A series of reports for the European Commission says Europe’s economic policies will lead to unrest if isolated from participatory citizenship. The authors warn against concentrating on economic policies – at the expense of participation and social cohesion – to create growth in European countries.
In the context of the economic crisis, the reports, from the Participatory Citizenship in the European Union study, examine how and to what extent, people in Europe actively take part in society, communities and politics, and and identifies policies and practices to encourage people to get involved through Participatory Citizenship.
The evidence from this study points towards the possible dangers of focusing on economic policies alone and in isolation. In fact researchers has found that strategies for growth need not compete with policies on democracy and social cohesion: rather, it is the case that Participatory Citizenship, economic competitiveness and social cohesion are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
The study was led by Dr Bryony Hoskins at the University of Southampton and co-led by David Kerr at the Citizenship Foundation.
«The current harsh economic climate across Europe and austerity policies are leading to a critical loss of trust in political leaders and a move towards more extremist parties», says David Kerr.
«It is important for people, especially the young and unemployed, to have their voices heard in the political decision making if levels of trust in democracy are to be rebuilt».
Despite the importance of Participatory Citizenship, a few challenges has been identified:
- A lack of trust in politicians.
- The challenge of creating a dialogue between politicians and the public.
- A decline in participatory citizenship generally as a policy priority.
- The need to meet the challenges of the globalised economy; climate change; an ageing population; and an enlarged EU.
The report recommends that strategies are needed to encourage people to get more involved in communities, politics and decision making, at both national level in EU countries, and more locally within individual countries.
The report makes these key recommendations:
- To place an emphasis on learning citizenship, both in schools and outside of school. The study shows people who vote and take an interest in politics and decision-making are usually engaged in diverse forms of learning at different levels.
- To target disadvantaged groups most at risk of unemployment and exclusion and achieve this through engagement in schools; vocational education or training; and youth work.
- The EC should provide long-term strategic and sustainable funding for projects; non-governmental organisations; and programmes encouraging participatory citizenship (to counter those being cut due to the financial crisis).
- Encourage collaboration and partnerships between different types of organisations, such as schools, local authorities, youth groups, charities and businesses.
- Explore the use of new social media to enable wider participation in decision-making by providing more interactive forums for the exchange of information between citizens and politicians.
The findings of the study will be used to help shape European policy and funding programmes, in particular the:
• European Year of Citizens 2013. http://ec.europa.eu/citizenship/european-year-of-citizens-2013/index_en.htm
• 2014 – 2020 Europe for Citizens Programme. http://ec.europa.eu/news/justice/111216_en.htm
• 2014 European Parliament elections (and voter turnout).
The full report, Participatory Citizenship in the European Union, can be found on the European Union website athttp://ec.europa.eu/citizenship/news-events/news/29052012_en.htm
Examples of Participatory Citizenship initiatives
Example 1: eOpinio – professional public participation, Germany
eOpinio is an online platform which enables citizens to have their opinions included in political decision making processes. This is a pertinent example of how the internet can be used to foster political participation. eOpinio activities and projects are carried out at a local level. All residents from 16 years onwards can participate in the projects; projects may also be selected for different subgroups. (e.g. groups of a certain age or groups from different administrative districts)
Example 2: e-volunteering Poland
e-volunteering.pl is an online project which works with the European Volunteer Centre and is partnered with a range of organisations (e.g., the Orange Foundations and the academy for Development of Philanthropy). This project is aimed at all Polish citizens with special attention to youth, the elderly and disabled people. It is a good example of how to utilise the internet at the national and European level to encourage volunteering in community activities.
The project has a number of aims, these include promoting e-volunteering both in Poland and across Europe; the dissemination of practical knowledge about using new technologies to strengthen volunteering and civil society; and the establishment of a network of Polish and European organisations working in the field of volunteering and e-volunteering.
Example 3: Town Twinning Accelerator, Greece and Bulgaria
Town Twinning Accelerator is a partnership scheme that consists of five local unions of municipalities and communities from across Greece and Bulgaria. It is a good example of a community-based activity that aims to share and increase knowledge about community twinning in order to develop a sense of European identity. The central objectives of the partnership schemes are to improve existing town partnerships and the quality of the activities within these and to assist in the establishment of new ones.
Example 4: El Enlace (promoted by the Ibero American Development and Integration Centre), the Canary Islands, Spain. El Enlace is a publication written by migrants for migrants. It is available online and in written format. The objectives El Enlace are to facilitate and accelerate the processes of migrant social and employment integration. The aim is to provide quick and readily available information to migrants on rights and obligations and on social, sporting and cultural activities run by migrant organisations on the Islands.