Resolution 91 (2000)1 on responsible citizenship and participation in public life

The Congress,

1. Takes note of the Report submitted by Mr Haas on “Citizenship and participation in public life” further to the work carried out by the Working Group “Citizens’ rights and responsibilities” under the supervision of Mr Tchernoff and Mr Hofmann ;

2. Underlines that the European Charter of Local Self-Government states in its preamble that “the right of citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs is one of the democratic principles that are shared by all member States of the Council of Europe” and that “it is at local level that this right can be most directly exercised”;

3. Is convinced that there is a close link between civic responsibility, on the one hand, and participation in public affairs at local and regional level, on the other;

4. Recalls, in this respect, the existence of several relevant Council of Europe texts, including CLRAE texts, in particular:

- the Convention on the participation of foreigners in public life at local level;

- the European Charter on the participation of young people in municipal and regional life, adopted by Resolution 237 (1992) of the CLRAE;

- Resolution 243 (1993) of the CLRAE on citizenship and extreme poverty: the Charleroi Declaration;

- Resolution 15 (1995) on local democracy: a civic project;

5. Notes that the Committee of Ministers adopted on 7 May 1999 a declaration and a programme on education for democratic citizenship based on citizens’ rights and responsibilities;

6. Believes that the time has come to remove all obstacles to the development of a genuine process of civic empowerment and growing participation by citizens in public life;

7. Accordingly, approves the “Guidelines for a policy on citizens’ responsible participation in municipal and regional life” as set out in the appendix to the present resolution;

8. Invites the local and regional authorities of Europe to take the said guidelines into consideration:

- by setting aside a few public working sessions, for example;

- by ensuring that these guidelines are widely circulated to citizens from all sections of the community;

- by notifying the CLRAE Secretariat of their comments and their proposals for implementing the Guidelines;

9. Urges European citizens and their associations to pay particular attention to the said guidelines;

10. Requests its competent Committee to reconsider this matter in due course, in the light of the results obtained in the meantime, with a view to adopting a stricter, more precise wording for the guidelines, if necessary.

APPENDIX

Guidelines for a policy of responsible civic participation

in municipal and regional life

The citizen's responsibility for the community – citizens´ duties

In the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) and the European Social Charter (1961) the member states of the Council of Europe undertook to recognise and guarantee, as the foundation of their legal systems, a number of human and civil rights which are not to be tampered with. As states governed by the rule of law and by concern for public welfare, they thereby committed themselves to securing to everyone the highest level of rights and freedoms compatible with the principle of equal rights and freedoms for all and to affording each citizen the means and opportunity to lead a good life. Recognition of human and civil rights as the basis of the legal system is a prerequisite for people to live together in human dignity.

Peaceful, successful co-existence does not, however, merely depend on these rights and freedoms being secured by law. It is also basically a matter of what use citizens make of them, how they translate them into reality, what values and thinking they adopt in planning and leading their lives and what attitudes they show towards their fellow-citizens, whether within their families, in the community or in political circles.

All rights are associated with responsibilities of a legal nature. These legal responsibilities are sanctioned by the system of laws, which imposes lawful conduct on citizens. Responsibilities coming within the ambit of the ethos, that is ethical or moral responsibilities, differ from legal responsibilities. Firstly, in terms of their content, as standards of goodness they go beyond what the law and legislation can require of people in a free country governed by the rule of law. Secondly, they entail the adoption of values and thinking which are fundamentally good, and hence refer to the individual's inner conscience, convictions, sense of responsibility and attitudes, whereas the law only regulates outward behaviour.

Fulfilment of legal responsibilities is a prerequisite, albeit insufficient in itself, for successful co-existence in conditions conducive to human dignity. But such co-existence in dignity can be achieved only where the scope for action which citizens are guaranteed by rights and freedoms is set within an ethical and moral frame.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe therefore calls on the citizens of Council of Europe member states to consider, recognise and fulfil the following ethical and moral duties as citizens' responsibilities.

Responsibility for one's own life

All persons shall strive to develop a reasonable life plan and to follow it responsibly, within the limits of the law and according to their own interests, capabilities and possibilities.

All persons shall endeavour to cultivate their aptitudes and, as far as possible, to acquire qualifications conducive to the realisation of the above-mentioned life plan. They shall also take care of their health.

A responsible, planned life requires that people put their various needs and inclinations into some degree of order, are capable of distinguishing between what is necessary, useful and agreeable, and strive for self-mastery and self-control.

They shall therefore attempt, to the best of their ability, to avoid developing pathological or psychic dependencies or addictions which prevent them from leading a reasonable life.

In the context of their life plan, all persons shall, as far as they are able, take responsibility for themselves and shall only seek help from society if the demands on them exceed their own capabilities.

All persons should be accountable to themselves for the values and thinking which they adopt as the basis of their life plan. In this respect, they should not only strive to acquire vocational qualifications, but also seek to qualify in that "education of the heart" failing which no-one can be a “good person”.

Responsibility towards others

Human rights give rise to responsibility towards others. All persons should morally assume responsibilities as their own and base their attitudes towards others on the human rights ethos.

This has its corollary in a duty to respect the life, dignity and freedom of all people. to fight for justice and solidarity and to show tolerance for the beliefs of others.

No one shall discriminate against others on grounds of sex, ethnic origin, nationality, religion, culture or language.

In pursuing their life plans, all persons should endeavour to develop the qualities which people look for in one another. This principle of reciprocity embodies the golden rule: do as you would be done by.

This entails a readiness to be well disposed, courteous and helpful towards others, and honesty in one's speech and conduct.

Anyone party to a conflict of interests should attempt, as far as possible, to settle the matter through a willingness to negotiate and compromise, instead of treating it as a strategic contest.

All persons should show respect for other people's reputation, honour and privacy and for the property of others as the sphere in which they exercise their freedom.

All persons should commit themselves, as far as possible, to the protection of the natural environment and the husbanding of scarce resources, so that future generations may also live in conditions conducive to human dignity.

The couple and the family

All relations between men and women shall be marked by an ethos of equal dignity, which shall preclude sexual prejudice and sexist behaviour.

Sexual partnerships shall be characterised by mutual respect, fairness, understanding and an attitude of consideration and helpfulness. Sexual dependency and exploitation run counter to the ethos of partnership in dignity.

It shall be incumbent on married couples to base their conjugal relationship on love, loyalty and mutual care and support, and to preserve it in good and bad times.

In their capacity as parents, it shall be incumbent on both father and mother to assume, to the best of their ability, the major responsibility for their children. Their love for their children, their commitment to raise and take care of them and also their relationship with one another have a considerable influence on the development of the children's personalities.

No-one shall exploit, ill-treat or abuse children.

Everyone shall contribute to ensuring that the relationship between the generations is compatible with human dignity. In particular, children shall honour their parents and aid and support them, particularly in old age.

Society

Everyone should endeavour to be a good neighbour to the people living locally and show a considerate, friendly and helpful attitude towards them, and should strive to settle disputes through a readiness to negotiate.

The social duties inherent in ownership should result in personal responsibility of the owner of property, over and above that provided for by law.

In line with the subsidiarity principle, the economic security of each household should, as far as possible, be guaranteed first and foremost by its members' gainful employment. This entails efforts to find employment and a willingness to do one's work carefully and reliably.

Within firms and administrations work always involves co-operation between individuals. Everyone, above all those in senior positions, shall therefore treat all colleagues properly and fairly and show respect for their human dignity.

Honesty, respect and fairness are also owed to competitors within the market economy.

Freedom of the media means that persons active in that field have a special responsibility to impart information in a truthful, balanced manner, to respect people’s privacy, to show regard for standards of decency and morality and to refrain from glorifying violence and brutality.

In exercising any occupational activity, all persons should constantly fulfil those duties which generally follow from the responsibilities towards others set forth in this declaration. No-one is exempt from such duties on account of his or her occupation. They shall apply without restriction, likewise in respect of fellow-citizens of foreign origin.

Politics

Democratic politics based on civil rights requires citizens who are politically mature, interested in public affairs, democratically minded and aware of their political co-responsibility. A democratic state cannot thrive with citizens who play no part in politics.

The responsibilities of a good, democratic citizen include a willingness to keep oneself informed of political developments, to contribute to shaping informed public opinion and to take part in political events as an active, committed member of society.

Fulfilment of legal responsibilities is a prerequisite, albeit insufficient in itself, for successful co-existence in conditions conducive to human dignity. But such co-existence in dignity can be achieved only where the scope for action which citizens are guaranteed by rights and freedoms is set within an ethical and moral frame. It is important to successful, humane co-existence that a large number of associations and institutions take initiatives, set up amenities with a charitable or public-interest purpose, organise self-help groups and provide assistance and support through their social and cultural commitment. Citizens should, as far as they are able, be prepared to take an active role in political organisations and citizens' initiatives or projects, to assume political functions and to volunteer for honorary appointments.

To be fully functional at state level, democracy must have its roots in lively local democracy at the municipal and regional levels. Citizens should be active in asserting their right of participation and control, particularly in the field of local self-government, which is not unlimited. They can thereby offer young people an example of living democracy.

All citizens should show respect for the legal and constitutional systems which have their basis in human and civil rights, and conscientiously abide by democratically enacted laws.

In addition, all persons should summon up the civil courage to defend the fundamental values of a democratic, constitutional state governed by the rule of law against extremist attitudes and statements contrary to human rights, and to take positive action and speak out against criminal threats to individuals and vandalistic behaviour.

II. Strengthening of citizens' participation at local and regional level – Citizens´ rights

The participation of citizens in local politics must be guaranteed at all political and administrative levels. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe therefore agrees with Agenda 21 that "one of the fundamental principles for the achievement of sustainable development is broad public participation in decision-making".

In particular, this presupposes:

- the implementation of the subsidiarity principle, according to which public business should only be carried out by the administrative authorities if this cannot be successfully accomplished by the citizens and their voluntary associations;

- the right of citizens to be informed and heard on every major plan or project before decisions are taken (transparency encourages a sense of acting for the public good!);

- the use of the new information technologies to provide citizens with comprehensive information and establish needs and problems;

- the creation of a system of co-operation based on mutual trust between specialised staff on the one hand and the citizens and their representatives on the other;

- the greatest possible involvement in political life of all inhabitants, whether or not they are nationals of the country.

2. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe calls on local authorities to examine and, if necessary, extend and intensify the possibilities for democratic participation existing within the framework of national legislation.

Up to now, citizen participation has been mainly limited to participating in elections and to the possibility of exerting influence at the pre-parliamentary level. Self-government however implies more than this. It also entails the involvement of those concerned in their own affairs, with the aim of promoting the well-being of residents and preserving distinctive historical and local characteristics.

Here it is necessary to take account of the new motives the citizens now have for becoming involved. Whilst the assumption of honorary offices often used to be based on a sense of duty, a more important role is now played by personal satisfaction and fulfilment. For many people today, what is important is their desire to be involved in a project for a limited period and to have their personal abilities and inclinations taken into consideration.

3. In order to encourage citizens to become involved in matters of local importance, the local and regional authorities undertake to consider the following political objectives and to work towards achieving them:

Better transparency

Publicity of the agenda and the decisions of local councils and executives

The agendas and the decisions of local assemblies and authorities should be publicised not only in the formal way provided by the law; they should be made known to the public at large through a variety of means such as direct mailing to families, the local press, local radio and TV stations, distribution at cafés, clubs and other meeting points, as well as websites.

Transparency of organisational charts

The organisation of local goverment and the persons responsible for activities should be made known to citizens and residents.

Publicity of administrative and executive decisions

The principle that meetings of local councils and their committees should be public is one of the essential foundations of democracy. This gives every citizen the opportunity to monitor the activities of elected representatives. It also arouses general interest in self-government and helps to establish the idea of self-government in the minds of citizens.

Ad hoc document centres

Special documentation centres should be set up in every town and village and, in the case of the larger towns and cities, at least every borough by all the local authorities in a specific territory (e.g. a region or a county). In these centres, each resident (both nationals and non-nationals) should find all the documentation concerning the agendas of local councils and executives, decisions made and decision-making in progress. These documents should be open to access and it should be possible to make copies to take away.

Compulsory consultation of individuals prior to the enactment of administrative decisions

Before the enactment of local authority decisions which may affect the right of an individual (nationals or non-nationals, natural persons or legal entities), the persons concerned should be informed and consulted about the decision-making process under way.

Direct access for citizens to the administrative authority

Each member of the council or the executive or each administrative authority should officially make specific times available for receiving the public. It would also be useful, depending on the extent of technical development, for a special e-mail address and mailbox to be made available in which citizens could make suggestions or comments.

Strengthening of pre-political participation

The principle of democracy is based on the assumption that citizens will act responsibly. The will of the citizens is the ultimate guideline for the activities of councils and authorities. This means that representative democracy must be supplemented by elements of direct democracy. Particular consideration should be given to the following types:

- Citizens´ petition/citizens´ decision

The citizens' petition and citizens' decision are the most extensive forms of direct participation in decisions on political issues. Through a citizens’ petition, citizens can seek to take the decision over a local issue themselves instead of the council.

- Right to make proposals

Every citizen or resident in the local authority area should be able to make proposals or complaints to the local assembly or authority.

- Resident's application

Every resident should be able to make applications to the council and the administrative authority. The application must contain a reasoned request calling on the local assembly to discuss a proposal on a subject for which it has responsibility and give a decision on this.

- Question times

Question times at council and committee meetings enable the citizens and residents to speak to the council and the committees directly and in person, thus strengthening contacts between the population and the council. This strengthens the contacts between the public and local elected representatives.

- Consulting the citizens

The local and regional authorities should make use of the new technologies to initiate more meetings to consult citizens and inform themselves on specific problems faced by the population.

- Meetings of local residents

In order to carry out a mutual exchange of information between the administrative authority, the council and the citizens, it may be useful to hold meetings of local residents.

- Involvement of experts

In order to make use of the expertise of citizens and residents, it should be made possible for prominent non-elected figures (nationals and non-nationals) to be involved as expert consultants on the spot in the work of the political bodies of the local authorities.

- New participation procedures

Planning units/citizens’ reports

At the local authority’s invitation, a group of citizens chosen on the strength of their representativeness or their functional role (e.g. multipliers, associations) draws up its own opinions or recommendations on current developments in the community. The council’s decision-making powers are not affected but the group’s recommendations are taken into consideration during the decision-making process.

Round tables

A round table is a procedure for the joint shaping of policy through the discussion of a local issue (e.g. urban development). The broadest possible spectrum of affected organisations and interest groups are involved in this. However, the rules of procedure are agreed on separately on each different occasion. The decision-making powers of the local assembly are not affected in this case either.

Forward planning conferences

Selected citizens, associations and representatives, e.g. from economic or political circles, discuss the development goals and necessary changes in a local authority area (e.g. Vision 2010). This can give rise to ideas for practical projects.

- Ombudsmen

To improve relations between the authorities and citizens, it is recommended to appoint an ombudsman who can act as an independent mediator in the event of disagreements, misunderstandings and mistakes in dealings between authorities and citizens.

- Horizontal subsidiarity

In so far as it is compatible with existing legislation, local and regional authorities shall commit themselves to a policy of delegating the management of local services to local non-profit organisations and/or consumer associations.

In doing so, local and regional authorities shall supervise the quality and costs of the services provided and make sure that the non-profit organisation and/or consumer association responsible for providing a given service: i. possesses the necessary professional know-how and ii. makes services accessible not only to its members and supporters but to all residents.

The local and regional authorities shall undertake, in the framework of organisations of public utility and/or consumer associations, not to engage in any discrimination on the grounds of nationality, religion, sex or political persuasion.

Better parliamentary participation

- Voting age/voting system

The most important citizen's right in a parliamentary democracy is the right to vote. This fundamental right must be upgraded in order to strengthen the elected bodies at all levels. This includes reducing the voting age and the age of eligibility to public office. It also involves organising the voting system in such a way that the citizens have as much scope as possible for appointing the members of the council: if, under a system of vote accumulation and split-ticket voting, the citizens have several votes they can give either to one individual or to several candidates belonging to different parties, this strengthens the principle of voting for a specific personality, including members of the political groups.

- Direct election of mayors

The direct election of mayors enables citizens to take this extremely important decision on the appointment of a person in their own town or village and to stand as candidates themselves.

- Youth councils/youth parliaments

Not least owing to the impression that there is a lack of interest in, and disenchantment with, politics in society, increasing attention is being given in political discussion to ways of involving children and young people in all matters of concern to them. The establishment of such institutions can be laid down in local bylaws.

Confining debate to subjects relating to the young people's immediate environment is essential to success, and a "keep-it-simple" approach is a prerequisite. Procedural rules provide a dependable framework but must not be allowed to dampen the enthusiasm of being involved.

- Senior citizens' councils

In order to establish the particular needs of senior citizens, who make up a section of the population growing larger and larger as a result of demographic developments, it is a good idea to set up senior citizens' councils in the local and regional authority areas in order both to make the specific expertise of the elderly available to the political debate and to give them an opportunity to engage in political activities.

- The right of non-nationals to be represented in local councils

Resident non-nationals should be entitled – in so far as is legally possible – to elect to the local assembly or committees representatives who may act not just in an advisory capacity but as full members.

Strengthening of citizens' communicative responsibilities and participation

The public’s willingness to take an active part in politics is largely dependent on the creation within the community of an atmosphere which is conducive to involvement. The local authorities can influence whether the citizens’ interest in public activities grows, stagnates or declines. In particular they can forge an environment conducive to voluntary activities by creating the basic conditions and eliminating bureaucracy.

- Strengthening of the work of clubs and associations, support for foundations

The importance for social integration of sports clubs, cultural associations, associations for the promotion of local or regional traditions, self-help groups and political clubs or initiatives cannot be assessed highly enough. They resolve conflicts in a productive way, and many clubs and associations do much to prevent crime. They teach people to show a sense of commitment and responsibility and are therefore extremely important for a society in which the citizens are actively involved.

- Involvement and participation of citizens in the development of the local community

Modern methods of local community development are not limited to participation in infrastructure planning. It is important to have a concerted policy for the local community. This policy can be a constituent element of the co-ordination of investment aid for projects close to housing areas with job creation schemes, social services close to people's homes, the architectural enhancement of community centres, socio-cultural centres and other meeting-places, playgrounds and sports complexes and advisory networks to deal with health issues, self-help schemes or child care.

The local authorities can support projects in the following areas: improvements to the living environment, the establishment and care of green spaces, playground design, cultural and sports events, crime prevention measures, and the organisation of neighbourhood help schemes, especially for the elderly.

- Encouragement and consolidation of voluntary work

The local authorities are called upon to involve the citizens, who are the target group for all their activities, much more in the provision of local services. The local authorities can promote the extension of citizen participation with the aid of a number of measures, such as presentations in schools and particularly well frequented meeting-places, special local radio and television programmes, the distribution of printed matter, etc.

The local authorities promote special awards to natural and/or juridical persons who have made a particularly valuable contribution to improving the life of the local community and region.

The local authorities and regions can develop suitable policies for supporting and encouraging the commitment of residents to providing mutual neighbourhood assistance services (such as help looking after children, the elderly, etc). In particular, these policies would involve the following areas:

- establishing contacts: contacting volunteers and organisations and getting organisations to work with volunteers in a way that matches modern needs. Specific public relations work is used to promote a new volunteer culture, initiate information events and develop activities and co-operation with the media, such as the press, radio and television;

- providing information: activities for volunteers are presented so as to ensure clarity in terms of supply and demand in the cultural, environmental, sports and social sectors;

- offering advice: the motives, interests and general expectations of volunteers are clarified in interviews, and approaches and models for working with volunteers are developed with organisations;

- acting as a go-between: the "right person" is directed towards the "right activity" and the new demands with regard to working with volunteers are explained to organisations;

- providing support: volunteers are given specialist support and personal assistance.

- further training: further training courses are organised with various partners at different times.

In the future, the promotion of citizens' commitment to voluntary work will pose significant challenges for all concerned. The active involvement of citizens in their communities is, however, vital to towns, villages and regions. Local government should not play the dominant role here. It must also act as an initiator and increase its efforts to promote a "civic spirit" so as to trigger action by the citizen and pool potential that may have been untapped up to now. Providing co-ordination of this kind can strengthen the ability of towns, villages and regions to function as communities for the benefit of all concerned.

1 Debated by the Congress and adopted on 24. May 2000, second sitting (see Doc. CG (7) 8, draft resolution presented by Mr M. Haas, rapporteur).