Non-Governmental Organisations

The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe
CONF/PRES/SPEECH(2009)8

Statement by the President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, Jean-Marie Heydt, at the closing session of the Forum for the Future of Democracy, Kyiv, 23 October 2009

Ladies and gentlemen,

For the Conference of INGOs the Code of good practice for civil participation in the decision-making process is a vital tool demonstrating our commitment and our ability to complement public activities.

In the context of electoral systems the Code is entirely in keeping with our shared desire for democracy to be consolidated in the interest of the populations of our member states.

I would like briefly to mention the five courses of action that the Code offers in the sphere of elections:

    Alerting, involving and educating citizens;
    Enriching electoral debate via contributions from various sources;
    Providing minority groups with an opportunity to be represented in electoral debates;
    Helping to monitor electoral processes;
    Paving the way for new techniques and practices, combined with technological progress.

As I have suggested on previous occasions, these five activities should be part of a genuine process of complementary action. There should be no confusion about each party’s respective roles and responsibilities. By this I mean that NGOs are not, and should never be, a conduit for politicians or trade unionists or for commercial or financial interests. Our commitment is free of all profit-making or electoral aims and this means that all our actions and all that motivates them should have no other goal than human well-being, founded on human rights. It is only in this context that we can, and should, be recognised by the national, regional and local authorities.

As I went around the workshops, I heard many very interesting and inspiring proposals, but it is not for me to report on these but for the rapporteurs, who will speak later.

However, some of the ideas I heard make me want to raise the point that, more than any other topic, electoral systems can cause disquiet, creating the impression that NGOs are always opposed to the current authorities, acting out of a desire to replace them. I would like it to be clear that this is absolutely not the case, and that those who think like this should quite simply leave their NGO and take up politics, refraining from using NGOs to engage in electoral politics.

This does not mean that we should keep quiet – far from it in fact – even though we know that our comments and views will not always be well received by public decision-makers. However, what we say should always be dictated solely by a desire to improve human well-being.

To achieve this, we need to be constantly aware of the role of each of the partners involved, namely that of the authorities, civil society – including NGOs – and the media. In this way, we can be a recognised force which is able to take a full part in the decision-making process, and which is both credible and inclusive.

As we know, civil society activities, particularly those carried out by NGOs, are already a key factor in the ongoing democratic process. Moreover, these activities help people to gain or regain confidence, for example by giving them hope that they can influence their future by choosing their representatives. There is nothing new in this, and the idea is simple, but this simple realisation that democracy is first and foremost a question of confidence is something that can be learnt through education and exemplary conduct. And do not think that schools are the only place where this education can be provided! Everyone one of us should be doing it.

Take a child whose teacher at school explains to the class how important it is for people to vote in the national parliamentary elections. Polling day arrives and at home, the child’s parents say that there is no point in voting, that politicians only remember their constituents just before the elections and afterwards they do what they like. We have all heard this type of talk. What effect is this going to have on our children? They will heed their parents’ words and all the teacher’s efforts will be in vain. It would be just like having your car resprayed with a water-based paint – you should hardly be surprised when the paint washes off completely the first time it rains.

If we want to use education to encourage future generations to participate more in elections, we need to influence adults today. And there is no more efficient way of doing this than leading by example. This is what NGOs can, and do, do, providing examples and encouragement to the public. This is all the more effective given that we are not standing for election and so we are not active within any political grouping.

The Code of Good Practice on Civil Participation in the decision-making process is the result of concerted efforts and, through the examples it provides, it is a source for any partner who wishes to make use of it.

At its meeting on Wednesday, the Committee of Ministers plainly acknowledged this, not only by recognising the importance of the Code as a Council of Europe reference document but also by calling on member states to take full account of the Code at government, parliamentary and local and regional authority level. On this basis and in the spirit of participatory democracy, the Committee of Ministers calls for the participation of NGOs in this process to be enlarged and for closer co-operation between NGOs and the authorities.

The Code was our work, assigned to us in Sweden, at the 2007 Forum for the Future of Democracy.

The four pillars of the Council of Europe have endorsed it in 2009.

It is now for you to take up this Code, turning it into a new seedbed of democracy and ensuring that it gives a high yield. It is only then that it will come alive for our future democracies.

Thank you for your attention.