The need to restore public trust in democratic institutions

International Democracy Day, 15 September 2013

Strasbourg, 13.09.2013 – On the eve of International Democracy Day (15 September), the Bureau of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has made the following statement:

“Today many voices continue to be raised in alarm claiming that the world is not only facing a financial and economic crisis but that citizens’ trust in democratic institutions is also in crisis, as evidenced by voter fatigue and a decline in the public image of politicians. Populist, radical or xenophobic political movements, protest votes and the emergence of hate speech are gaining ground. The increasing importance of supranational decision-making organisations such as the WTO, EU, IMF and others reinforces the feeling of powerlessness of political institutions, in the context of an increasingly globalised economy, whereas democratic legitimacy remains at national level. Extremist parties grow in influence by providing populist, but easy to understand responses, based on a closure of borders, in the face of a complex reality and an uncertain future. Furthermore, democracy today is in a process of transformation, as it grapples with the new realities of a post-modern era where political parties are no longer the only vehicles for citizen participation in political life. Social networks and civil society highlight new emerging challenges.

In this regard, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe welcomes the 2013 Day of Democracy’s focus on strengthening voices for democracy. It urges national parliaments to adapt to societal and technological developments and improve communication channels with the public. Through Internet, social networks, parliamentary television channels and/or civil society associations, parliaments can improve contact with the younger generations. Parliaments should also promote new ways for the people to express their views, beyond the traditional forms of mandate and delegation: the setting up of participatory and deliberative processes and structures, transnational networks formed by citizens to address specific issues, citizenship education and political training can be useful tools. Improving the transparency of rules of financing political parties and campaigns and bringing corrupt politicians and officials to justice would restore public trust in parliaments. A greater inclusion of women, youth and minorities would reinforce their representativeness and credibility.

The Parliamentary Assembly firmly believes that the Council of Europe is in a unique position to bridge the confidence gap and bring together elected politicians with civil society leaders. Together, they could better find ways to enable representative democracy face current societal and technological challenges, such as those raised by the social media. In this context, it wishes to highlight particularly the forthcoming World Forum for Democracy organised by the Council of Europe, which is this year entitled “Re-wiring Democracy: connecting institutions and citizens in the digital age” (Strasbourg, 27-29 November 2013). The Forum will provide a timely platform for a genuine, inclusive dialogue on change and the future of democracy and help to shape future action by the Organisation, its institutions and member States.”