Faced with the accumulation of crises that are weakening Western democracies (rise of populism and abstention, challenges and demands to institutions, health crisis…); institutions, civil society and citizens are looking for solutions. They are experimenting with new ways of bringing democracy to life within local communities. Cities seek to analyse collectively the opportunities and risks in order to think together about the future of local democracy in Europe. Will salvation come from an unprecedented alliance of representative democracy, deliberative democracy and contributory democracy?
Johanna Rolland, mayor of the city that won the European Capital of Innovation Award for 2019, welcomed Nantes’ commitment to a more effective democracy. The establishment of citizens’ consultations and support for local initiatives that emerged during the lockdown were particularly significant. The health crisis has revealed the fragility of the system, while at the same time providing an opportunity for transformation for local authorities. The President of Nantes métropole recalled the importance of putting citizens at the heart of innovation so that they are actors in it, by including them, for example, in the local democratic process.
European Commissioner Dubravka Suica said that political participation is expressed far beyond the ballot box, through the establishment of a real citizen dialogue. Adhering to the idea of a bottom-up movement in the decision-making process, she noted that the role of the politician today is different: it is a question of making the link between citizens and those who govern them. The answers to these new problems lie in democratic and civic innovation.
According to Judith Ferrando, co-director of Missions Publiques, it is now essential to ensure that political decision-makers are able to take into account the voice of citizens, even if it sometimes proves to be particularly critical, in order to draw the necessary conclusions. The way of thinking about democracy has been shaken by the multiplication of crises in recent years, and represents an opportunity to set a common course for politicians and citizens.
Finally, Jean-David Malo, Director of the European Innovation Council for the European Commission, intervened to share the words of Commissioner Mariya Gabriel. According to him, cities are today an integral part of the innovation sector, because it is where innovation develops in order to respond to local challenges. It has become urgent to take more risks in local policies, which the European Commission intends to encourage by giving entrepreneurs and communities the right to make mistakes. He praised the exemplary role of the city of Nantes, which has been able to innovate with and for its citizens.