and deliberative spaces.
30. Given the various approaches and views on e-democracy within academic circles and the necessity to harness quality expertise from many sectors, the Forum calls upon representative assemblies, governments and the business sector, as well as international institutions, to encourage and fund research on e-democracy. This should include issues such as improving democracy through ICT, (re-)engaging people in democracy and the establishment of effective links between public authorities’ activities and social networking (between bottom-up and top-down initiatives).
31. The Forum welcomes that member states engage in the International Day for Democracy on 15 September, proclaimed by the United Nations, and in the European Local Democracy Week in mid-October, initiated by the Council of Europe. The Forum calls upon all stakeholders to include into these events a strong focus on e-democracy. Activities in member states should be closely linked with activities in other member states, thus building European momentum in the field of e-democracy. The Forum calls upon the Council of Europe to become actively involved in this initiative.
32. All stakeholders involved in the Forum are invited to combine their efforts to define the most efficient ways of translating the conclusions of this Forum’s session into specific action.
33. The Forum expressed its appreciation and gratitude to the Spanish Government and the City of Madrid for the excellent organisation of the 2008 Session and for their hospitality.
34. The Forum welcomed the invitation by the Ukrainian authorities to hold the 2009 session of the Forum in Kyiv, on the theme of “Electoral Systems”.
Madrid, 17 October 2008