Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the House of Democracy.
The Council of Europe has supported democratic change and consolidation in our member states and more recently also in our immediate neighbourhood.
Our job is to look after the health of European democracies.
What do our check-ups consist of?
We cover a range of areas: from freedom of expression and media to the holding of free and fair elections and good governance.
We also follow what could be considered as the heart-beat of democracy: public trust and involvement in the political process.
This includes election turnout but also membership in political parties and trust in representative institutions.
Sadly, on the basis of these criteria, we have reasons to worry.
The heart-beat of democracy is getting more and more faint.
A study prepared specially for this World Forum by Amanda Clarke of the Oxford Internet Institute found that across the world election turnout is in significant decline.
Trust in political parties is dwindling.
Participation in traditional democratic activities such as boycotts, petitions and demonstrations is dropping.
In the past two decades, people's reported dissatisfaction with politics has increased dramatically.
But it is not all bad news.
The study also found that new modes of democratic engagement are emerging.
Stimulated by internet and social media, many of them promise to bridge the gap between citizens and their representatives.
Other initiatives offer people the possibility to participate directly in policy-making.
Democracy is not something that stands still. It is constantly evolving and growing.
We therefore need to understand and accompany this evolution in order to cement the foundations of democracy.
The challenge of democratic transformation is relevant across the world.
It is therefore crucial that we address it through a global dialogue involving traditional democratic actors such as politicians, civil society activists and media.
But also new actors such as e-democracy platform developers and new media opinion leaders.
Together, we need to need ask ourselves some important questions.
Are digital participation platforms good or bad for democracy?
How can we encourage the good and limit the bad?
What practical steps and actions should governments, parties, grassroots actors and media take in order to make best use of new opportunities and deal with challenges?
These are the questions we will have in mind when debating during the following two days.