Does ‘E-democracy’ and the digital engagement of a tech-savvy organised citizenry herald a new era of disruption for old style ‘politics as usual’ in Europe?

Yes, according to many of the 1,0000 activists, bloggers, social entrepreneurs and civil society representatives drawn to Strasbourg this week from over 100 countries for the 6 day World Forum for Democracy brain-candy jamboree.

World Forum for Democracy

The joyous energy and networking on show throughout the event threatened a conversion of Damascene proportion for any cynic who dared to dismiss online activism as the pretension of keyboard warriors, lost in tech-heaven and clueless to the conditions needed for effective social and political action.

Change.Org India’s Preethi Herman, winner of the Alsace Democracy Prize, spoke for many of those present, when revealing the vital interplay between online and offline campaigning.

“An E-petition is not a campaign in itself,” she said. “It needs to be supplemented with mobilisation on-ground. That’s what Change.org does. It supports people to try and convert all of these issues into campaigns.

“We are not promoting propaganda or an agenda. Our belief is in the power of people. People create the change they want create. We are not directing any of that. If that is something that government needs to be worried about then there is something really wrong in the concept of democracy itself.

“We’ve seen several victories which is a clear indication that policy-makers are beginning to take notice and change is happening.”

All the fun of the forum is now online, on Twitter and here - an early Christmas present for policy wonks, idea-junkies and all those interested in going beyond the headlines of ‘Punch and Judy’ politics, to see where democratic activism is really headed.

More grief for Greece

Addicts of another kind were uppermost in the minds of Pompidou Group policy specialists meeting in Greece to launch the 2014 Drug Prevention Prize and to respond to one of the bleakest effects of the country’s financial implosion. Research shows that austerity has lead to a significant increase in the number of drug-users and HIV and infectious disease-sufferers.

The British Daily Mail newspaper may have caused some to spit out their breakfast in shock with its report that Greeks were deliberately allowing themeslves to be infected with the virus in order to qualify for state benefits.

“Desperate Greek citizens are intentionally infecting themselves with the HIV, in a bid to qualify for benefits which are given to sufferers of the killer virus,” it revealed breathlessly. “Sufferers of the virus qualify for €700 (£590) per month under Greek law.”

The Pompidou Group’s ‘Athens Declaration’ response, registered “great concern” at the “changing patterns of drug use under circumstances of strict austerity measures, such as the possible risk of an earlier onset of drug use, the increasing prevalence of injecting use, relapses, risk taking, overdosing, particularly among vulnerable groups; the increasing incidence of poly-drug use, involving illicit and licit substances, the impact of such behaviours on public health as well as on criminality.”

The declaration urged “all actors in drug policy to initiate and support immediate political action to mitigate the impact of economic crises, particularly on the most vulnerable, and to guarantee broad coverage, accessibility and quality of essential services, despite budgetary constraints.”

Portugal’s jail crisis

What explains the increase in Portugal’s prison population, noted with concern in a new report from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT)?

Its authors revealed that jail numbers have risen by 1,000 in 15 months and are hopeful that the country’s authorities will now introduce “effective measures” to deal with the prison overcrowding crisis.

Minority celebrations

No-one was forced to stay in Strasbourg when celebrations began to mark the 15th anniversary of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM).

The convention emerged amid the chaos of conflict in the former Yugoslavia and the Caucausas. According to Rainer Hoffman, a former chair of the Advisory Committee to the FCNM, the treaty’s greatest success has been to detoxify the relationship between majority and minority groups and to encourage the feeling that disputes can be settled without resort to arms. There is more on the story in this week’s video news journal.

Votes for prisoners

The votes for prisoners row in the United Kingdom shows no sign of abating. The Guardian newspaper reports that the country’s longest serving appeals court judge, the wonderfully titled Sir John Laws, used the third of his Hamlyn lectures to argue that the court “should not have the last word on interpreting the human rights convention.”

The newspaper added that, in so doing, Sir John “questioned an important principle laid down nearly 10 years ago by Lord Bingham.”

The Guardian attributes to Sir John the view that “there may perfectly properly be different answers to some human rights issues in different states on different facts. I think the Strasbourg court should recognise this.”

The newspaper then offered the opinion that “his comments will be welcomed by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, who believes that the human rights court has lost its focus and wants to become a supreme court for Europe. But Laws made it clear he was not questioning the court’s powers to make rulings that were binding on the UK under international law.”

For another interesting take on the votes for prisoners row, look no further than Helen Fenwick, author of an absorbing piece for the UK Constitutional Law Group blog.

Her pitch is that “the prisoners’ voting rights saga graphically illustrates the need for sensitive and subtle use of the concept of subsidiarity and reliance on a dialogic approach, in an increasingly nationalistic Europe.”

As usual, the court made headlines with current judgements too. Notably, a Muslim woman’s challenge to France’s full-face ‘Burqa’ veil ban and a German sex offender’s protest against Germany’s system of preventive detention attracted the attention of many of the region’s scribblers and whisperers.


Meanwhile the Parliamentary Assembly’s network of MPs was offering support to the global demonstrations of compassion for female victims of violence and through force of excellence and conviction, calling attention to its superb Facebook page, probably the best of its kind within the Council of Europe online environment.

No Turkish delight

At the same time, the Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks was insisting that Turkey should focus on “the long-standing, serious human rights problem of the misconduct of law enforcement officials.” Pulling no punches in his report which examined the police , Muižnieks declared that “It is time for the Turkish police to improve their record of compliance with human rights standards.

“There are serious, consistent and credible allegations of excessive use of force, in particular excessive and improper use of tear gas and ill-treatment during and after apprehensions.

“These raise very serious concerns, requiring a determined response from the Turkish authorities, such as clearer rules about the proportionate use of force by law enforcement officials in the context of demonstrations. Safeguards against ill-treatment should be strengthened and the right to free assembly better upheld.”

And so to next week

Next week, the spotlight will fall on Europe’s disabled. Correspondent Zara Todd, spelt out the expected response from policy-makers in exemplary fashion.

Other highlights include protests of ‘secret rendition’ for Poland to answer at the court, a cyber-crime conference and Nils Muižnieks’s ‘Issue Paper’ on the impact of austerity measures on human rights.

Click here for more information on the organisation’s activities over the next seven days.

Bon Weekend

Something for the weekend (14)

Show more