15. Juni 2007
Council of Europe Forum
for the Future of Democracy
Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy
Stockholm/Sigtuna, Sweden 13–15 June 2007
Hosted by Sveriges Riksdag – the Swedish Parliament,
the Government of Sweden and
the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions
Sigtuna, 15 June 2007
Observations by Andreas Gross
My most important remark about this session of the Forum is that we did not only speak about democracy, we tried to practice it. One cannot swim without going into the water. We tried to get as many people as possible involved in the process. That is what democracy is all about.
What we probably failed to do sufficiently in Warsaw and Moscow was perhaps done in excess yesterday morning in the World Café: the organizers nearly organised too much at the risk of damaging individual creativity. People need time and space to build up a community with others, which gives them the feeling of belonging. People need to “live” democracy. This is a classical risk which states run when they want to do well for their societies.
I wish to thank the Swedish organizers for having chosen Sigtuna as a venue. This is not only because of the beauty of this old town but also because of what the municipal authorities of Sigtuna have done since the last municipal elections in 2002. They have tried to increase participation in the elections by organizing 10 deliberative referenda which offered the people of the town an additional voice. They have reached their goal by increasing the participation in the municipal elections by 7.4 %. They have proved that direct democracy can support indirect democracy, or, in other words, as was said on Wednesday afternoon: Direct democracy makes representative democracy more representative.
I would like to encourage the Sigtuna municipal authorities, as all government bodies at all levels, to pursue this process. Do we only allow the people to express themselves on the questions put to them or do we allow them to formulate the questions they, themselves, would like to put to all their fellow citizens? They will not fail to see that many citizens appreciate such empowerment and are eager to participate, to discuss and make up their minds themselves.
By allowing citizens to express themselves, by inviting them to think about and discuss their own ideas and concerns, they enable people to build the community and sense of belonging together which we seek as a condition to build and strengthen democracy. This is my answer to the question which was discussed on Wednesday afternoon, in the second panel session, about how many people in our world live in conditions which some claim make democracy impossible. My answer is: the condition for democracy can only be created by democracy itself. That is, in my view, the meaning of saying that democracy can only lead to more and better democracy, and is not just a dream.
A similar insight was expressed yesterday morning by a Russian speaker when he tried - rightly so - to overcome a wrongly perceived opposition between effectiveness and democracy. He said: democracy is effectiveness; effectiveness is only possible through democracy.
The positive experiences which were gathered yesterday in the World Café gave a good image of how much citizens are able to create when they take matters into their own hands. When they unite their efforts, when they take up issues which really concern their fellow citizens, when they touch their hearts (as someone said), when they act in an original and creative way, then they not only are able to attract attention from the media, but can also gain the respect and support from the responsible authorities. Thus, much damage can be avoided, many new projects can be realised, and - perhaps most important - many people can find the hope, the self-confidence, as well as the knowledge, to go on to act politically, to take care of their fellow citizens and of the environment. There is nothing which is more motivating than a successful political experience. When you experience the democratic power you can wield, if you unite yourself with like-minded people, you belong to those who are empowered and know how to use this power for the sake of the community.
It was good to listen to some of the participants who have other visions of democracy and do not share the same perception of the democratic potential of individual citizens. In order to enhance our deliberations and to stimulate more reflection, I would like to specify the following:
a) We should not oppose citizens to institutions. If you reform institutions in a way that citizens get the right to participate in the institutions’ deliberations, you change institutions for the better and you reduce the possible alienation of citizens towards institutions.
b) You will never find citizens who are active 24 hours a day. This would be not only inhuman but also beyond human capacity. The quality of a citizen does not depend on how much time he spends in, and for, politics. Quality is much more than that: it is a matter of whether he or she is just a bourgeois who needs politics to defend private interests, or whether he or she tries to seek the general interest, the common good and whether he or she is ready to give priority to the common interest and to the common cause, which, in the end, will also serve private interests best.
c) Participation in decision-making processes between elections is much more than just an experiment of strong democracies. First, strong democracies are only strong if and when they enable people to decide on issues and do not leave them solely to their representatives. Second, citizens become most frustrated if they gain the impression that the government is playing with them, is using them as objects of experiments. Citizens feel that they are being taken seriously when empowerment really means empowerment, when the Constitution gives them the power to cancel the delegation of power to the Parliament, as well as the right to choose the issues upon which they want to have the final say.
d) I was struck by some problematic opposition I heard yesterday: individualism, for instance, is not something which endangers representation. At the same time, individualism should not be confused with egoism. Individualists know that, in modern societies, not all decisions can be taken by all of those concerned each and every time. You need representation to reduce the complexity of decision-making processes. Individualists only ask for the right exceptionally to break up the representation and take the decision back to the entire people when a strong minority thinks it should be done that way.
e) The idea of a strong democracy does not imply that good citizens should be perceived as people who are ready to become “good losers”. The idea of democracy is that nobody should consider himself or herself as a loser, since everybody gets a share of the power, as well as the attention they require. The core idea of direct democracy is to guarantee to each and every one that nobody will feel overlooked or forgotten. The sense of giving everybody the right to express him or herself, as well as the guarantee of being listened to and respected, is precisely to avoid that anyone should feel that they are a loser, which would only inevitably entice him or her to use other means of expressions than democratic ones.
I would conclude by saying that it is a sign of the quality of this Forum that it revealed where we disagree and where we need to reflect and discuss further. This Forum would not have been a success had the debate ended here in Sigtuna. The Parliamentary Assembly, in general, and the organisers of the next Forums in Spain, Ukraine and Armenia may provide other opportunities to strengthen our common notion of a strong democracy. In so doing, we recognise once again that we can only strengthen democracy by practising it. Democracy is the path to take if we want to improve it. Every democracy is unfinished. The meaning of our work is to reduce its unfinishedness, being fully aware that it will never be perfect.