The most recent meeting of the EFC’s European Democracy Network took place earlier this month in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The meeting, entitled “Trust and truth in times of fake news: what can philanthropy do?” explored the impact of digital manipulation on our democracies, specifically focusing on public discourse in today’s society. Expert speakers such as Phil Howard of Oxford University analysed what has been seen in recent elections as well as looked ahead at what can be expected in both the short and medium term.
A new fund relating to democracy and solidarity in Europe was launched in 2017. Although this fund will be operating out of the Network of European Foundations (NEF), the EFC’s European Democracy Network will act as a kind of think tank for the fund, brainstorming potential areas for foundations to work together and exploring what their niche could be.
The EFC’s European Democracy Network, launched just 2 years ago, aims to establish a more strategic and effective strategy from civil society in its ambitions to promote democracy in Europe and the associated values and practices. The network came into being when a number of EFC members, interested in the topic of democracy, recognised that there was no formal space for learning and exchange.
In 2015, a mapping initiative was undertaken which aimed to better understand which organisations and areas were being funded and where the overlap was. This was complemented by a survey as well as a number of in-depth interviews with EFC members. Following this, a network was launched to strengthen democratic values and participation through cooperation and information exchange, and to create a sustainable, broad-based platform of independent foundations working towards a stronger European democracy.
Some of the issues that the network recognised, and would like to explore further include: participatory democracy and active citizenship, new technologies and the impact on democracy and the transparency of institutions. The network has been extremely active ever since its creation in terms of meetings, conference sessions and acting as a think tank for a newly created fund working in the field of democracy in Europe.
For the past 2 years, the network has shaped very successful sessions at the EFC’s AGA (Annual General Assembly). In 2016 the Amsterdam conference the session titled “Democracy in Europe, from utopia to dystopia – Where did we get lost? What went wrong?” created a stir by analysing the threats of the current state of democracy in Europe, and looking at how foundations can play a more relevant role at global and local level. In the 2017 AGA in Warsaw, the session titled “Revitalizing Democracy in Europe” looked at some out of the box ideas regarding citizen participation such as the citizens’ assembly in Gdansk.
The network’s launch meeting delved into the topic of citizen participation with the King Baudouin Foundation, (KBF), the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and Bertelsmann Stiftung presenting their past experiences in supporting active citizenship, along with many more attendees sharing their work in the area. A further meeting explored citizen disenchantment in western democracies using Brexit as a case study.
Initiatives undertaken to date showcase an active landscape in promotion of democracy and the associated values and practices. What is important in going forward is to continue to encourage and ensure this activity and participation in the aim of sharing knowledge, maximising results and creating strategies that will continue to question and explore what it is to be a democracy in Europe today.