From on-line demands to real life improvements: How to transform Civic Activism to Political Realities

(Social) media and new technologies have clearly played an essential role in mobilising citizens demanding change. How can this mobilisation lead to sustainable democratic processes? How can we make sure that public and civil society demands are effectively realised through the political system? On the International Day of Democracy, three actors of democracy, from the European Parliament, Tunisia and Georgia, responded to these and other questions at a debate organised by the European Parliament, Commission and External Action Service (EEAS), together with the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), European Network of Political Foundations (ENoP), and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA).

Ulrike Lunacek, Vice President of the European Parliament, and Green party member, focused on personalities and parliaments in shaping democracies. Strong personalities, who can resist criticism, yet are also able to work together to find solutions, are essential for effective and functioning  parliaments. She emphasised that parliaments should represent all parts of society, in particular women, who are always underrepresented. “If we had a 50-50 [female-male] split in parliaments, we would have a better world,” she stated..

Since his active  student union days in Tunisia, Jaouhar Ben Mbarek has been engaged in his country’s political development. Ahead of the 2014 referendum on the new Constitution, he founded the civil society network “Doustourna” – briefly supported by EED - that encourages participative democracy and mobilises its member to jointly pass messages to political institutions. In describing the role of the civic movement around the revolution, he said, “We took charge and contributed to the democratic transformation,” “Tunisia will succeed in its democratic revolution – thanks to its strong education”, and he keeps hope “despite difficult times”. At the same time, he points to Tunisian civil society’s need to develop and adapt their technical and political skills to match the country’s current reform needs, and to further work on creating trust between civil society and political elites.

Levan Tsutskiridze, representative of the Netherlands Institute for Multi-party Democracy (NIMD) for South Caucasus, helped push forward Georgia’s political reforms after its “Rose Revolution” in 2003. During the debate, he focused on the role of technology to empower citizens and his professional experience with “liquid feedback”. A software tool used by the German Pirate Party, “liquid feedback” facilitates civic engagement in public policy making, as well as within political parties. Citizens can use it to register initiatives, and those with sufficient votes or likes, will proceed to  the decision making process. “This technology gives people easy tools to demand information and increases the urge for citizens to engage more directly with politicians.”

The debate’s moderator, Silvio Gonzato, Director for Human Rights and Democracy at the European External Action Service, drew some key conclusions: “we need long term education, constructive civil society organisations and civic public campaigns to foster democracy”. EED’s Executive Director Jerzy Pomianowski also noted that in today’s context of Europe’s refugee crisis, “we cannot forget some of its root causes: political systems that do not provide their citizens with democratic rights and dignity”.

The event was hosted at the premises of European Endowment for Democracy (EED)

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