Thursday, January 17, 2019 | ePaper

Democracy : Making more voices count

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Anna Lisa Boni :
It's time to change the way things are done in Europe. Creating a society fit for the 21st century should mean more people having a say in decision making. This needs to go beyond merely voting in elections and towards an active, more engaged, direct democracy.
The current system of voting every few years and allowing representatives to do their best, or worst, until we have another say a few years down the line does not reflect the way we live, and the technology we carry around with us in our daily lives. Let's involve more people in decision making and inspire all levels of government to put people first.
A modern society, and especially an urban society, is on the go 24/7, and our politics should reflect this. Many city administrations are experimenting with online democracy platforms. Athens' SynAthina, and Madrid's Decide Madrid, allow citizens a direct say in decision making. As such, people become more involved and take more responsibility and ownership of outcomes.
Other examples of cities working with local populations to reach consensus-based decision making include participative budgeting. Several cities, such as Paris, are allocating a proportion of their investment budget to be spent according to the will of the people.
These are new models for democracy that require a new way of thinking for policymakers. It's working in many cities because of their size - cities provide great test beds for innovation. Brussels is actively including citizens in a number of ways, such as in its approach to the circular economy, which it designed together with local citizens, businesses and others. The Brussels-Capital Region also set up an online platform (Good Food Brussels) to map out and share news of existing sustainable food initiatives and inspire others to take part.
At EUROCITIES we want to collect inspiring examples like these and generate new, positive ideas to create a future that works better for all people. We're starting this month via the launch of our campaign 'Cities4Europe - Europe for citizens', which will hold events in cities all across our continent. In this spirit, Leeuwarden in the Netherlands will be hosting cultural performances, including a theatre production that shares stories and thoughts from local people, and will invite speakers, experts, troublemakers, artists and experts from all over Europe to debate our future.
Ghent has asked all its citizens to share their ideas for a better Europe. It will also hold a climate festival to talk about the need to create a climate-neutral city and will put young voters directly in touch with local politicians through debates, lectures and workshop.
Gijon, Genoa and Lodz plan public debates. Meanwhile, Rennes will gather a community of local citizens and international stakeholders in a creative workshop to consider new initiatives that could be implemented by cities to promote European citizenship.
Later in the year Nantes metropole and the city of Nantes will bring together a group of 60 or so young people to present a concrete initiative designed to reinforce citizenship and the notion of 'living together' in their city.
Over the coming months, we will bring these ideas together and develop our top recommendations to be shared with national and European leaders. It's a critical time for Europe, with both the UK's planned exit from the European Union and the next European elections on the horizon.
We want to make sure as many people's voices as possible are heard at this time, so that the future of Europe better reflects our common values and commitments.
It's time to start doing things differently in Europe and that starts by listening to more and different people!
(Anna Lisa Boni is the secretary general of EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities. Next week, it will be launching a pan-European campaign to explore new forms of democracy for all levels of government).

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