We would like to thank everyone who has met our European Capital of Democracy initiative with enthusiasm and joined us in our efforts to make it reality. They are politicians, political scientists, scholars, representatives of civil society and the business world, artists, engaged youths, and last not least our team. They all share fundamental democratic values and are committed to defending them. Their voices count in shaping this project.
“The democratic experience is about controlling our present and our future – at the workplace, in cities, at the level of nation states and the level of the European Union.”
Democracy, with its clear reference to its origin in ancient Greece and particularly in Athens, is very often an ideal that requires effort from everyone in order to become reality and to thrive. Because the fruit of democracy only blossoms when measure and moderation appear, when there is respect not only for our own freedom but also for the freedom of others. Therefore, what we are seeking is not only that good people are in the majority. But that we demonstrate, all of us, our best qualities. This is called political culture. Political ethos. And the ethos of politics becomes in a prospective way the ethos of society. As long as moral and social cultivation of the human being continues to develop, democracy will also keep growing, thus approaching its ideal form.
Democracy starts at home.
Actions speak louder than words. I am fed up with laments about democracies in retreat as uttered in panel discussions and at conferences around the world. The European Capital of Democracy is the opposite of empty phrases. Citizens will be empowered, new forms of participation will be tried and tested, and courageous politicians willing to engage with civil society will be rewarded. Building a constructive discourse on democracy, sharing best practice from all over Europe and showcasing achievements annually in the respective Capital of Democracy will not only be more fun than just another conference, it will also have an impact on the real world. And that is what the citizens of Europe deserve.
Cities have always been centres of democracy. But today they face the challenge of a growing gap between the residential population and the enfranchised population, which leads to problems regarding the democratic legitimacy of political decisions. Cities are therefore particularly called upon to facilitate the participation of all residents, by means of democratic innovations. Democracy is not a point of arrival but a process in which cities need to continually develop. Vienna is a good model in this regard, because it develops formats that enable all of the city’s inhabitants to actively participate in shaping the place where they live. Strengthening this will be a key objective of innovative, democratic cities in the future.
Democracy cannot be taken for granted … and this is especially true in 2020. Wherever we look around the world, we can learn what a precious form of society we should be proud of living in! Our music is dedicated to diversity, tolerance, dialogue, openness and open borders, which every one of us has to defend constantly. So our music is our form of support for what seems to us even more important these days. Take part. Move forward. We are democracy.
Democracy and cities have a common tense: the future. Both democratic negotiation as well as urban cohabitation are based on permanent change. There are no final certainties, everything is subject to the demand to change. With their promise of the future, cities are constantly attracting new ideas and people who are realising the ideal of democracy as foreign friends. The micropolitical experiences of the city have a great impact, often transversely to national structures. From Krutikov’s Flying City to the real utopias of municipalism, it is always about the question: How do we want to live together tomorrow, as strangers, next door to one another?
In our Europe, democracy is not a concept, but participation and policies that improve quality of life. The key to achieving this goal is to highlight best practice and efforts in the fields of policy, education, culture, social inclusion and innovation.
Here in Frankfurt we know that democracy is not a fair-weather event, not a straight line to heaven. Democracy must be fought for and defended anew every day, in a civil discourse between citizens with equal rights. This is exhausting, can be a pain in the neck – but it will always be worth it. The Paulskirche in Frankfurt is the cradle of German democracy. Here, in the heart of Europe, it has its beginning. And it is from here that we will discuss the present and future of democracy.
I support the European Capital of Democracy initiative because it is time to protect our democracies in Europe, by making them more resilient.
Already as a child I loved to travel to the European Capitals of Culture. It was thrilling to experience Europe, localism and culture all in one and I told my friends about it. The idea of launching the European Capital of Democracy is brilliant: one day it will be my children telling their friends in school that they have visited a European city in summer that was full of inspiration for sustainable communities, participation and democratic digitalisation.
Cities play a major role as incubators of democracy, and of participation by citizens in courageous and innovative ways.
Participation and new, tangible forms of democracy and structuring society are important in societies that are losing their substance. Therein lies the strength of the planned democracy prize for European cities. But participation is only the form, not the function of democracy. The goal of democracy is the preservation of the common good. A mechanism is needed in order to create it.
European cities are the cornerstones of democracy, both historically and in the present. Their provision of basic public services to citizens is an important element of municipal self-government and thus an important element of democracy itself.
Democracy is the most effective safeguard of the opportunity to build and preserve a dignified and blessed life. We must protect it as our most precious treasure.
Democracy was born in ancient Greek cities. The cities of today are still places where the real problems of real people are actually solved, regardless of the high-level ideology of national politics. I truly believe that this approach can bring about desirable change in our society.
Extreme polarisation is slowly killing democracies. Corrupt leaders subvert institutions. We should learn from each other. Be aware. Listen. Discuss. Draw lessons from history.
I made a promise to the voters to become the most democratic Mayor not only in Turkey, but in the whole world. From the day I took over this position, I have reminded my colleagues of this promise at every opportunity. As Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, we gather around the table and find solutions to problems together. I define it as ‘brave democracy’. We act on the principle of providing equal services for everyone, regardless of anyone’s beliefs, ethnicity, political views or personal preferences.
Democracy originated in urban society and that is where we need to revive it. Nowhere can good governance be more participative than in cities, nowhere else can people create so much positive change within a reasonable time.
When I first heard about the European Capital of Democracy, I was immediately convinced by the idea and concept. Democratic processes are changing in today’s world and innovative thinking and actions are needed: exchange of best practice across borders, and encouragement of active participation in the development of our societies by civil society, the corporate world, organisations and as many citizens as possible. My decision to support this initiative is based on the fact that we must not lose any more time in building, sometimes re-building, the best possible conditions for guaranteeing democratic, fair and open societies. It is impressive to see how many leading politicians, political thinkers, institutions and involved citizens have already joined in to bring the European Capital of Democracy to life. Its time has come.
I hope that cities are not only strongholds but also reformers of democracy. Both rural and urban populations have gone through a disillusionment process with neoliberalism and the old forms of representational democracy. This is largely the result of the financial crisis in 2008. To find a way out of the current crisis of democracy, we need to invest in citizens’ engagement. It is much easier to engage citizens in the political process at the local level, so cities can play a major role here. And, as we know, urban populations are more diverse, have more information available to them and have direct, more personal experiences regarding globalisation.
The world is changing quickly. Simultaneous transnational crises are challenging our established thinking and the practices of modern representative democracy.
People power at the national level has been weakened by polarised and populist politicians. But there is one democratic arena which displays fascinating resilience – and is producing innovative solutions with regard to the pandemic, the climate crisis and the fight against discrimination. Local and regional democracies point to a better future, in which all votes are counted on election day and all voices are heard every day. The European Capital of Democracy process is a critical contribution to strengthening this development and making it clear to everyone: we need more active citizenship, responsible leadership and good governance now.
We need to manage change in democracy if we do not want the enemies of democracy to do it for us.
SIR MICHAEL LEIGH
The initiative to launch a European Capital of Democracy programme is particularly timely. Cities, being closer than central governments to citizens and their daily concerns, are often better placed to push back against detrimental tendencies and help safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
Today, improving politics is essential for democracy in the changed environment. In daily work, it might often seem that there are good reasons not to change. So we need to provide encouragement and rewards – like the European Capital of Democracy initiative does – for offering new and real democracy to all.
The political scientist Robert Dahl once said: ‘The democracy of our successors will not and cannot be the democracy of our predecessors. Nor should it be.’ This means that democracy requires constant innovation. Cities play a central role in this process, as cradles of democracy and hotbeds of innovation.
I support the European Capital of Democracy initiative because democracy guarantees justice, freedom and peace in Europe. In times of terror and populism the joint endorsement of these values is more important than ever.
As the Mayor of Vienna, it is a great pleasure and an honour for me that the European Capital of Democracy initiative will be launched in our city. Vienna is among the most successful cities in the world in terms of quality of life, public infrastructure and social innovation. But to be successful, a city requires participation and cohesion; it must have the objective of enabling its citizens to shape their city together. The principle factor in making a city successful is real cooperation and collaboration between political leaders, administration, social sector partners and civil society. The development of a city is therefore inseparable from its democratic nature. Democratic cities are successful cities because they strive for social balance and enable participation. In a place where people live closely together, the way we live together will be continuously debated and negotiated. A democratic city provides the framework for this and facilitates democratic exchange, participation and codetermination. The European Capital of Democracy initiative is standing up for a strong Europe with resilient democracies based on our common values of social equity, wellbeing and human rights. As Mayor of the City of Vienna I offer my full support to achieving this objective and I wish the initiative every success.
We may exhaust ourselves in outrage over a lot of things these days. Forgetting that we always have the chance to act instead. The European City of Democracy initiative is putting the spotlight on those who are taking action already – for human rights, for democracy, for us. That is why I want to be part of it. Still outraged, but in a focused way for a change.
Our democratic societies in Europe are under assault. To win this fight we need to reduce fear of the future, foster a broad understanding of facts, lead by example and create constructive change. All of this, and more, requires efficient dialogue, cooperation and communication as well as space and structure – across borders and party lines. The European Capital of Democracy initiative will provide all of that, through – and for – all of us.
Democracy’, literally ‘rule by the people’, implies that all citizens should play a role in the governing process. Yet varying definitions of ‘the people’ and ‘rule’ have resulted in vastly different interpretations of the purpose and nature of democratic participation. As a result, consideration of the nature of citizen involvement in political decision-making has been a major concern of attempts to clarify the meaning of democracy. I see the European Capital of Democracy initiative in this broader context. It highlights new citizen-led forms of democracy in action and showcases models of democratic practice that will inspire us to build on our existing efforts, and to challenge the various and numerous anti-democratic dynamics our democracies face. In short it will help remind us why vibrant and resilient democratic cities are essential to Europe.
Democracy in Europe should be developed further to meet today’s challenges, and this can best be achieved in a cohesive society – working together, across borders and party lines. Only a joint effort by all democrats in Europe will succeed against anti-democratic and anti-European movements.
MARIJA PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ
Cities have a very special role in the development of our democracies. They act as crucibles of ideas, innovation and civic action – and ever more so in today’s fast-changing world. The European Capital of Democracy is a timely and welcome recognition of that fact. It will provide the double benefit of highlighting democratic initiatives and providing the catalyst for more as cities compete to hold the title – and then reap the benefits that come with holding it. This initiative also shows that at a time when democracies are facing a variety of pressures, there are people and organisations that are steadfast in their determination to ensure our societies remain open, inclusive and forward-looking. The European Capital of Democracy will provide welcome opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate that fact. It is a welcome new feature in the European constellation.
As a citizen I have always been a staunch believer in democratic practice. As a diplomat I know from empirical evidence that war between democracies is extremely unlikely.
This is the moment to reinvent and revive European democracy. So that Europe remains that unique space of freedom with great quality of life. And where today’s challenges – which are on an unparalleled scale – must and can be taken up together, in a living community such as the Renaissance city of Strasbourg.
If we want our children to inherit a world of lasting peace and human dignity, the time has come for all of us to defend, strengthen and build up democracy and European values.
We believe cities are rising actors that can deliver the necessary answers to illiberal populism and other global issues. They can also serve as a vehicle for relaunching a cross-border dialogue, based on collaboration and progressive values. Cities are in fact the link between the local and the global. They are places of inspiration, refuge, freedom and progress. Many of our own projects such as “New Urban Progress” take this perspective. To see European cities in a friendly competition for democratic values like participation is a fantastic vision. This is why we support the ECoD initiative by heart.
For me, democracy is based on openness, making use of the skills of residents and communities, non-discrimination and equality. I strongly believe in human rights, as well as equal and non-discriminatory participation opportunities for everyone. On the European, national and city level, people have well-established networks and democracy is a basic necessity of a functional society. Good practice has to be coordinated and disseminated, and the European Capital of Democracy initiative is a powerful way to do that.
Democracy is exchange of views. It is talking and listening.
It does not happen often in life that you learn about an idea and instantly know: ‘That’s it! A silver bullet!’ This was the case when my partner Josef Lentsch first mentioned the European Capital of Democracy idea to me while we were waiting at a gate at Berlin Tegel. After landing in Vienna, I called Helfried Carl to tell him about it – he was the Austrian ambassador to Slovakia back then. Helfried not only shared my enthusiasm but joined us immediately after leaving his post at the foreign ministry, to become the head of this initiative. Similar experiences followed with Patricia Kahane and many others. So it quickly became clear to all of us: The European Capital of Democracy is a great and necessary concept which has huge potential. The only thing we need to do is to build it! Today, many mayors, citizens, institutions and organisations have joined us to make it happen. As we have now reached the stage of officially announcing the start of this programme, we invite you to join and use the European Capital of Democracy as a platform to boost your own initiatives. We think cooperatively, and together we will find a way to meet your needs.
I am particularly honoured – in my capacity of Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for democracy and demography – to be the patron of this exciting event for the European Capital of Democracy! At this time of extraordinary difficulty and uncertainty, seeing this initiative taking shape and reaffirming the crucial role of our cities as strongholds and laboratories of democracy is reassuring and promising. My objective from day one was to invest all my energy in citizens’ engagement and to contribute to boosting their participation at all levels of decision-making. This is also the reason why I have been conducting multiple citizens’ dialogues all over the EU over the last year – because it is only through direct engagement that we can successfully and constructively go through the green and digital transition, as well as the demographic change that is ultimately affecting the very way we live together. And is there any better way to do it but on the level closest to our citizens – our cities? May this initiative be an inspiration for the future of democracy, and for the future of Europe as a whole.
“Values like truth, democracy and independent thinking are heavily under attack. And all of them are important pillars of prosperity – let us protect them!”
I believe that it is time for a new solidarity. New European Solidarity. We have to give our democracies new meaning and take them to a better place together. Therefore, I am certain that the European Capital of Democracy initiative is a path that will lead to us regaining trust in democracy – without doubt, the best form of government.
“I am a big believer in engaging people in the development of cities and the places where they live. Authentic and transparent local politics may help to restore trust in democracy.”
DAVID VAN REYBROUK
“We have democratised education, we have democratised information and communication. Now, let us democratise democracy itself. Let’s make citizens part of the decision-making process. Refusing to do so is refusing to bring democracy into the 21st century.”
“As a true advocate of cities becoming more inclusive, more responsive to people’s needs, more open and more transparent, I welcome and support the European Capital of Democracy initiative, a much-needed one for young democracies such as Albania’s, but not only for them.”
GERDI A. VERBEET
“Europe can only stay strong if it provides the will, the wisdom and the expertise of all its citizens with a strong voice when it comes to decision making – in villages and cities, in their own country and in the European Union as a whole. Therefore, I support this initiative.”
“While we reflect on the historic victory of the Polish Solidarity movement on its fortieth anniversary, we need to address the fact that our freedom and openness are in crisis. To defend the free and open world we need to firmly stand up to challengers that see our values and way of life as a threat. We need to make people feel once again that institutions represent them and are accountable to their voices.”
“Cities are the cradle of democracy. Therefore, they are the best place to start improving it.”
“Democracy in its best form is the rule of the many for the benefit of all. It ensures that people have a say in politics, that each single voice counts. People are enabled to deliberate, to voice their opinions, to decide, to take part in defining and amending the rules under which they live. Moreover, democracy ensures that governments can be made accountable for their decisions. The European Capital of Democracy will highlight best practice and thus motivate cities to strengthen democratic processes.”
“I am a European. I am a democrat. I want to live in a free and open society. And I want my children to live in one, too. Therefore, I have no choice. I must work for a functioning and desirable democracy and so I must also work for the European Capital of Democracy. It is as simple as that. But that’s enough about me.”
“Young people especially deserve to be able to continue living their lives in a free and democratic society. And to be invited to contribute their ideas and efforts to building it. The European Capital of Democracy will provide ample opportunities for exactly that.”