”Citizen participation is a requirement of effective modern democracy, and this participation should not be limited to elections alone,” stated Martin FODOR (United Kingdom, ILDG), at the Conference on ‘Good governance and effective civil participation at local level in Armenia’, held in Yerevan, on 4 September 2018. ”From the Congress perspective, the local level is best placed for creating innovative mechanisms and platforms for citizen engagement,” he underlined, pointing out that such participation adds legitimacy to local decisions, provides a learning experience for local authorities and gives citizens a sense of belonging to the community.
Mr FODOR presented the legal framework for participation, in particular the European Charter of Local Self-Government which defines in its Preamble “the right of citizens to participate in local affairs as an absolute and undisputable principle”. This right has been consolidated and guaranteed through the Additional Protocol to the Charter, which entered into force in 2012. “According to the Protocol, the domestic law shall provide means of facilitating the exercise of this right at local level, including particular measures for different circumstances or categories of persons – such as women, young people, people with disabilities, minorities or foreign residents – without unfairly discriminating against any person or group,” explained Mr FODOR.
“It is very encouraging to hear that Armenia took important steps in creating a legal framework for citizen participation at local level, after ratifying the Charter of Local Self-Government in 2001 and its Additional Protocol in 2013,” he stated. “But this legal framework will remain a dead letter without the practice of citizen participation – practice that must be introduced and promoted by yourselves as local authorities,” he stressed addressing the participants to the conference.
Mr Ashot GILOYAN, Head of Local Self-government Department of the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development of Armenia, supported Mr FODOR in his statement, emphasising that the “most important principle of local self-government is the principle of participation, and the provisions of the Armenian Constitution and the European Charter of Local Self-Government need to be applied in practice at local level in Armenia”.
Mr FODOR highlighted the need for specific mechanisms of interaction and for the creation of concrete platforms of joint action and channels of communication between the citizens and their mayors and councillors. These include local referendum, citizen initiatives and petitions, people’s assemblies, public debates, participatory budgeting but also structures such as citizens councils, youth assemblies, councils of migrants and foreign residents, that act as consultative bodies to local councils.
Armenia joined the Council of Europe in 2001, ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 2002 and its Additional Protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority in 2013. Countries which have ratified the Charter are bound by its provisions. The Charter imposes compliance with a minimum number of rights, which are the bedrock of European local self-government. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe ensures respect for these principles.