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DEMOCRACY - DEMOCRATIC AND PARTICIPATORY COMMONS

Bart Cosijn, Joana Dias, Monika Łagodzińska, Sophie Bloemen

What are the existing experiences of the commons movement in this field, and initiatives of commoning related to this issue?

There are several individuals, collectives and networks, spread across the EU, that are already creating conditions to re-deepen democracy. Experiences that bring democracy to a local level, bottom-up initiatives that approximate citizens and politics; initiatives, groups or institutions that develops and promotes direct democracy processes.

Why is this proposal pertinent to be discussed at the European scale, with the EU institution, in the EU Agenda. It could also be because it is an urgent matter to introduce at this scale of policy.

Democracy in Europe is at risk. Austerity measures forced to many EU Members during the last years only brought more and bigger social unbalances, augmenting injustice, inequality and social exclusion among the EU community. If the South is suffering from an endemic poverty, the Eastern Europe is today a stage for fascist manifestations. The Western and Northern European countries are being shacked by a wave of racism and discrimination.

It is obvious that many EU governments are biasing democratic tools and processes in order to manipulate people's opinions and attitudes, and thus to weaken democracy. We see a growing disregard for social and humanist principles, giving at the same time more power to capital.

The result is that people are more and more far away from democracy and democratic institutions. There is a growing distance between political representatives and common citizens. Participatory and democratic processes are seen by many with distrust and even suspicion.

What are the existing components to this commons?

  • Citizenship
  • Participation
  • Human Rights
  • Equity
  • Inclusion
  • Justice
  • Intercultural dialogue

What are the main ideas the commoners are reclaiming or struggling for in this field?

We need to re-deepen democracy, by making democratic processes more transparent and freely accessible to everybody. We need a more direct and deliberative democracy. More civic participation and a deeper and more solid democratic culture are needed.

What are the already experimented measures in this field and where (in a particular country? part of Europe? Elsewhere?

  • Belgium: G1000 Citizens Cummit, reinventing old Greed notions of democracy
  • Iceland: New Peoples' Constitution, collective law writing
  • Switserland: Landsgemeinde, collective decicion making and direct democracy
  • Denmark: Folkemødet, public delibaration and debate
  • Estonia: Teeme Ära, online mobilisation for common interests (cleaning nature)
  • Spain: Ahora Madrid, A Coruña A Porta Aberta
  • Italy: Cambiamo Messina dal Basso
  • Portugal: municipal participatory budgets

Who are the actors involved in these struggles?

Citizens and citizens' organizations are the most involved. Also elected representatives have to rethink their role in a more diversified democracy. The willingness among people to participate in local communities and democracy is still very big, despite the decline in turnout at elections. As for Democracy we cannot forget about the education concerning democracy, civil participation and civil engagement starting from very young age (4-5 years), and later on: in schools, at the universities. The NGOs/CSOs have a crucial role to play here.

How could these commons or commoning action be reinforced, scaled up, or replicated?

People are democratic by nature. Democracy is exercised on a daily basis, in families, at schools, among friends. The challenge is to use this experiential knowledge in designing democratic systems that are open, inviting and interactive. A big misconception about democratic debate is that it is about standpoints, fight and winning the vote. Debate is about challenging each other to bring forward reasonable arguments, and make the best decisions possible for a community. The dominance of party politics has deprived us of that image. To scale up new, more personal and more interactive forms of democracy, we have to look for alternative organizational forms that can replace traditional political parties. We see these new forms already emerging across Europe.

What are the changes (mobilisation, new law, declaration, education, …) required to move forward?

There are gaps with regard to education for citizenship. Civic education is being neglected in most of the formal education systems around Europe, resulting in a society where there is no democratic literacy and no democratic culture. Schools, among others, must be key places for sharing democratic values and practices, for example, by bringing awareness and empowering citizens to defend their fundamental rights and to be more active and participative, or by developing non-discrimination campaigns.

When you build up democratic experiences and knowledge about democracy, from a young age on, you will be in a better position to participate and understand that decision making can be a complex process, where not everybody will get all they want. Without this experience, people are more susceptible to seemingly easy solutions or populism.

What are the resources needed?

We need proper knowledge about democracy, traditional representative democracy and new alternative forms that are being brought in to practice. The aim should not be to replace representative democracy but to look for tools, practices and cultures that help us to connect different types of democracy: town-hall meetings, referendums, polls, tools for online participation, civic summits, budget monitoring, deep democracy, and many more.

New digital technologies can also facilitate and simplify the democratic participation of European citizens in the formulation, amending and consideration of new EU legislation. At the end of the day opening the door to much wider citizen participation in the EU depends on political will.

Who could do what to move forward?

Local citizens: challenge city boards to diversify democracy and to allow non-political organizations to take part in decision making processes.

National governments: acknowledge citizens are willing to make contributions to democracy, when they are given a voice much more often, than traditional election-cycles require.

European Union: moving deliberation and decision making as much from behind closed doors as possible. Accountability of power makes democracy stronger, not weaker.

What is needed from the EU institutions?

Initiatives that are taken are many times developed in very precarious conditions, not having the enough resources to make a greater impact. These entities need to have a greater access to more stable action conditions, supported by EU institutions, in order to become more solid and influential.

Other important aspects, regarding the democratic and participatory commons in the EU:

  • EU democracy needs to be re-invigorated and innovative models of participatory political processes explored.
  • The EU should promote user-friendly citizen petitions; re-invigorate the present Petitions Committee of the European Parliament with greater resources and greater responsiveness from the European Commission when citizens denounce the violation of EU law.
  • We call on the institution of digital tools, like block chain technology, for citizen participation, transparency and monitoring of EU legislative processes in the European Parliament.
  • We call for total transparency in the workings of the EU Council of member states when considering legislation and for transparency of negotiations of international agreements.
  • We call for strict control, restrictions and transparency of the activities of big business lobbies and the prohibition of “revolving doors” between posts in the European Commission and jobs in large private companies.
  • We call for total transparency of the taxation of large companies both inside and outside the EU and their compliance with EU environmental and social standards both inside and outside the EU.

European Commons Assembly/Policy Proposals