TABLE OF CONTENTS
to the Recommendation
for the Recommendation
questions on citizens' participation in local public life
IV. Tools and
techniques for improving the participation of citizens in local public life
and content of the Recommendation
Recommendation No. R (2001)… of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the
participation of citizens in local public life
Appendix I: Basic principles of a local
democratic participation policy
Appendix II: Steps and measures to encourage and
reinforce citizens' participation
in local public life
to the Recommendation
1. The present
Recommendation on the participation of citizens in local public life is the
culmination of the work carried out by the Steering Committee on Local and
Regional Democracy (CDLR) as from 1998, which has already given rise to the
publication of a report on the subject.
2. This work is
the continuation of a debate which has been going on for over twenty-five
years, for issues relating to citizens' participation in the life of their
local community have been the focus of constant attention both from the Council
of Europe's Committee of Ministers and the intergovernmental sector and from
the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress (Conference up until 1994) of Local
and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE).
3. One of the
first major political and standard-setting instruments concerning these issues
was Recommendation N° R (81) 18 of the Committee of Ministers to member states
concerning participation at municipal level. This Recommendation, adopted on 6
November 1981, was based on a resolution of the 3rd Conference of European
Ministers responsible for Local Government (Stockholm, 1978) and on the
conclusions of the 4th Conference (Madrid, 1980).
guidelines appended to Recommendation N° R (81) 18 greatly influenced the
subsequent discussions on this subject. They emphasized, inter alia, the need:
- to step up
communication between citizens and their elected representatives;
- to improve
the opportunities for participation, particularly for citizens who have greater
difficulty in becoming actively involved;
- to give
citizens more influence over municipal planning, decisions of strategic
importance for the local community and their local environment;
encourage participation by foreign residents.
5. With regard
to this latter subject, following the impetus provided by the Parliamentary
Assembly and the CLRAE and on the basis of the conclusions adopted by the 7th
Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local Government (Salzburg,
1986), the CDLR prepared the text of the Convention on the participation of
foreigners in public life at local level, which the Committee of Ministers
opened for signature on 5 February 1992. This convention entered into force on 1
May 1997. To date, it has been ratified by 5 states.
in May 1991, the European ministers responsible for local government meeting in
Bergen (Norway) had adopted a resolution on participation and democratic
control which reiterated the importance of citizens' participation in the
management of local affairs and their right to be informed and consulted about
any decisions affecting them.
7. On 15
February 1996, the Committee of Ministers adopted Recommendation
No. R (96) 2 on referendums and popular initiatives at local level.
This Recommendation affirms “that the right of citizens to have their say in
major decisions on long-term commitments (…) is one of the democratic
principles common to all member states of the Council of Europe”. It is then
stated “that this right can be most directly exercised at local level and that
the management of important local affairs should involve more effective citizen
participation while losing none of its efficiency”.
8. Finally, in
its Recommendation N° R (97) 7 to member states on local public services and
the rights of their users, the Committee of Ministers called for the adoption
of practical measures to improve user participation in the management of local
9. The present
Recommendation is wholly in keeping with these various texts, which also served
as a basis for drafting it. In particular, the content of Recommendation N° R
(81) 18 has been incorporated and expanded upon, so that the present
Recommendation replaces it.
for the Recommendation
10. The ongoing
concern with issues related to citizens' participation in the life of their
local community is hardly surprising. For there is a clear link between the
development of democratic institutions and the growth of citizens'
participation and its various forms. At the same time, the forms of direct
participation and the functioning of representative democracy are also closely
related to the development of society.
democracy – like any other form of democracy – is not immutable. The role and
functions of local authorities develop in accordance with a living process:
solutions that are deemed appropriate at one point in time must be constantly
checked and if necessary challenged in the light of changes in the society and
in citizens' needs and expectations.
12. Thus, all the
European countries are currently considering the development of local
democracy. Above and beyond their differences, they share several concerns
vis-à-vis, firstly, the actual capacity of local communities to take on their
assigned role, and secondly, the quality of the relations between citizens and
their local councillors and the extent of citizen participation in the
political process at the local level.
particular, having analysed the experiences of a number of member states of the
Council of Europe, the CDLR identified the following major problems:
public interest in and a general feeling of apathy about politics;
difficulty of increasing public involvement through direct forms of
consultation and participation;
in the institutions of local representative democracy that decrease the
effectiveness, openness and accountability of the system.
14. Of course, these problems do not exist
everywhere and do not have the same extent in all the concerned countries. In
addition, the investigation into citizens' participation in local civic life
has shown that, although there are signs of problems and constraints, there are
signs of progress and experimentation too.
15. In this
context, it was deemed necessary to review the issue of citizens' participation
in local public life and to incorporate in a legal text the main points
highlighted by the experience of the member states in this area, so as to
provide common guidelines and encourage the process of adapting the forms and
mechanisms of participation to modern society and to these new requirements.
16. In other
words, the aim of the present Recommendation is to offer policy-makers a
coherent, up-to-date set of principles and guidelines, as a common basis for
the activities of the Council of Europe's member states in this area of vital
importance to democracy.
questions on citizens' participation in local public life
17. To encourage a hard-header assessment of
the actual situation and possible future developments, it is useful to address
a number of questions which provide a challenging backdrop to further
Is local politics
still relevant in a global age?
18. Might it be
that local politics is in a process of long-term decline as more and more
issues are determined not just at a national level but a global level? Some observers suggest that people will
inevitably be less interested in participating at the local level because there
are fewer issues decided at that level and because of new opportunities to
participate at a non-local level.
recognising the power of global forces, it does not seem that it makes citizen
participation at the local level irrelevant.
20. Firstly, most
problems have both global and local dimensions and require action as much at
the global level as at the local level. The key is therefore not to see local
politics in isolation but as part of a wider process: the development of local
networks and their connection with regional national and international
networks. Therefore, participation at the local level remains important,
although its form inevitably changes.
21. Moreover, although the global forces may
have come to the fore, there is evidence to suggest that for many people their
identity has a local dimension. Within this context, it is nowadays a strategic
issue to reinforce the awareness of belonging to a community. In addition,
public safety, economic development, social welfare, environment protection and
many other matters have an important local dimension, engage local government
and are still providing a basis for citizen participation.
22. The level of municipalities may not
always be the appropriate focus for participation. There are times when it may
be necessary to go more local by working through neighbourhood councils or
community-based associations. Paradoxically as the world goes more global there
remains a case for politics to go more local.
Does more wealth in
society lessen the need for participation?
23. Some people argue that, as the proportion
of the population that has a relatively high level of income and wealth
increases, the motivation for participation lessens. In their view, those with
greater material resources and less dependence on the welfare state and, more
broadly, government are opting out of the system and participation.
24. No strong evidence supports this view.
There may be evidence of some young professional and wealthy individuals
opting-out. However there is also evidence of the poorest and more marginalised
in society not finding the motivation to participate. Wealth and education are
still reasonable predictors of a capacity and willingness to participate in
25. In any case it is clear that wealth does not
allow most people to absent themselves from the collective challenges facing
many communities, for example, crime or the environment. The welfare state
remains central in its core services to the lives of the majority. The real challenge
in many societies is how to encourage the most disadvantaged to participate.
Have people become
more self-absorbed and less interested in collective action?
26. Some observers suggests that
participation in local political life is on the decline as part of a wider
pattern of civic disengagement, as people withdraw from collective pursuits and
concentrate on more individual pursuits. The thesis of declining “social
capital”, as it is known, explains declining interest in local politics by
reference to a wider decline in civic life. According to this thesis, people
join less, trust less and care less about community problems and disinterest in
politics is part of a wider opting-out of community life.
27. Again, without wishing to entirely reject
the declining social capital thesis, it seems unhelpful and misleading to paint
such a bleak picture of modern community life. Firstly in many – but not all –
countries it can be argued there is a vibrant and, if anything, expanding
associational life. People may be less trusting especially of public
authorities, but this may not be a negative development in that it may reflect
a greater propensity to challenge and call government to account. People may be
more diverse and more selective in the causes they are prepared to be mobilised
for, but again this may reflect not a decline in community spirit but a
recognition of different interests and a greater willingness to think for
citizen participation in local politics is not declining but rather changing
its form and this challenges the traditional political system
28. Therefore, the idea that local politics
is being swept away by forces beyond its control should be rejected. Neither
globalisation, rising prosperity or declining interest and civic engagement
provide over-arching explanations of what is happening to local politics. There
is evidence of problems, of apathy and disengagement, but the trend should be
seen as more towards a changed form of politics at the local level rather than
a simple decline. The study carried out by the CDLR shows that people have
become more interested in:
- direct forms of participation;
- informal and flexible participation;
- ad hoc participation rather than
29. This shift in the pattern of politics has
profound implications for the traditional institutions of local representative
democracy. It also implies that local governments require an open-minded,
transparent and flexible approach to engage with the public.
30. The greater challenge is to
representative politics and in particular to the role of political parties.
Several countries reported problems for parties in getting people to stand in
local elections. Experience shows in some countries that beyond political recruitment
parties cannot guarantee to organise and mobilise people in the same way as was
possible a few decades ago. In some countries associations may have overtaken
parties in their capacity to represent the public. These developments point to
a need for political parties in some cases to reform themselves or face the
prospect of becoming less and less relevant to the substance of local politics.
31. What is essential is to ensure the
continued participation of citizens in public life. Governments at the local
level need to think through how they can best re-engage with the public and
meet changing expectations. Local political systems need to be more responsive
to the needs of citizens. There is evidence of exciting and interesting
experiments going on as new ways to encourage participation and development.
32. Participation in local political life is
not just possible but highly desirable. Throughout their lives, citizens should
have the opportunity to make an input, to engage and to play a part, not least
by means of the ballot box, as decision makers for the community. Getting in
touch with local people should be considered as a core task for any local
political system. A culture of consultation should be embedded into local
political life. There are a variety of tools and techniques that will enable
that task to be achieved.
33. In developing
strategies to enhance the prospects for citizen participation in the 21st century
it is necessary to recognise the impact and potential of information and communication
technology, the rise of a global society and shifting patterns in employment.
The institutions and mechanisms of local democracy - designed often in the
nineteenth century or in the middle of the twentieth century - cannot expect to
survive these changes unreformed and unaltered.
IV. Tools and
techniques for improving the participation of citizens in local
participation in local politics is to be sustained in the twenty first century,
the key challenge is to adapt the decision-making processes to meet the
changing expectations of citizens. There are already many experiments and
initiatives under way in several member states. In others, there are debates
about wider and more sweeping reforms.
35. In order to
gauge the range of available options for change, it is worth looking at each
form of participation in turn, so as to obtain an overview of the main tools
and techniques for improving participation.
Participation through the exercise of electoral rights
36. Voting local elected representatives into
office will remain a key element in making local democracy work. The vote given
to all adult citizens is an expression of political equality, and organising
politics through representatives remains a valuable feature of politics in a
complex world. The key strategic issue for the future is how to encourage
voters to exercise their rights at the local level and to ensure that voting is
seen to make a difference.
37. There is a range of tools at hand for
would-be reformers. Among others:
could be made easier through increased use of postal votes or proxy votes and
other reforms. Electronic systems of voting could give new excitement and
purpose to the electoral process.
voting could be extended to a greater array of public offices without resort to
the filter of party lists/systems. The option of the directly elected
executive, for example, is one option taken up by several countries and is
being actively considered by others.
could be set or incentives provided to increase the representation of those
who, such as women, young persons and underprivileged groups, are currently
under-represented in the machinery of political parties, electoral lists,
elected decision-making bodies and executive bodies at local level. There are
limits to what a government can do best, but it can remove barriers to
participation and encourage those that select candidates (mainly parties) to
recognise the force of arguments for social representativeness alongside the
accountability that comes from public election.
38. In a world where citizens are better
educated and where new information and communication technologies allow the
rapid spread of understanding and expertise, the case for direct involvement in
the political process by citizens is more substantial than before. The key
strategic issue is how to organise direct participation so that it enhances
rather than diminishes the quality of local decision-making and service
delivery. The facilities that are available today allow citizens to have their
say on various issues, every day of the week.
39. However few people see such “non-stop”
democracy as either desirable or viable, as voter fatigue and disinterest would
undermine it. Yet it is difficult to deny that in the 21st century
citizens may well expect to be consulted to a greater degree than in the past
and to be directly involved in making decisions to a greater extent. Direct participation can mitigate the effects
of under-representation of certain social groups in elected bodies, by giving
these groups the opportunity to become involved in a different way in the
decision-making process and by enhancing their sense of belonging to the
40. There is a variety of options available
for better consultation or indeed direct involvement of the public in
decision-making, as the evidence provided by various countries shows. Alongside
the “classic” mechanisms of referenda and citizens' or popular
initiatives, there are others that take their inspiration from the impact of
“New Management” thinking and its emphasis on the role of the public as
consumers of services (user surveys, user management, etc).
41. Beyond these two categories of mechanisms
for direct involvement there are those that take inspiration from the politics
of presence and emphasise the need to ensure the involvement of citizens who
are often absent from decision-making. Youth parliaments, elderly people
forums, neighbourhood forums, co-option procedures, community development and
partnership schemes and a number of other mechanisms can play a role in
bringing into decision-making those that are normally excluded. Another set of
direct participation options attempts to create the conditions for a more
deliberative democracy. Interactive websites, citizens' juries and consensus
conferencing are mechanisms present in several countries.
42. Direct participation comes in a variety
of forms. To recognise the scope for greater direct democracy at the local
level leaves open the question of the form it should take. If the aim is to
encourage the participation of those having concrete direct interest in a given
matter, the classic forms of referenda and citizens' ballot are ideal. New
Management user initiatives enable a similar dialogue with citizens. If the
issue is ensuring the presence of the traditionally excluded or enabling a more
deliberative, reflective public debate, then other experiments in participation
have some advantages. The key issue is to select the participation mechanism
appropriate to the goal or perspective that is held.
Participation through associations (other than political
parties and groups)
43. Associations with their base in civil society are seen as
crucial to sustain a democratic culture and providing the driving force for
democratic practice. Their emergence and impact are affected by wider patterns
of economic and social change. There is a considerable debate among academics
about whether civic engagement through associational involvements is declining or
not as a result of the atomising, high pressured economic and social
environment of the late 20th century. However there is a recognition
of both sides of the argument that governments can engage in strategic
intervention that will support associational activity. The key issue is how to
support associations while maintaining their distinctive qualities and
independence and enabling them to make a positive contribution to local
44. Local authorities and municipalities in member states have
developed a number of measures to support associations. They include: the
provision of grants to support activities and projects, the offer of
contracts to undertake service provision, access to specialist expertise and
advice and support through provision of meeting places, photocopying facilities
and other key resources.
45. There is a danger that support provided from government can
create too great a dependence on government. There may be an argument for
developing “arms-length” or “intermediary” institutions to manage the
relationship and help sustain the independence of the associational sector. It
is important to recognise the diversity of the associational world which ranges
from the professionalised staffed and well-resourced to the grass-root, fragile
and under-resourced. Strategies to support the voluntary sector need to take
into account this diversity.
Second conclusion: a wide range
of approaches and measures are available for encouraging citizen participation
46. This overview
leads to an extremely important conclusion:
there are many different possible approaches and a wide variety of
measures to promote citizens' participation. The approaches and measures must
be adapted to the circumstances of each state, or even to the different
circumstances facing local communities within a particular state.
47. In order to
be effective, therefore, any strategy to encourage citizens' participation in
local public life cannot be based on rigid solutions and must be concerned with
empowerment rather than laying down rules.
48. In addition,
any effective strategy must grasp the complexity of the issue of citizens'
participation and take account of the various aspects of this issue, each of
which may in turn have subtle distinctions. The impact of the measures taken to
encourage citizens' participation can be considerably enhanced (or diminished)
by the fact that they are part of a coherent whole (or, conversely, by the fact
that they are implemented in a disjointed manner).
policy-makers and citizens generally should have a wide range of participation
instruments at their disposal and the opportunity (and ability) to combine
these various instruments and to adapt the way in which they are used,
according to the circumstances.
V. Structure and content of the
Recommendation opens with the preamble which, to a large extent, is
explained by the above considerations or borrows from previous instruments, in
particular the preamble of Recommendation N° R (81) 18.
51. The Recommendation
then consists of four recommendations to the governments of member states of the Council of Europe.
52. It is
supplemented by two appendices which set out guidelines and form an integral
part of the Recommendation:
- Appendix I sets out the basic
principles by which policy-makers should be guided;
- Appendix II outlines the various types
of practical measures or steps which should be taken into consideration
in order to encourage, stimulate and strengthen citizens' participation;
The recommendations to the governments of member states
53. This concerns
the framing, in co-operation with local and, where applicable, regional
authorities, of a policy designed to promote citizens' participation in local
public life, based on the principles contained in Appendix I.
54. In other
words, the states are asked not only to devise a strategy, a framework for
their activities or a programme to encourage participation, but also to raise
the level of their intervention to the level of a “policy”. It should be noted
that the Recommendation is concerned with participation at local level; the
relevant policy can (or even should) nevertheless form part of a wider policy
of participation pure and simple.
55. Framing the
local participation policy requires the intervention both of the government and
national parliament, and of the regional and local authorities, because it is
these latter authorities which will be directly affected and a number of
measures lie within their competence. Accordingly, the governments are asked to
involve these authorities in the framing of the policy.
governments are then asked to adopt, in the context of the policy thus defined,
the measures within their power, while drawing inspiration from the measures
listed in Appendix II to the Recommendation.
57. It is
expressly stated that these measures should aim, in particular, to improve the
legal framework for citizens' participation in local public life.
58. Within this
context, in order that local and regional authorities should be able to play an
effective role in promoting participation, the governments of member states are
asked to ensure that national legislation and regulations enable these
authorities to employ a wide range of participation instruments.
59. Framing and
implementing the local participation policy is largely a matter for local and
regional authorities. This policy cannot succeed, therefore, without the
commitment and joint efforts of authorities at all levels.
60. In keeping
with established practice, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
does not address its recommendations to local and regional authorities; it can,
nevertheless, as in this case, ask the governments to encourage and stimulate
the activities of local and regional authorities.
these authorities should be invited:
- to subscribe to the principles
contained in Appendix I to the Recommendation and to undertake to actually
implement the policy of promoting citizens' participation in local public life;
- to improve local regulations and
practical arrangements concerning citizens' participation in local public life,
and to take any other measures within their power to promote citizens' participation,
with due regard for the measures listed in Appendix II to the Recommendation.
governments of member states and, more broadly, public authorities at all
levels have a key role to play in promoting citizens' participation in local
in the life of the local community, however, is also a matter for civil society
and its various associations, including the political parties. The political
parties in particular can greatly contribute to the “participation policy”, eg
as regards achieving more balanced representation of certain categories of
citizens, especially women, in elected bodies.
is also, of course, primarily the concern of every citizen. While, on the one
hand, it can be said that public authorities should guarantee their citizens'
right to participate, it can also be argued that it is up to citizens and their
associations to make their local elected representatives aware of their needs
and wishes as regards the instruments and practical arrangements for their
participation in community life. Secondly, they should be prepared to assume
the responsibility inherent in this right to participation, whose exercise can
in some cases amount to a civic duty.
65. For this reason,
the Committee of Ministers asks the governments of member states to ensure that
the present Recommendation is translated into the official language or
languages of their respective countries and, in ways it considers appropriate,
to publish it and to bring it to the attention of their local and regional
66. For it firmly
believes that this text can help strengthen the resolve of any citizen to
become more involved, in one way or another, in the public life of their
The key principles of a “local democratic participation
67. The need for
flexibility when determining the approach and measures for promoting
participation explains why the Committee of Ministers chose to draft a
flexible, non-binding legal instrument in this area. What matters is the end
result and it is for states to chose the appropriate means, with due regard for
the circumstances and the wishes of their citizens.
68. It has
nevertheless been possible to identify some general principles; it is thus
proposed that the states adopt these as key elements of a “local democratic
participation policy”. These principles constitute the hard core of the
Practical measures and steps
69. When it comes
to actually implementing a policy in keeping with these principles, states have
a wide margin of discretion. This is only fitting, as the circumstances vary
considerably, as do the public needs and expectations which states are required
experience of the states concerned, as contained in the CDLR report, shows that
there are a great many instruments, mechanisms and forms of participation which
have various advantages (or disadvantages), and some of which are more suited
than others to encouraging, stimulating and strengthening participation,
depending on the circumstances. The most significant examples of measures or
steps which should be considered in order to pursue this aim are outlined in
71. The purpose
of the following glossary is to ensure a better understanding of the text of
the Recommendation. At the same time, it provides a basis for standardising the
terminology used in the Council of Europe's work in this area and describes the
main instruments of direct participation which public authorities may use.
However, in no way do the definitions below affect or modify the legal
definitions and concepts embodied by national constitutions or laws.
72. Therefore, as
an example, the definition of the term “citizen” for the purpose of the present
Recommendation does not modify the meaning or the extent given to this concept
by the internal legal order of each individual member State. Moreover, the
intention is not to give definitions which force states to change the
terminology that they normally use.
Accordingly, the terms and expressions as described below may well be
known in a given state under a different name from that used in the
Recommendation. Likewise, the name used in the Recommendation to refer to a
particular instrument may mean different things to different legal systems.
for the purpose of interpreting the present Recommendation, the following
definitions and explanations are the ones which should be used.
definitions that follow relate to the "local" dimension of political
life. However, for simplicity, "local" has not been used for
qualifying the terms and expressions defined below.
Citizen → Every person (including
foreigners) belonging to a local community. This involves the existence of a
stable link between the individual and the community.
Citizens' forums →
Ongoing bodies which meet on a regular basis. They may have a set membership or
operate on an "open" basis. Sometimes they have the power to make
recommendations to specific council committees or even to share in the
decision-making process. The following forums may be distinguished:
- Service user forums (which discuss
issues relating to the management and development of a particular service);
- Issue forums (which focus on
particular questions of interest to the community);
- Shared interest forums (which
concentrate on the needs of a particular citizen group, e.g. young people or
minority ethnic groups);
- Area / neighbourhood forums (whose
members are – at least mainly – residents of a particular
geographically-defined area or neighbourhood; they may deal with services and
matters of concern to the area or neighbourhood under consideration; they may
or may not have dedicated officers attached to them; they may have a close link
with the relevant ward councillors or with councillors responsible for the
category of services under discussion).
Citizens' juries →
Groups of citizens (chosen to be a fair representation of the local population)
brought together to consider a particular issue set by the local authority.
Citizens' juries receive evidence from expert witnesses and
cross-questioning can occur. The process may last some days, at the end of
which a report is drawn up setting out the views of the jury, including any
differences in opinion. Juries' views are intended to inform councillors'
Citizens' panel →
Ongoing body made up of a statistically representative sample of citizens whose
views are sought several times a year. They focus on specific service or policy
issues, or on wider strategies.
Co-option / involvement in a council committee
→ Co-optees are citizens who usually represent a particular community
group or set of interests on local council committees or working parties. In
some cases these citizens act merely in an advisory capacity but in others they
play a full role in decision-making.
Council of children / youth council → Assembly,
established for a municipality or a neighbourhood, and made up of young people
or children elected by their peers, usually co-chaired by one of its members
together with the mayor or the municipal councillor responsible for youth
affairs. It may discuss issues concerning most directly the category of age it
represents and may draw up and implement projects, on the basis of a budget
allocated by the local authority.
process → It includes: definition and consideration of the issues to
be dealt with; proposals for solutions and instigation of regulatory measures;
deliberation and decision taking; implementation of decisions adopted;
follow-up and assessment of measures implemented.
Direct participation → Involvement of
local citizens – individually or collectively – in the various stages of the
decision-making process at local level, alongside or instead of their elected
representatives. This involvement takes tangible forms in a number of
arrangements, mechanisms and procedures associating citizens in the regulatory
activity usually incumbent on the elected bodies (local councils in particular)
and in the management of local public services. The various forms of such
involvement go from mere information through dialogue and consultation to
direct decision-making and direct users' management of certain services.
Focus group →
One-off meeting of citizens brought together to discuss a specific issue. Focus
groups need not be representative of the general population and may involve a
particular citizen group only. Discussions (which typically last no more than
two hours) may focus on the specific needs of that group, on the quality of a
particular service, or on ideas for broader policy or strategy. Focus groups do
not generally call expert witnesses.
Interactive web-site → This may be based
on the internet or on a local authority-specific intranet.
"Interactive" initiatives enable the citizens to send e-mail messages
on particular local issues or services for which local authorities are
responsible and get an answer, open a dialogue. Therefore, these initiatives
differ substantially from the mere provision of information.
Opinion polls → These are a tool of direct
participation on a random basis, used to find out citizens' views on given
issues, which are submitted to a sample of citizens who are representative of
the various social groups of the community.
A classic opinion poll is a way of obtaining citizens' immediate
reactions. Deliberative opinion polls are used to compare a group of citizens'
reactions before and after they have had the opportunity to discuss the issue
the mechanisms of representative democracy → It includes:
participation in local elections / the exercise of electoral rights (right to
vote and right to stand) for determining the members of (decision-making and
executive) representative bodies; the exercise of the electoral mandate within
the framework of the functioning of local authority bodies.
Popular consultation → Consultative referendum
(see Referendum, below).
Popular initiative → Instrument which gives
effect to a right of proposal granted to citizens to bring about a decision by
the local deliberative body, if need be. The popular initiative may take the
form of a proposal drawn up in general terms or a fully drafted project. It is
introduced by a minimum number of persons entitled to vote. The legal value of
the result of ballots may vary according to the case.
Public meeting or assembly of citizens →
General meeting of the electorate of a local community, initiated by the local
council or executive body, or convened at the request of citizens / of a given
number of electors. It gives the opportunity to obtain public views on
particular issues or facilitate debate on broad options for a specific service,
a project or a policy. Its function may be advisory or decision-making. In some
cases, the citizens' assembly is the deliberative body of the community, within
a system of direct democracy at local level.
Question and answer
sessions → These are held at the end of council or committee
meetings, providing citizens with an opportunity to direct questions at elected
Referendum → Instrument whereby a plan or
decision is submitted to the judgement of the local community. According to the
case, the referendum is initiated either by the local bodies (or a given number
of elected representatives) or citizens themselves (through a request bearing a
minimum number of signatures by residents or electors). A consultative
referendum (which is not binding on the local bodies) must be distinguished
from a decision-making referendum (the result of which is binding on local
Right of presenting petitions, applications, proposals or
claims → In all these cases, there is a right for an individual or a
group to address the relevant local body. The latter must, in general, examine
the question submitted to it and reply, although it is not obliged to give a
Satisfaction surveys → These may be one-off or
regular initiatives, focusing either on specific services or on the local
authority's general performance. Surveys may be carried out in a variety of
ways (e.g. postal or door-to-door) and may cover the entire local authority population
or a particular group of service users or citizens.
User management of services → The initiatives
of this kind imply direct control of citizens over the management of local
services and resources. Such initiatives usually operate through an executive
committee, elected by the wider group of users.
Visioning exercises →
A range of methods (including focus groups) may be used within a visioning
exercise, the purpose of which is to establish the "vision"
participants have of the future and the kind of future they would like to
create. Visioning may be used to enlighten broad strategy for a locality, or
may have a more specific focus.
Ways of voting which are alternative to the vote at the
polling station → Electoral arrangements seeking to facilitate the
exercise of the right to vote by enabling the electors to vote in a different
manner or time or place than the traditional ones. For example, they include
the following modalities:
- Early ballot (the electors may vote
before the official election day);
- Voting at post offices (post offices
operate as polling stations);
- Postal ballot (the ballot-sheet is
addressed to the elector, who sends it back, duly completed, in a closed
- Electronic ballot (the electors fill
in an electronic ballot-sheet and vote through a computer connected to the
- Home ballot and voting in hospitals,
barracks, prisons (ballot-sheets are distributed, filled in and collected in
these places, so that certain categories of persons facing real difficulties or
who are even unable to attend the polling station may exercise their right to
- Proxy ballot (the elector who is
unable to attend the polling station has the possibility of instructing a
person who accomplishes the act of voting on his/her behalf).
B. Draft recommendation
No. R (2001)…of the Committee of
Ministers to member states on the participation of citizens in local public
The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of
Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to
achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and
realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage and to
foster their economic and social progress;
Considering that participation of citizens is at the very
heart of the idea of democracy and that citizens committed to democratic
values, mindful of their civic duties and who become involved in political
activity are the lifeblood of any democratic system;
Convinced that local democracy is one of the cornerstones of
democracy in European countries and that its reinforcement is a factor of
Noting that local democracy has to operate in a new
challenging context resulting not only from structural and functional changes
in local government organisation, but also from the radical political, economic
and social developments that have occurred in Europe and the process of
Aware that public expectations have evolved, that local
politics are changing form and that this requires more direct, flexible and ad
hoc methods of participation;
Considering that, in certain circumstances, the level of
trust people have in their elected institutions has declined and that there is
a need for state institutions to re-engage with and respond to the public in
new ways to maintain the legitimacy of decision-making;
Recognising that a wide variety of measures are available to
promote citizen participation and these can be adapted to the different circumstances
of local communities;
Considering that the right of citizens to have their say in
major decisions entailing long-term commitments or choices which are difficult
to reverse and concern a majority of citizens is one of the democratic
principles common to all member states of the Council of Europe;
Considering that this right can be most directly exercised
at local level and that, accordingly, steps should be taken to involve citizens
more directly in the management of local affairs, while safeguarding the
effectiveness and efficiency of such management;
Reaffirming its belief that representative democracy is part
of the common heritage of member states and is the basis of the participation
of citizens in public life at national, regional and local level;
Considering that dialogue between citizens and local elected
representatives is essential for local democracy, as it strengthens the
legitimacy of local democratic institutions and the effectiveness of their
Considering that, in keeping with the principle of
subsidiarity, local authorities have and must assume a leading role in
promoting citizens' participation and that the success of any “local democratic
participation policy” depends on the commitment of these authorities;
Having regard to Recommendation No. R (81) 18 of the
Committee of Ministers to member states concerning participation at municipal
level and considering that the changes that have taken place since its adoption
justify that the latter be replaced by the present Recommendation;
Having regard to Opinion …….of the Parliamentary
Having regard to Opinion 15(2001) of the Congress of
Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and to the Congress' texts which are
relevant in the field;
Recommends that the governments of member states:
1. frame a
policy, involving local and – where applicable – regional authorities, designed
to promote citizens' participation in local public life, drawing on the
principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government adopted as an international
treaty on 15 October 1985 and ratified to date by a large majority of
Council of Europe member states, as well as on the principles contained in
Appendix I to this Recommendation;
2. adopt, within the context of the policy
thus defined and taking into account the measures listed in Appendix II to this
Recommendation, the measures within their power, in particular with a view to
improving the legal framework for participation and ensuring that national
legislation and regulations enable local and regional authorities to employ a
wide range of participation instruments in conformity with paragraph 1 of
Recommendation No. R (2000) 14 of the Committee of Ministers to
member states on local taxation, financial equalisation and grants to local
3. invite, in an appropriate way, local
and regional authorities:
- to subscribe to the principles
contained in Appendix I to this Recommendation and to undertake the effective
implementation of the policy of promoting citizens' participation in local
- to improve local regulations and
practical arrangements concerning citizens' participation in local public life,
and to take any other measures within their power to promote citizens'
participation, with due regard for the measures listed in Appendix II to this
4. ensure that this Recommendation is
translated into the official language or languages of their respective
countries and, in ways they consider appropriate, is published and brought to
the attention of local and regional authorities;
that this Recommendation will replace Recommendation No. R (81) 18 concerning
participation at municipal level.
Basic principles of a local democratic participation
1. Guarantee the right of citizens to have
access to clear, comprehensive information about the various matters of concern
to their local community and to have a say in major decisions affecting its
2. Seek for new ways to enhance
civic-mindedness and to promote a culture of democratic participation shared by
communities and local authorities.
3. Develop the awareness of belonging to a
community and encourage citizens to accept their responsibility to contribute
to the life of their communities.
4. Accord major importance to communication
between public authorities and citizens and encourage local leaders to give
emphasis to citizens' participation and careful consideration to their demands
and expectations, so as to provide an appropriate response to the needs which
5. Adopt a comprehensive approach to the
issue of citizens' participation, having regard both to the machinery of
representative democracy and to the forms of direct participation in the
decision-making process and the management of local affairs.
6. Avoid overly rigid solutions and
allow for experimentation, giving priority to empowerment rather than to laying
down rules; consequently, provide for a wide range of participation
instruments, and the possibility of combining them and adapting the way they are
used according to the circumstances.
7. Start from an in-depth assessment of
the situation as regards local participation, establish appropriate benchmarks
and introduce a monitoring system for tracking any changes therein, in order to
identify the causes of any positive or negative trends in citizen
participation, and in order to gauge the impact of the mechanisms adopted.
8. Enable the exchange of information
between and within countries on best practices in citizen participation,
support local authorities' mutual learning about the effectiveness of the
various participation methods and ensure that the public is fully informed
about the whole range of opportunities available.
9. Pay particular attention to those
categories of citizens who have greater difficulty becoming actively involved
or who, de facto, remain on the
sidelines of local public life.
10. Recognise the importance of a fair
representation of women in local politics.
11 Recognise the potential that children
and young people represent for the sustainable development of local communities
and emphasise the role they can play.
12. Recognise and enhance the role played by
associations and groups of citizens as key partners in developing and
sustaining a culture of participation and as a driving force in the practical
application of democratic participation.
13. Enlist the joint effort of the
authorities at every territorial level, with each authority being responsible
for taking appropriate action within its competence, according to the principle
Steps and measures to encourage and reinforce citizens'
participation in local public life
steps and measures
whether, in a complex and increasingly globalised world, the relevance of local
action and decision-making is made clear to the public by identifying core
roles for local authorities in a changing environment.
2. Give proper
emphasis to these roles and ascertain, if necessary, whether the balance of
powers exercised at national, regional and local levels is such as to ensure
that a sufficient capacity for local action lies with local authorities and
elected representatives to provide the necessary stimulus and motivation for
civic involvement. In this context, make use of every opportunity for
functional decentralisation, for example by delegating more responsibilities
with regard to schools, day nurseries and other facilities for children or
infants, care facilities for the elderly, hospitals and health centres, sport
and recreation centres, theatres, libraries, etc.
citizenship education and incorporate into school curricula and training
syllabuses the objective of promoting awareness of the responsibilities that
are incumbent on each individual in a democratic society, in particular within
the local community, whether as an elected representative, local administrator,
public servant or ordinary citizen.
local elected representatives and local authorities, by any suitable means
including the drafting of codes of conduct, to behave in a manner consistent
with the high ethical standards and ensure compliance with these
greater transparency into the way local institutions and authorities operate,
and in particular:
i. ensure the public nature of the local
decision-making process (publication of agendas of local council and local
executive meetings; meetings of the local council and its committees open to
the public; question and answer sessions, publication of minutes of meetings
and decisions, etc.);
ii. ensure and facilitate access by any
citizen to information concerning local affairs (setting up information
bureaus, documentation centres, public databases; making use of information
technology; simplifying administrative formalities and reducing the cost of
obtaining copies of documents, etc.);
iii. provide adequate information on
administrative bodies and their organisational structure, and inform citizens
who are directly affected by any ongoing proceedings of the progress of these proceedings
and the identity of the persons in charge.
6. Implement a
fully-fledged communication policy, in order to afford citizens the opportunity
to better understand the main issues of concern to the community and the
implications of the major political decisions which its bodies are called upon
to make, and to inform citizens about the opportunities for, and forms of,
participation in local public life.
both in the most populated urban centres and in rural areas, a form of neighbourhood
democracy, so as to give citizens more influence over their local environment
and municipal activities in the various areas of the municipality. More
i. set up, at sub-municipal level,
bodies, where appropriate elected or composed of elected representatives, which
could be given advisory and information functions and possibly delegated
ii. set up, at sub-municipal level,
administrative offices to facilitate contacts between local authorities and
iii. adopt, in each area, an integrated
approach to the organisation and provision of public services, based on a
willingness to listen to citizens and geared to the needs which they express;
iv. encourage local residents to become
involved – directly or via neighbourhood associations – in the design and
implementation of projects which have a direct bearing on their environment,
such as the creation and maintenance of green areas and playgrounds, the fight
against crime, the introduction of support/self-help facilities (childcare,
care for the elderly, etc.).
B. Steps and
measures concerning participation in local elections and the system of
1. Conduct audits of the functioning of
local electoral systems in order to ascertain whether there are any fundamental
flaws or voting arrangements that might discourage particular sections of the
population from voting and consider the possibilities of correcting those flaws
2. Endeavour to
promote participation in elections. Where necessary, conduct information
campaigns to explain how to vote and to encourage people in general to register
to vote and to use their vote. Information campaigns targeted at particular
sections of the population may also be an appropriate option.
audits of voter registration and electoral turnout in order to determine
whether there is any change in the general pattern or whether there are any
problems involving particular categories or groups of citizens who show little
interest in voting.
measures to make voting more convenient given the complexity and demands of
modern lifestyles, e.g.:
i. review the way in which polling
stations operate (number of polling stations, accessibility, opening hours,
ii. introduce new voting options, involving
alternative dates and locations (early voting, postal voting, post office
voting, electronic voting, etc.);
iii. introduce specific forms of assistance
(for example for disabled or illiterate people) or other special voting
arrangements for particular categories of voters (voting by proxy, home voting,
hospital voting, voting in barracks or prisons, etc.).
necessary, in order to better gauge the impact of any measures envisaged,
conduct (or allow) pilot schemes to test the new voting arrangements.
6. Examine the
procedures for selecting candidates to stand for local elective office and
consider, for example:
i. whether voters should be involved in
the process of selecting candidates, for instance by introducing the
possibility of presenting independent lists or individual candidatures, or by
giving voters the option of casting one or more preference votes;
ii. whether voters should be given a
stronger influence in the election or appointment of the (heads of the) local
executives; this can be achieved by direct elections, binding referendums or
7. Examine the
issues relating to plurality of elective office, so as to adopt measures
designed to prevent simultaneous office-holding where it would hinder the
proper performance of the relevant duties or would lead to conflicts of
8. Examine the
conditions governing the exercise of elective office, in order to determine
whether particular aspects of the status of local elected representatives or
the practical arrangements for exercising office might hinder involvement in
politics. Where appropriate, consider measures designed to remove these
obstacles and, in particular, to enable elected representatives to devote the
appropriate time to their duties and to relieve them from certain economic
C. Steps and measures to encourage direct
public participation in local decision-making and the management of local
1. Promote dialogue between citizens and
local elected representatives and make local authorities aware of the various
techniques for communicating with the public, and the wide range of ways in
which the public can play a direct part in decision-making. Such awareness
could be developed through the publication of guidelines (e.g. in the form of a
charter for public participation at local level), the holding of conferences
and seminars or the establishment of a well-maintained website so that examples
of good practice could be posted and accessed.
2. Develop, through surveys and
discussions, an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the various
instruments of citizens' participation in decision-making and encourage
innovation and experimentation in local authorities' efforts to communicate
with the public and involve it more closely in the decision-making process.
3. Make full
use, in particular, of:
i. new information and communication
technologies, and take steps to ensure that local authorities and other public
bodies use (in addition to the traditional and still valuable methods such as
formal public notices or official leaflets) the full range of communications
facilities available (interactive websites, multi-channel broadcast media,
ii. more deliberative forms of
decision-making, i.e. involving the exchange of information and opinions, for
example: public meetings of citizens;
citizens' juries and various types of forums, groups, public committees whose
function is to advise or make proposals; round tables, opinion polls, user
or, where necessary, improve the legislation/regulations which enable:
i. petitions/motions, proposals and
complaints filed by citizens with the local council or local authorities;
ii. popular initiatives, calling on elected
bodies to deal with the matters raised in the initiative in order to provide
citizens with a response or initiate the referendum procedure;
iii. consultative or decision-making
referendums on matters of local concern, called by local authorities on their
own initiative or at the request of the local community;
iv. devices for co-opting citizens to
decision-making bodies, including representative bodies;
v. devices for involving citizens in
management (user committees, partnership boards, direct management of services
by citizens, etc.).
citizens more influence over local planning and, in a general manner, over
strategic and long-term decisions; more specifically:
i. give citizens the opportunity to
become involved in the various stages of the decision-making process concerning
these decisions, notably by dividing this process into several stages (for
example programming, drafting of projects and alternatives, implementation,
budgetary and financial planning);
ii. illustrate each phase of the planning
process by means of a lucid, intelligible material that is readily accessible
to the public, using, if possible, in addition to the traditional methods
(maps, scale models, audiovisual material) the other media available through
new technologies (CD-Rom, DVD, electronic documentary bases accessible to the
systematic feed-back mechanisms to involve citizens in the evaluation and the
improvement of local management.
7. Ensure that
direct participation has a real impact on the decision-making process, that
citizens are well informed about the impact of their participation and that
they see tangible results. Participation that is purely symbolic or used to
simply grant legitimacy to pre-ordained decisions is unlikely to win public
support. However, local authorities must be honest with the public about the
limitations of the forms of direct participation on offer, and avoid arousing
exaggerated expectations about the possibility of accommodating the various
interests involved, particularly when decisions are made between conflicting
interests or about rationing resources.
and duly recognise the spirit of volunteering that exists in many local
communities, for example through grant schemes or other forms of support and
encouragement for non-profit, voluntary and community organisations,
citizens' action groups, etc., or through the forging of contracts or
agreements between these organisations and local authorities concerning the
respective rights, roles and expectations of these parties in their dealings with
steps and measures to encourage categories of citizens who, for various
reasons, have greater difficulty in participating
1. Collect, on
a regular basis, information on the participation of the various categories of
citizens and ascertain whether certain ones such as women, young people,
underprivileged social groups and certain professional groups are
under-represented in the elected bodies and/or play little or no part in
electoral or direct forms of participation.
2. Set targets
for achieving certain levels of representation and/or participation of the
groups of citizens concerned and devise packages of specific measures to
increase the opportunities for their participation, for example:
i. introduce, for the groups of citizens
concerned, an active communications and information policy including, where
appropriate, specific media campaigns to encourage them to participate
(consideration will be given to adopting a particular language, media and
campaign style geared to the needs of each group);
ii. introduce specific institutional forms
of participation, designed, where possible, in consultation with the group or
groups of citizens whose involvement is being encouraged (there is a wide range
of possibilities for meeting the specific needs of various groups, such as
various forms of meetings, conferencing or co-option);
iii. appoint officials specifically
responsible for dealing with matters of concern to the excluded groups, passing
on their demands for change to the relevant decision-making bodies and
reporting back to the groups on the progress made and the response (positive or
negative) given to their demands.
3. As regards
women in particular:
i. emphasise the importance of a fair
representation of women in decision-making bodies and consider any arrangements
which might make it easier to combine active political involvement with family
and working life;
ii. consider, if legally possible, the
introduction of compulsory or recommended quota systems for the minimum number
of same-sex candidates who can appear on an electoral list and/or a quota of
seats reserved for women on local councils, local executive bodies and the
various committees and boards formed by local bodies.
4. As regards
young people in particular:
i. develop the school as an important
common arena for young people's participation and democratic learning process;
ii. promote “children's council” and “youth
council” type initiatives at municipal level, as genuinely useful means of
education in local citizenship, in addition to opportunities for dialogue with
the youngest members of society;
iii. encourage youth associations and, in
particular, promote the development of flexible forms and structures for
community involvement, such as youth centres, making full use of young people's
capacity to design projects themselves and to implement them;
iv. consider the reduction of the age for
voting in or standing for local elections and for participating in local
referendums, consultations and popular initiatives;
v. consider the various other types of
initiative suggested by the European Charter on the Participation of Young
People in Municipal and Regional Life adopted by the Congress of Local and
Regional Authorities of Europe in 1992.
5. As regards
foreigners in particular, encourage their active participation in the life of
the local community on a non-discriminatory basis, by complying with the
provisions contained in the Council of Europe's Convention on the participation of foreigners in public life at local
level of 1992, even when its provisions are not legally binding
on states, or, at least, by drawing inspiration from the mechanisms referred to
in this Convention.