Today, more Europeans live in democracies than ever before but despite this unprecedented and favourable context, there is a widespread dissatisfaction with the practice of “democracry: mistrust of political institutions and politicians and a declining turnout in elections. In addition, globalisation and the rise of terrorism are all challenging and may pose a threat to the very foundations of democracy.
As the only body to gather all European democracies, the Council of Europe has an appropriate role to play in analysing these challenges and proposing remedies. That is why, at the Warsaw Summit (May 2005), the Heads of State and Government of the Organisation's member states decided to establish a Forum for the Future of Democracy to strengthen political freedoms and citizens' participation.
The Forum is open to all member states and civil society and is aimed at enabling the exchange of ideas, information and examples of best practices, as well as discussions on possible future action. It is held in close co-operation with the Venice Commission and other relevant Council of Europe bodies with a view to enhancing, through its reflection and proposals, the Organisation's work in the field of democracy.
Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland opened the Forum for the Future of Democracy with the acknowledgment that “radical measures taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets are both necessary and understandable.”
But he also stressed: “Countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.”
The Cyprus Forum for the Future of Democracy focussed on the close connection between democracy and social cohesion, using a political rather than a technical approach to the topic. It invited young people who are active in peaceful youth protests, from the “Indignados” to “Génération précaire” for an open dialogue with other civil society representatives. It recommended changes to get through the current financial crisis and to avert increased social and political upheaval, including “constructive political engagement” and “support for new and alternative forms of democratic expression and participation”.
In a mixture of plenary and parallel working sessions, the participants addressed the main trends in and challenges to stronger linkages between democracy and social cohesion and discussed how representation and democratic participation can be strengthened through social dialogue and civic engagement.
In the light of the push towards democracy taking place in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region, these countries were involved in this year’s Forum, both as participants and in widening the debate to encompass their aspirations and experiences in building democracy and fostering social cohesion.
Outputs of the Forum are expected to include input for the 2012 Forum session and recommendations for further action by the Council of Europe and other stakeholders in the fields of democracy and social cohesion.