30 January 2012

Local Participatory Democracy in Europe

There is an evolving movement in the European Union that would place more decision-making in the hands of its citizens.  The most common method is through participatory budgeting, but other forms of participatory democracy are emerging.  On 22 March 2011, Group III of the European Economic and Social Committee held an extraordinary meeting on “What are the prospects for participatory democracy in Europe? (EESC, 2011)” During the event there was a lively discussion on the need of a more active involvement of the public in politics and public policy. The report that emerged from the discussions acknowledges the well documented alienation of citizens from their government.  It also reminds us of the mandate in Article 11 of the Treaty of Lisbon stating that participatory democracy should be integrated into government as related to a modern form of democracy.  In light of the economic crisis in Europe, particularly in the Mediterranean countries, the need for participatory democracy has been given an increased urgency.
At the grassroots level, there is a growing movement in Europe, stemming from the Occupy Movement that stresses participatory democracy in form of a General Assembly. The model is one of deliberative, full participation and transparent democracy.  It is less structured (than participatory budgeting, for instance), highly spontaneous and often unwieldy. The most developed form of the General Assembly concept of participatory democracy in Europe is found in Madrid. This is an unplanned society group activity in Europe inspired by Occupy Wall Street Movement from the United States that has now turned in to a global network.  This is a movement that has as its major purpose the peaceful occupation of public spaces to protest the dominant power of multinationals, of special interest groups and the extremely wealthy over the public interest. 

As we can see so far, the popular organizations in different cities around the globe are employing the General Assembly form of govern as decision-making body for governance of the community and for staging protests against income inequality, lack of housing, unemployment and the precariousness of some public services. The various Occupy Movements around Europe are becoming, at society level, an integral part of the urban political fabric in a number of cities in Europe, including the European Union global metropolises such as London. The General Assembly model could become, therefore, another form of participatory government that could be used as a vehicle for urban governance in Europe. 

Following innovations in urban governance that emerged in some Latin American countries, and particularly in Brazil where there is a large number of active municipal participatory budgeting processes in place, the development of local participatory government is gaining momentum within the structure of the European Union and from outside (Vassoler, 2010).  The impetus of this movement is an acknowledgement that centralization of economics and the traditional party politics combined with the present form of representative democracy dominated by a plutocracy is not encouraging the development of a vigorous civil society.  Discussion of participatory democracy, now present in an ample body of literature, was pushed into the forefront by the current economic crisis which, in itself, is a powerful indication that present forms of governance at all levels are inadequate and need to be reformed dramatically.

European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) (2011) “What are the prospects for Participatory Democracy in Europe?” http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.events-and-activities-participatory-democracy-prospects

Ivani Vassoler (2010),”Empowering citizens, democratizing democracy: the constraints and opportunities of participatory budgeting processes in Brazilian cities,” Urbana: Urban Affair and Public Policy, Fall 2010, Vol. X, http://www.urbanauapp.org/wp-content/uploads/Fall-2010-Ivani-Vassoler.pdf

No comments: