Every two years the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decides on the programme of activities and the corresponding budget of each sector of the Organisation.

For the period 2016-2017, the main work priorities of the Directorate General of Democracy are centred on: promoting human rights and dignity; strengthening democratic governance and fostering innovation; and, promoting participation and diversity.

Also covered are:

Why these priorities?

The Council of Europe regards the protection of human dignity, democratic governance, innovation, participation and diversity and as the most pressing challenges for democracy today. The need to build inclusive societies across Europe, based on these principles, has never been more urgent, given the ongoing threat of violent extremism and terrorism, on one hand, and the challenges posed by the current refugee crisis, on the other.

“Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” — the opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) have lost nothing of their relevance. In Europe today, the dignity of many is threatened by discrimination, violence and marginalisation. Addressing issues like racism, intolerance, hatred of minorities, violence against women, the trafficking of human beings or sexual violence against children is vital for a continent committed to common human rights values. Injustice and bias often have deep historic roots, but new threats to the dignity of the human being are emerging constantly.

Education is central to democratic societies. Schools, universities, civil society organisations and other learning institutions should encourage the acquisition and practice of values and skills which are essential for democracy. The World Forum for Democracy 2017 will focus on the role of political parties and media in the context of raising populism.

The fast pace of social, economic and technological change make it imperative to adapt the institutions of democracy to the requirements of the 21st century. Implementing the principles of good, democratic governance for all public authorities is an ongoing challenge. A vibrant civil society and the ability of public services to manage Europe’s diverse societies in a democratic manner are crucial to create a true “culture of democracy”.

Citizens’ participation is the lifeblood of democracy. The long-term trend of falling voter turnout in general elections almost everywhere on the continent indicates a growing problem, echoed by the widespread withdrawal from trade unions and other types of civil society organisations. Specific population groups still experience acute problems when they try to participate actively and without discrimination in public life. The legitimacy of democracy – and its future – depends on the ability to open up new, attractive ways to engage with all citizens.

The cultural diversity of European societies is growing, due to globalisation, migration and increased mobility. Mounting populist and xenophobic trends in many parts of Europe, often aggravated by economic problems and the weakening of human rights protection and social cohesion, are symptomatic of a crisis which requires a constructive response: the development of intercultural competences and dialogue based on shared human rights standards. Europe, faced with serious demographic challenges, must learn to realise the benefits of diversity.