24th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 19-21 March 2013)
Debate on Developing Active Citizenship underlines growth through co-operation
19.03.2013 - During the 24th session, on 19 March 2013, Blanca Solans Garcia, Director General for citizen participation of Aragon, Spain, opens the debate, stating that in order to combat citizens’ distrust towards institutions, Aragon deepens democracy through active citizenship, as it has become a real legal obligation, by means of three spheres of action. Participation, by fostering common instead of individual interests, will lead to society’s acceptation of public actions. Aragon promotes a new political culture of transparency as essential element to guarantee real and effective participation.
Katharina Wallenborg, municipality commissioner of Huddinge, Sweden, worries that a low number of active citizens sometimes reflects the quality of democracy. In reprisal, a handbook for participation was written to foster open, meaningful and clear guidance in active citizenship to Huddinge’s citizens. Examples of Huddinge’s work reaches from playground programs, cooperation with higher education and use of internet and social media, to elderly care and an overview plan to 2030 for the Huddinge.
Even though citizenship appears to be bound to culture, equal initiatives can be found throughout the Council of Europe’s member states. Still, an infrastructure of knowledge is needed to offer growth, second and third chances to self-development. Gaining age and experience should not close doors to new knowledge, but provide tools for active citizenship. Even though some of the member states have a challenging heritage when it comes to citizen participation, it is urgent for all countries to stimulate the level of knowledge on local level, as this is an important factor for active citizenship. Youth and education have a significant role to play in this part, as they form the spring of intelligent cultivation.
The debate continues with Joe Irvin, Chief Executive of NAVCA, who underlines the impact of the Third Sector – voluntary organisations, charities and not-for-profit groups – in the engagement of citizens in Europe. People set up charities, at their own initiative, to further causes they hold dear. The vast majority of charities are small and local. On this smaller scale they can channel community feeling and development. This close interaction delivers a vast amount of intelligence on public service users’ needs, for example in mental health and support on drugs dependency. Charities can often be the most cost-effective way to deliver a service, as well as the most trusted channel to bring the message of the people to the state bodies.
Despite this, charities are being held back by poor and risk-averse commissioning, which can be turned into smart commissioning when taking social value into account. This means that public sector commissioners should consider the added social value a charity or other provider can bring – citizen engagement itself may be one of these social values. To meet the challenges of the future, co-production of the public sector, the Third sector, individuals and the business sector is a necessity.
Lastly, the youth department points out her work throughout Europe and the world in solving social disadvantage, social inclusion and the delivery of access to social rights. Local initiatives, undertaken by youngsters for youngsters, include helping to find housing in Edinburgh, education in Ukraine, but also safety and social life in Brazil. The simplicity of a helping hand and a caring attitude form the core values of these acts of kindness and unselfishness. This current modest but highly appreciated participation of youth proves that age should play no role in citizenship. Moreover, the youth department recommends the Congress and her members to involve and embrace their local youth by providing the basic space to learn about and grow in the stimulation of active citizenship.