Antonella Valmorbida – ALDA Secretary General and European Partnership for Democracy President, expressed her views on how Europe should position itself in relation to the Summit for Democracy and how it should seek to influence the evolution of the process, by answering to the following question: How Can Europe Help the Next Phase of the Summit for Democracy?
The Summit for Democracy united democracy supporters and made more tangible their conviction that democracy is not a form of governance exclusively for the West. And, based on the discussions I had around the summit, the message is clear and should be presented to any future one: democracy must be empowered and can deliver better when focused at the local level.
Participatory democracy needs to be prominent in the next phase of the summit process. Participative forms of democracy have immense potential for finding answers to local problems and building communities resilient to authoritarian regimes and forms of governance. The more citizens—in particular youth and women, for whom national politics is less accessible—are involved in local democracy by being elected to local government or in being actively engaged in local groups, the more they build up a DNA of democracy that is open to deliberation, negotiation, representation, and everyone’s contribution.
As political parties in cities and regions try out different and interesting experiments with civic lists and citizens’ movements, local democracy empowered by real decentralisation can build or rebuild trust between citizens and institutions. Donors’ focus on political parties—their accountability, transparency, and forms of representation—should therefore support their work at the local level.
In this context, a vibrant and aware civil society, engaged and representing the collective interest of the community, is key for democracy. This has been exemplified by the experience of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, with local authorities and civil society working together to become the strongholds of resilience and resistance.
The summit process has so far not paid sufficient attention to elections at the local level and needs to do more on this in its next phase. Local democracy and decentralisation allow for an easier redistribution of powers and representation than is the case at the national level. Local elections can galvanise interest and engage citizens. The next Summit for Democracy and the implementation of past summit decisions must involve partners at the local level to a greater extent.