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Thought Piece | I Have a Dream for European Democracy…

Ieva Česnulaitytė, Founding Head of Research and Learning at DemocracyNext

Chiara Rosselli, Executive Director of APROPOS

Lisa Witter, Co-Founder & CEO of Apolitical Foundation

This piece is a repost of content originally created by the European Policy Center and curated by Corina Stratulat, Senior Policy Analyst, who collected the democratic dreams of 36 women in occasion of International Women’s Day.

It contains three thought pieces by Ieva Česnulaitytė, Founding Head of Research and Learning at DemocracyNext; Chiara Rosselli, Executive Director of APROPOS and Lisa Witter, Co-Founder & CEO of Apolitical Foundation.

Ieva Česnulaitytė, Founding Head of Research and Learning at DemocracyNext

I have a dream that our innate capacity to collaborate and care for others, so apparent over the past year, will help us overcome autocratic tendencies in Europe.

As the brutal invasion of Ukraine began, everyday people in Europe, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, rose in solidarity: they donated, showed their support, hosted Ukrainians fleeing war and continue to do so.

We can foster people’s agency by giving them a meaningful way to continuously engage in public decision making with the help of Citizens’ Assemblies – a democratic model that has been perfected and implemented close to 600 times, as documented by the OECD.

In assemblies, governments bring together groups of people who are selected by lot and represent the society at large. Assemblies are empowered to learn, deliberate, build consensus, and develop recommendations that consider the complexities required for solving multifaceted public issues.

My research shows that deliberative assemblies create the conditions for each of us to meaningfully contribute to the common good, assess information critically, and harness our collective intelligence. In doing so, they lead to an increased sense of efficacy and agency. Assemblies build democratic resilience in citizens—which helps counteract autocratic tendencies and influences.

Deliberative assemblies have been strikingly successful in tackling difficult policy problems, from constitutional changes to allow same-sex marriage to climate change. Successful assemblies have been implemented in Poland, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Estonia. These are not merely democratic “experiments”—there are now permanent assemblies, integrated into local and regional government, operating in Paris and Brussels.

I have a dream that Europe will leap towards the next democratic paradigm of citizen deliberation, with Central and Eastern European countries at the forefront. The compassion and everyday heroism we are seeing in the face of this brutal war show the people are more than ready.

Chiara Rosselli, Co-Founder and Executive Director, APROPOS Group

I have a which we choose not to succumb to pessimism and powerlessness over the state of politics and of our democracies today.

Instead, we choose optimism as a tool and an act of rebellion. As a signal to ourselves and others that we will not give in to the “it is what it is” narrative that pervades so many of the spaces we occupy.

We choose to remember that democracy and societal progress take courage, not just tactics. That they require sacrifice and, let’s face it, some pain.

I have a which we make politics work, for what it is, and should be. An imperfect, delicate art of compromise and dialectic allowing people with different, valid values and lived experiences to prosper together.

I have a dream...for us as think tankers, non-profits, NGOs, and philanthropic foundations to stop pointing the finger outwards and start looking inward and ask ourselves: when did we stop believing in our own agency as a positive force for societal change?

I dream of the emergence of a new code of conduct – not for politics, but for us, the sector that is supposed to inspire and challenge, and take risks where politics can’t or won’t.

I dream of finding new ways to support politicians and enrich policymaking.

I dream of a political sector equipped with new communication and collaboration tools, and of policies that benefit from top-notch processes of creative thinking, deliberation, solution-scouting, experimenting, and decision-making across political, ideological, and geographical borders.

I dream of being able to put the community of process designers that we are building with APROPOS at the service of the political sector, policymakers and policy thinkers across Europe. I dream of supporting bold thinkers and doers with fit-for-purpose and impact- driven designs of spaces, exchanges, and processes.

I dream of our sector becoming the research and development investment that politics so sorely needs.

I dream of our sector providing spaces that empower the energy and idealism of youth.

I dream of our sector embodying dignity, pride, and ambition.

I dream of humanising politics and making our sector more accessible, more down to earth, less brutal, and more collaborative.

If this is something we want, not only for ourselves but for future generations of politically minded people, we need to start with ourselves. How we speak. What we dare to say or dream. How vulnerable we allow ourselves to be. How much skin are we willing to have in the game?

I dream of more of us working together across our institutes and sectors. I dream of a creative revolution for politics and a call to action to the world’s creatives to assist us in reimagining how we do the important and noble work that we do on behalf of European democracy.

Lisa Witter, Co-Founder and CEO, Apolitical Foundation

I have a dream that a ‘democratically elected politician’ is one of Europe’s top ten most respected jobs. What would be different in that world? I suggest a more just, equitable, and sustainable Europe.

This dream will first require us to change our narratives about politicians. It will require us to believe it is possible. Most politicians are intrinsically motivated citizens whose desire to bring about positive change has led them into politics. Pause before you say, “All politicians are (negative comment)”. I bet you can name at least one you admire.

Second, we need to support politicians: the ones we already respect in office and the future leaders we want to be elected. When was the last time you sent a note of thanks to a politician whose work you like?

We should be able to recruit and prepare the politicians we want, as we do for other professions. At the Apolitical Foundation, we see a surge of political leadership entrepreneurs running political leadership incubators around the world to recruit and train new, different, courageous, and ethical people – especially women –

to go into politics. This trend should be encouraged to continue.

I have a dream that every child from every background can grow up thinking that they too can be a politician and be proud to become one. Each of us can contribute to making this dream come true.


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