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Council of Europe conference – The Future of Democracy in Europe

17-19 November 2004, Barcelona, Spain

Background and rationale

The Council of Europe is the continent's oldest political organisation, founded in 1949. It assists its member States in strengthening human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, and promotes awareness of a European identity based on shared values and cutting across different cultures.

From 2002 to 2004, the Council of Europe has run a major project on “Making democratic institutions work”. The project’s aim was to consolidate common European standards and identify reforms which could enable member States to (re-)build democratic institutions so as to make them more representative, transparent and accessible to all. Two key documents summarise the project’s results:

Developing Democracy in Europe: an Analytical summary of the Council of Europe’s acquis and
The Future of Democracy in Europe: Trends, Analyses and Reforms (referred to hereafter as the Green Paper).

Developing democracy in Europe” focuses particularly upon the adopted texts of the Council and their supporting material, in order to analyse the Council’s understanding of democracy and the way in its which various institutions support it. In summarising the Council’s acquis in the field of democracy, it provides both a stock take of what the Council thinks in this area and an analysis of the problems and opportunities that face European democracy.

The Future of Democracy in Europe: Trends, Analyses and Reforms” analyses the democratic challenges and opportunities embedded in the present European context and concludes that the future of democracy in Europe depends less on perpetuating existing formal institutions and informal practices than in changing them. In order to remain the same, that is to sustain its legitimacy, democracy as we know it will have to change, and this is likely to affect all of Europe’s multiple levels of aggregation and sites of decision making.

The Green Paper puts forward a series of reform proposals that can contribute to improving the quality and performance of democratic institutions in Europe.

Reforms are never easy and almost never perfect. It will take the collective energy and wisdom of political theorists and practitioners in all of the forty-six member states of the Council of Europe to identify which reforms proposed in the Green Paper seem to be the most desirable, to evaluate what their consequences have been and, finally, to share the lessons from these experiences among each other.

Email: mailto:democracy@coe.int