COVID-19 accelerates the digital transformation of local democracy.

COVID-19 accelerates the digital transformation of local democracy.

0n 10 December 2020, Rait Pihelgas (EE/Renew Europe), Chairman of the Järva Municipality Council made following remark.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting increased use of digital tools can be seen as an impetus for regional and local authorities to become fit for the digital age. The opinion “Strengthening local governance and representative democracy via new digital technology instruments” presented by Rait Pihelgas (EE/Renew Europe), Chairman of the Järva Municipality Council and adopted at the Committee of the Regions (CoR) plenary session on 10 December also stresses that new digital technologies and tools have the potential to improve the quality of decision-making and transparency, promote communication, foster active citizenship and engagement in political life and therefore enhance local democracy on a permanent basis.

One of the many challenges that local and regional authorities are facing is the transition to a new digital world. It requires important changes and local democracy should adapt to these changes and grasp the opportunities associated with new digital technologies and ICT-tools – such as using electronic forms alone saving time for citizens and public authorities.

For CoR rapporteur Rait Pihelgas, “Digital developments give opportunities to create a new environment for consultation and participation, provide high quality information, analyse public response, extend efforts to remote areas, reach out to the most disadvantaged citizens, incorporate the skills, knowledge and expertise of citizens, and “co-create” policies according to their needs and expectations”.

But going digital can be data and resource consuming and shouldn’t leave people aside. Public services offer or citizens’ participation should be founded on non-discriminatory access to information and knowledge. Digital divide should be narrowed by empowering people through education and training, prioritizing training for elderly people and other vulnerable or marginalised groups. To this end the CoR comes up with measures to motivate and reward local and regional authorities to encourage them to apply the principles of open and inclusive administration.

The committee considers the Conference on the future of Europe as an opportunity to test digital participatory tools to strengthen representative democracy, gain citizens’ trust and integrate regional and municipal examples where citizens are involved in deliberative processes and on their feedback mechanisms. To this end, the CoR proposed in October 2020 to develop a digital tool called CitizEN – Citizen Engagement in the EU Network to involve citizens in policy-making.

“Let’s make Europe fit for the digital age; let’s start with our local and regional authorities first. Building on our European values and strengths, we can reinvigorate our democracy through this digital transformation.The use of modern ICT and engagement might be time consuming, but if the outcome is a more coherent society or a transparent local government, it is worth investing it”, Mr Pihelgas concludes.

Source: COVID-19 accelerates the digital transformation of local democracy (europa.eu)

Photo Credit : https://pixabay.com/photos/smartphone-face-woman-old-baby-1987212/

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