Bern authorities have given the go-ahead for the city to host the ninth Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy next year.
The decision, taken by the city council (local executive) on Friday, means that some 500 participants from over 50 countries will descend on the Swiss capital from September 23-26 next year to discuss various aspects of people participation in the modern age.
Though dwarfed in size by some of the previous cities that have hosted the forum (Seoul, San Francisco and Rome), Bern, as the centre of Swiss direct democracy, is well placed to welcome such discussions, according to mayor Alec von Graffenried.
“The conference and its goals fit perfectly in the Swiss capital, with its tradition of direct democracy and its ongoing efforts to expand people participation,” von Graffenried said.
“The event will be an opportunity for Bern to put itself at the forefront of international efforts to promote direct democracy.”
Von Graffenried added that direct democracy is a successful political model, but it can also create confusion and uncertainty, as Britain’s 2016 referendum about membership of the European Union shows.
“The example of the Brexit vote shows the chances and risks of citizens’ participation in political decision-making,” he said.
Coming full circle
Along with discussing how direct democracy functions in Switzerland at state and regional levels, the forum will also look at issues like federalism, direct democratic tools, and people participation.
Bruno Kaufmann, co-president and one of the founders of the Global Forum, says the first such conference took place in the Swiss town of Aarau in 2008external link. Now it is coming back to Switzerland after having met in Asia, North and South America, and Africa.
“The world has changed a lot in those 12 years. Switzerland’s system was once looked upon as a curiosity. Now it’s considered a reference,” he said.
Kaufmann added that democracy had moved forward not just in Switzerland. Other countries have also developed innovative ideas over the past decade, from which Switzerland can benefit.
He pointed to moves to increase transparency, to engage foreign residents in politics and the digitalisation of voting procedures.
After last year’s edition in Rome, where a Magna Charta for a global alliance of cities was launched (see below), this year the Global Forum will pass via Taiwan (October 2-5) before coming to Bern in 2020.