Following a groundswell of popular opposition to the existing political system in 2009, the people of Iceland developed a unique approach to constitutional reform that prioritized transparency, openness, and public participation, and has been widely celebrated by both scholars and the press. It is reputed to be the world’s first “crowdsourced” constitution (Morris 2012), directly involving the public in the drafting process. Iceland is almost uniquely suited for this kind of process with its tiny and homogeneous population, high levels of education, voter turnout, and Internet access. One would think that if participatory constitution-making using online tools can work anywhere, it would work here. Iceland is thus a sort of "best case" in which we can look for measurable impacts of direct public participation on a draft constitution.
In the past decade, many scholars and policymakers have indicated that there is a ‘crisis of democracy’, as inter alia reflected in mass citizen protests, high abstention rates at elections, distrust towards political representatives, and indifference to political affairs. At the same time, however, a profound debate is going on about revitalising democracy through new forms of citizen participation, such as participatory budgeting, and invigorating deliberative democracy. Particularly, there has been a proliferation of direct democracy to pursue constitutional change.
Recent years have seen experimentation with participatory mechanisms expand to the constitution-making field. Whether macro level exercises, such as referendums on constitutional questions, or micro-deliberations such as citizen assemblies and constitutional conventions, they have been heralded as potential avenues for opening up the process of constitutional reform. Examples include the recent referendums on Scottish independence and the UK’s EU membership; the citizen assemblies set up in British Columbia, The Netherlands and Ontario; and the constitutional conventions in Iceland and Ireland.
There is a widespread, intensifying belief that without a greater involvement of citizens the EU is condemned to fail. While this realization is far from being new – having accompanied the EU integration process since at least 1992 -, recent events such as the Greek euro crisis, the migration crisis, the outcome of the Brexit referendum and the rising tide of anti-establishment, populist and often nationalist forces have further galvanized such a belief. Yet despite renewed, countless calls for the need to radically reform the EU machinery by EU leaders, little is expected to change. The 2017 White Paper on the Future of Europe is dramatically silent on the issue. This situation calls for a re-assessment of the role that EU citizens can – and should – play in the daily operation of EU policymaking.
Weaknesses in the EU’s responses to recent challenges, such as the 2008 economic and financial crisis and the refugee crisis, exacerbated the EU’s notorious democratic deficit. Most notably, there has been a significant increase in the citizens’ distrust to the EU institutions and the political system in the aftermath of the 2008 economic and financial crisis. Provocatively it could be argued that the EU’s democratic deficit has now turned into a legitimation crisis that is defined by Beetham as a crisis that erodes citizens’ beliefs that are necessary to the system to have a stable continued existence. The erosion of citizens’ beliefs is most strongly reflected in the 2016 UK referendum in which the majority of the voters opted for ending their countries’ EU membership. Accordingly, the EU’s stable and guaranteed future existence depends on the strengthening of its relationship with citizens.
The push for open government is turning into a global movement. By nature of its size and reach, the Open Government Partnership has become a central part of the movement, a place where reformers can make commitments and learn about one another’s innovations. My team, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) is responsible for evaluating those commitments (IRM basics here for those who need it).
In my opinion, one of the best things about OGP is that it is “open source” policy development. Governments and civil society try things out in public. Sometimes they succeed wildly. Other times they fail spectacularly. Most of the time, the story is somewhere in between.
The Co-operative Party, since its foundation 100 years ago in 1917 has been the designated political representative of the wider UK cooperative movement of member-owned businesses. Originally a ‘department’ of the Co-operative Union (the sector’s umbrella body), it enjoys contemporary independence from the CU’s successor, Co-operatives UK.
The frequency of health care reforms in England raises questions with regard to law’s ability to tackle issues affecting the financing and provision of health care services. The most recent reform of the NHS (Social and Care Act 2012) highlights the pressure put on the public power to find solutions in partnership with the private/for-profit sector. Be it, general practitioners acting as independent contractors, medical consultants engaging in the private practice of medicine, or other medical professionals providing health care services privately, for-profit actors have always participated in the organisation of health care systems and greatly impacted governmental decisions. Indeed, throughout history political institutions have been attuned to the for-profit sector’s direct and indirect input on health care policy. Nonetheless, scarcity persists and problems of access and availability are growing. Thus, the stakeholder’s incapacity to find sustainable systems to allocate resources has often been blamed for the NHS’ shortcomings.
Written by Andrea Felicetti and Donatella della Porta
Research on social movements has led over decades to a nuanced understanding of the ways in which movement contribute to democratic life. Today, the idea that social movements represent a dysfunction in the working of the liberal democratic order is clearly outdated. Yet, the success of these actors in developing democratic alternatives to the status quo is often questioned.
In representative democracies such as the United Kingdom and Australia, the legislative power is vested in the parliament. Parliament can pass laws on any topic it chooses within the scope of its legislative power. Within the scope of that power, there is no legal requirement for parliament to seek first the opinion of the people on any proposed legislation by way of an ‘advisory referendum’ (referred to as a ‘plebiscite’ in Australia). While the result of an advisory referendum might place political pressure on government or provide government with a political mandate, it does not place a legal obligation on government. Equally, the result from an advisory referendum does not bind members of parliament when considering any subsequent legislation on the issue that was the subject of the advisory referendum.
The idea for this paper originated from my conversations with two judges, respectively from Italy and the UK, between 2016 and 2017. I met the Italian judge in his top-floor office in Venice Tribunal’s historic building, a few yards away from the Rialto Bridge. The British judge, instead, greeted me in his courtroom in the very heart of London, where the Inns of Court are. The aristocratic atmosphere pervading such fascinating locations conveys the impression of judges being far away from migrants’ social and political struggles. This seems to confirm what Bruno Latour observed in his ethnography of the French administrative court: ‘the judges always keep themselves at a distance’. However, this paper suggests that first impressions can be misleading, showing how these two judges proved to be vehicles for migrants’ voices and interests. In this short outline of my paper, I will look first at the Italian case and then at the British one, drawing some conclusions at the end.
In April 2016, only some weeks before the EU Referendum, Theresa May argued that the country should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) yet maintain membership of the EU. In a statement of questionable constitutional deftness, the soon-to- be PM captured a decade of Tory scepticism about the democratic pedigree of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) by arguing that it ‘binds the hands of the Parliament’ without placing emphasis on national security or other governments’ human rights ‘attitudes’, and defended the introduction of a British Bill of Rights in lieu of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the ECHR. Although legal scholarship swiftly exposed a series of legal fallacies in the argument, there is yet another set of pressing questions requiring answers.
The 2014 Scottish independence referendum has been hailed as an example of citizen engagement and deliberation and the turnout on the day of the vote was the highest for any electoral event in the UK. Similarly, since 2011 the image of massive street protests in Catalonia in favour of an independence referendum, or more recently independence itself, have become commonplace and this well organised civil-society-led movement has put such strong pressure on the Catalan authorities that they are now beginning a unilateral process of ‘disconnection’ from the rest of the Spanish state.
Since parliamentary democracy has come under fire in many western European democracies, two ancient concepts from constitutional theory reentered the stage: sortition and the citizens assembly. David van Reybrouck took the Aristotelian claim that pure democracy requires a form of lottery and combined it with the dream of Rousseau that the ultimate sovereignty of the people lies in their own assembly. Although neither sortition nor citizens assembles are really new, Van Reybrouck made his claim so eloquently that he inspired many fellow citizens, both in Belgium and elsewhere.
Voting has long been the central point of constitutional contact between citizens and the body politic. However, long-established political institutions have stagnated in taking citizens interests into account . The citizens' discontent with their institutions has created a democratic malaise toward the representative democracy. Such malaise is observed through the declining rate of voter turnout, the citizens’ dissatisfaction with their institutions and their widespread negative judgment toward politicians.
The search for new mechanisms of public participation in policymaking has become a case in point in the international debate. In the last two decades, the wide range of participatory initiatives implemented on different scales has provided a vibrant mixture of aims, methods, and public policy domains. Against the growing impact of public participation in political life, some scholars have pinpointed a variety of risks related to the diffusion of buzzwords, and the “discursive crisis” casting a shadow over differences between opposing political views. While the larger narrative acts as a burden on the boundaries of what constitutes public participation and what it should be for, political representatives continue to experiment with forms of the engagement of people, with little commitment to providing evidence of their success.