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Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Guardian: European local democracy week 2013 addresses falling turnout rates

This year's active citizenship theme is inspiring communities across the continent and beyond

Dubravka Suica - Guardian Professional, Thursday 17 October 2013 14.00 BST

Voter turnout rates are in decline in almost every country across Europe, but it is too simplistic to conclude that this means people are not interested in what happens in their communities.

This week is European local democracy week, in which people all over Europe get together to meet their local elected members to understand how local authorities operate and how, as citizens, they can actively take part.

The European charter of local self-government opened for signature in 1985. It governs the principles of local democracy in a legal manner. A vibrant local democracy improves the quality of life in communities and enhances the effectiveness of local governance.

European local democracy week invigorates the relationship between local people and the authorities that service them. Each year a theme is chosen concerning an aspect of citizen participation which highlights practical applications of local democracy. This year's theme "active citizenship: voting, sharing and participating" has given rise to some creative interpretations.

In Katowice, Poland, for example a parliamentary simulation game has been introduced in primary schools with the longer term aim of motivating first-time voters. In the UK, Portsmouth is launching a prize-winning challenge to identify barriers to voting and reasons why turnout levels at all elections are falling – offering real-life examples to address the issue.

Other initiatives strengthen democratic rights. In Katowice an essay competition is also being held in secondary schools on the rights and responsibilities of citizens in Poland, comparing the communist regime and today's democracy, and is accompanied by a poster design competition on the rights of citizens.

The democracy week internet platform provides for a platform for people to exchange ideas and good practice advice.

Local democracy week actually started in England and Wales. The congress, having seen its success and, believing local democracy to be "a shared value across the continent", decided it was a good idea to extend its scope Europe-wide.

Those partners who are particularly committed to raising citizens' awareness of local democracy during the week and throughout the year are awarded a 12-star label. This includes places like Falun and Katowice, as well as Strasbourg, France and Reggio Calabria among others.

The World Forum for Democracy being held in Strasbourg from 27-29 November this year, addresses citizen participation in relation to new technology under the theme: "Re-wiring democracy: connecting institutions and citizens in the digital age".

It relates citizen participation to experiences world-wide, including at the local level. The outcomes from this global event, as well the conclusions and best practice from this year's European local democracy week, will drive forward new dimensions and improvements in citizen participation for the future.

Dubravka Suica is spokesperson on European Local Democracy Week for the congress of local and regional authorities of the council of Europe.

The original article can be viewed here: http://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2013/oct/17/european-local-democracy-week-turnout-rates

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