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Workshop 1

Renewing democratic participation

  • prof. dr. Kees Aarts and prof. dr. Bas Denters
A burgeoning local democracy may be an important source for a viable democratic system per se (Vetter 2001). Therefore the success of local and regional governments in efforts to modernise subnational democracy may be vital for the future legitimacy of European democracy. It is therefore both understandable and important that in the Budapest and Valencia Declarations the promotion of public participation (both electoral participation and other modes of democratic participation) is considered as one of the main concerns on the agenda for good local and regional governance. The Council of Europe’s member countries in both declarations have expressed a desire to:
  • promote turnout in and local and regional elections
  • respond to changing public participation demands by citizens, and
  • integrate foreign residents in local political life.
Realizing this threefold democratic ambition is no mean task. Macro-trends of urbanisation, globalisation, Europeanization and ensuing changes in intergovernmental relations have changed the tasks and responsibilities of local and regional governments in an increasingly more complex multi-level polity. Therefore at the same time as local and regional governments are facing new democratic demands these governments are confronted with the increasingly exacting responsibility to procure effective and efficient public policies and services.
The aim of this workshop is twofold. First, this workshop wants to contribute to our understanding of the challenges and dilemmas inherent in the current and future democratic reform of European regional and local governance. These reforms raise complex issues (Denters & Rose 2005). One might ask, for example, about the compatibility of the traditional electoral and the new participatory accountability mechanisms. Loughlin (1999:340) for one has argued that ‘[m]uch thought needs to go into the kind of institutionalization necessary to make it work and to avoid conflict between the two kinds of representation’. At the same time decreasing turnout in general elections and an increasing importance of new forms of participatory democracy also raise issues of selective participation and participatory bias (e.g. Fiorina 1999). Moreover, local and regional governments – especially in urban regions – are confronted with an increasingly diverse citizenship and an ensuing diversity in democratically relevant value orientations. This creates a number of difficult problems facing governments that want to integrate its foreign residents in the political life of the community.
Second, this workshop also wants to provide an overview of the various reform policies and democratic innovations adopted in European local and regional government. Here we are both interested in the description of current reform practices: What have local governments done in facing the triple objectives (of enhancing electoral turnout and non-electoral participation and the political integration of immigrants)? But of course we are also interested in the evaluative question: What were the positive and negative results of the reform policies?
The papers in this workshop in combination will have to contribute to the definition of a future innovation agenda for local and regional governments in Europe. Therefore we invite papers that:
  • Discuss future democratic challenges and dilemmas and develop thoughts about promising directions for innovations of local and regional governance.
  • Provide descriptions and evaluations of local and regional participatory practices and innovations in Europe.

Comparative analyses, especially if they span a variety of European countries are particularly welcomed.

See also relevant COE Documents

See the papers (select papers ws1... for this workshop)