Multi-level Governance: Democracy at a turning point

Declining voter participation in regional, national and European elections is food for thought – Have citizens veered away from politics? There are still contrary tendencies to today’s disenchantment with politics in general. These contrary tendencies were spotlighted at the convention “Multi-level governance and citizen participation”, which took place on January 17th, 2014 at the EURAC in Bolzano-Bozen: Municipalities which involve their citizens in decision making processes in domains like building development or budgeting have experienced high involvement levels, according to attending experts. The convention was hosted by the EGTC “Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino” together with EURAC’s Institute on Federalism and Regionalism.

Well-distinguished key note speakers: Anna Gamper, Umberto Allegretti, Francesco Palermo, Jens Wölk (from left to right, picture: EURAC)
Zoomansicht Well-distinguished key note speakers: Anna Gamper, Umberto Allegretti, Francesco Palermo, Jens Wölk (from left to right, picture: EURAC)
Great interest in participative democracy on behalf of the audience (picture: Armin Gluderer)
Zoomansicht Great interest in participative democracy on behalf of the audience (picture: Armin Gluderer)
Multi-level governance in the digital era (picture: Armin Gluderer)
Zoomansicht Multi-level governance in the digital era (picture: Armin Gluderer)

„Democracy as today has reached a turning point. Citizens are well-informed and are no longer willing to accept a top-down approach in politics and to be solely represented by elected politicians in democratic decision making. They want to make more decisions by themselves. Therefore it is a key priority to introduce innovative and complementary instruments to ensure the people’s participation in democratic decision making processes”, stated Francesco Palermo, head of EURAC’s institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism,  as well as Birgit Oberkofler, representative of the EGTC “European Region Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino” during their inaugural addresses at the convention.

Multi-level governance is pioneered especially at a regional level. In Italy Tuscany was the first state to pass a law regulating the participation of citizens in detail. Since 2007 citizens within Tuscany have their say on all mayor social and societal issues that affect them, like local public works, transport infrastructure projects and others, reported Umberto Allegretti. Allegretti is a distinguished expert specialized in the field of participatory democracy and researcher at the University of Florence.

According to Luigi Spagnolli, mayor of Bozen-Bolzano, instruments based upon multi-level governance principles are only rarely used in the Autonomous Province of Bozen-Bolzano. “Decisions cannot always be taken by everyone at the same time”, stated Spagnolli but then added: “Those who make the decisions in the end must include the expectations and opinions of all citizens. Every citizen is a stakeholder and needs to feel involved.” 

The convention at the EURAC marks the final event of a two-year-long research project about participatory democracy undertaken by EURAC’s Institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism in collaboration with the German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer. Karl-Peter Sommermann explained: “At the University of Administrative Sciences Speyer we research how the citizens’ confidence in politics can be re-strengthened. Furthermore we do research on new forms of governance and we try to estimate the potential impact of these instruments.”

“Research in this particular domain is important to discover the potential benefits of various forms of civic participation”, added his colleague Cristina Fraenkel (EURAC) who was responsible for the coordination of the joint project. “In contrast to forms of direct democracy, in participative democracies citizens can also play a consultatory role by contributing suggestions which add to the decision making process. The participatory character of the decision making process may enhance compliance and shared consensus about the decisions once they have been made. Therefore we hope for an increased application of these participative instruments also within the European Region Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino”, concluded Fraenkel.

The collaborative research project was financed by the Autonomous Province of Bozen-Bolzano. 

 Interview with Karl-Peter Sommermann - German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer:

"What significance has democracy research at the University Speyer?"



 Interview with Anna Gamper - University of Innsbruck:

"What is the relationship between federalism and participative democracy?"


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