Béla Zsolt GERGELY, Program Manager, Municipality of Kistarcsa (Kistarcsa, Hungary)
Martin SYNKULE, Trainer, Institut pro regionální rozvoj, o.p.s. (Prague, Czech Republic)
The local workshop, entitled “Democratic Ownership and Civic Participation” was implemented in the framework of the IDEA C project funded through the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Commission. The project stemmed from the premise that citizens‘ participation in the democratic life of the European Union and the need for deepening the debate on the future of Europe present themselves as a transnational challenge within the EU. The workshop built on this core idea and tried to sensitize the audience by:
benchmarking successful models of awareness raising;
stressing the importance of volunteering as an expression of active citizenship;
showing municipal employees and other civil society actors how to run nonpartisan election campaigns;
familiarizing municipal employees and the other CSO participants with get-out-the-vote methods (for example: maximizing election visibility, door-to-door canvassing, election protection methods, "bring your parents to the polls", setting up voting plans, distributing sample ballots, etc.), especially ones targeting groups that are typically marginalized and are far from the centers of power, including ethnic minorities (e.g. Roma, migrants, etc.), unemployed youth and women;
sharing expertise and good practice.
The audience was comprised of employees of the Municipality of Kistarcsa and representatives of civil society organizations from Kistarcsa (HU), Prague (CZ), Banska Bystrica (SK), Warsaw (PL), and Uzhgorod (UA). The target group was disenfranchised communities and constituencies such as ethnic minorities (e.g. Roma, migrants, etc.), women and youth.
The primary message of the workshop was that the European Union is the future for the member states, in particular for the Visegrad Four countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic - all with record low turnout rates at the 2014 European Parliamentary Elections), and being an active European Union citizen, engaging in the democratic life of Europe, and participating in the decision making process via the tools available (first and foremost voting in European elections, national elections, and local elections; submitting petitions to the European Parliament; participating in European citizens’ initiatives; contacting the European Ombudsman's offices, etc.) ensures that the Union thrives as a democracy in these trying times.
The secondary message of the workshop was to show the participants that there are ways to encourage democratic and civic participation of citizens at EU level; what needs to be done at local, regional and national level to develop citizens' understanding of the EU policy making-process; what are the tools to promote opportunities for societal and intercultural engagement at EU level; and how to boost volunteering. Raising awareness of volunteering among the younger generations is extremely important, as it is an expression of active citizenship. The reason why volunteering is an essential element in active citizenship is that by giving one’s time for the benefit of others, volunteers service their community and play an active role in society. They develop the sense of belonging to a community thereby also gaining ownership. Volunteering is therefore a particularly powerful means to develop citizens’ commitment to their society and to its political life. Civil society organisations, associations of a European general interest, town twinning associations and other participating organisations often rely on volunteer work to carry out and to develop their activities. Therefore, particular attention should be paid to the promotion of volunteering.