Responsible citizenship and participation in public life - CG (7) 8 Part II

Rapporteur: Martin HAAS (Switzerland)




1. In 1997 the Inter Action Council, an association of former heads of government, published the draft of a general declaration on human obligations in which the members state inter alia that globalisation of the world economy is linked with global problems, and these require global solutions founded on concepts of values and norms upheld by all cultures and societies. Recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all persons entails the safeguarding of freedom, justice and peace. However, it also demands that rights and responsibilities have the same significance so as to form an ethical basis enabling all men and women to co-exist peacefully and develop their personal capabilities. A better social order at both national and international level cannot be created solely through laws, regulations and conventions, but needs a global ethos. Human expectations of progress can only be fulfilled on the basis of values and standards accepted and observed by all individuals and institutions at all times.

This pronouncement acquires its special meaning and immediacy against the background of the formidable problems facing states, economies an societies in the 21st century: global warming; population growth; migration movements; worsening inequality in prosperity and education between and within peoples. Globalisation of the economy and the new information technologies impose new general conditions. All states are involved in global competition for jobs.

2. The world-wide transformation of economic, technological, social and cultural structures is concentrated in towns as if beneath a burning-glass. Towns and municipalities are the setting in which people of differing culture, tradition and turn of mind live together. These entities have decision as to use of their land, supply of energy, drinking water and housing, cultural diversity, provision and operation of public and private transport infrastructure, waste and sewage disposal, and many more services. Municipalities were already identified at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro as important agents in the organisation of global development. This was the starting-point of an international tendency to emphasise the local political level which resulted, for instance, in the presentation of exemplary local concepts and measures at the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (HABITAT II) in Istanbul in 1992. The realisation that environmental protection is only possible in conjunction with the citizens implies not only their acceptance but also their active collective co-operation so as to be recognised as a civil society and bring to the fore their vital role. The importance of towns and municipalities as a model of local potentialities and as a regulator of increasingly complex relationships and ever more distended economic mechanisms must carry constitutional and financial safeguards in accordance with the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

3. Irrespective of the foregoing, towns and municipalities must fight to preserve the vitality of their local self-government. In recent years it has been increasingly deplored that a decay of values is proceeding in our society, bringing with it the danger of social collapse and conversion to an egocentric, individualistic and self-interested kind of society. A demanding attitude supposedly moulds the citizen's relationship with his municipality and with the central government. The younger people are, the lower their sense of political commitment, common good and obligation.

Democratic law-based states with a liberal stamp are founded on the principle of state responsibility; they assign the communal responsibility of the citizens only a subordinate role and emphasise fundamental rights instead. Yet the existence in law of freedoms does not as such produce real public benefit or offer any guarantee of its attainment. The safeguarding of property alone is not proof of any general prosperity. Nor does freedom of the press make a good newspaper. To the extent that the common good depends on public freedoms and civic rights, it stems from the individuality of the subjects of fundamental rights and thus from arbitrariness, from personal capabilities, needs, preferences and performance. Citizens can make their own interests the yardstick for the exercise of fundamental rights and use their freedom according to those rights for self-realisation. The democratic concept that people bring about their own development through collective decisions which are to be reached only in the most complete freedom is a concept that rests on citizen expectations. It nevertheless both permits and requires that each member of society is a free co-agent in framing collective decisions. Towns and municipalities therefore need a political culture that ties civic rights to civic responsibilities and makes room for minimum concordance between civic virtues and individual demands.

In that respect, the first part of the resolution refers to duties of an ethical and moral nature. These concerns are mentioned in the preamble. By emphasising that the legal order founded on human rights and civic rights and fulfilment of the legal obligations deriving from them represents the necessary but not sufficient condition for successful community living, it is further intended to dispel the misconception that an ethical catalogue of obligations circumscribes or restricts the validity of human and civic rights.

Discussion in assemblies, political parties, schools, associations and further training institutions concerning the moral and ethical duties set out in this text, and their acceptance, will constitute the basis for a civil society that harnesses individual self-realisation to public-spiritedness and create an urban culture in which a social balance is struck between personal demands and greater personal responsibility, public spirit and solidarity.

4. Towns and municipalities for their part are urged to examine the Guidelines for civic participation and amplify them with the help of their municipal associations as appropriate.

Local authorities are the foundation of democratic nation-building. The right of citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs is one of the democratic principles shared by all Council of Europe member states (preamble to the European Charter of Local Self-Government).

Local self-government is the expression of devolution and subsidiarity. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the lower body in each case is to be given precedence in policy action to the extent that its powers suffice. The principle of subsidiarity stipulates that central/local government should create suitable conditions for action primarily by the smaller units, and thus requires the personal initiative of citizens to be supported. Citizen involvement in political life is highly formalised, but should not be restricted to formal electoral acts. It can and must be made possible for citizens of either sex to influence policy-making in still other ways. Information and transparency are the prerequisites for ensuring interest, decisional capability and a climate of confidence in each and every municipality. Whether and to what extent the development of forms of direct democracy or the creation of consultative bodies has a statutory foundation is to be decided independently in each member state according to its traditions. The examples given in section II of the resolution reflect the various possibilities which can be fully or partially realised at present in the Council of Europe member states.

Local government functions are being increasingly assigned in full or in part to private associations. Examples of this occur in the welfare sector (child care, running of nursery schools and day centres), in the realm of sport and culture (lease of recreational facilities, art galleries and community halls), keeping public thoroughfares clean and free of snow and ice and obligating recipients of social assistance capable of work to perform community service. Initiatives in that regard are proceeding very successfully in some cases. However, local authorities should take care that functional continuity and specified quality standards are maintained.

A current issue in the wide-ranging scientific discussion is how local corporations can create new incentives to activate and exploit latent potential for honorary involvement.

It is fundamental in this respect to acknowledge that honorary involvement often follows on the realisation that in a liberal society of committed citizens it does not suffice to call upon the state authorities to solve all problems in every field. The observations made by various empirical research projects in recent decades record a shift of values in motivation to assume honorary functions; whereas previously sense of duty was more often decisive in the acceptance of such functions, today the personal satisfaction and fulfilment derived from honorary activity rank higher. The prime consideration for people today tends to be personal capabilities and inclinations.

In order to foster social commitment, it is therefore necessary for opportunities to be presented in differentiated forms corresponding to the various motivational patterns or allowing limited involvement in time. This is a matter of creating suitable general conditions through public relations work, targeted advertising, and provision of facilities and advisory and co-ordinating services.

It is important to ensure that the awareness and commitment of citizens, as those directly affected by political decisions, can be turned to advantage in achieving appropriate solutions at grassroots level. It is therefore necessary to develop a culture of dialogue between the political and administrative world and the citizens, community groupings, associations, representatives of business and other players in the sphere of what is known as "civil society".

This approach based on partnership has become a definite trend at world level. It is propagated by the United Nations in the same way as by the international associations of local authorities.



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