DGV IX in Erding: A New Framework for Innovation in Local Democracy 

 

As the German liberal political foundation, the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation for Freedom (FNF) has been active for decades in the promotion of freedom, rule of law, social market economy, human rights and democracy in many countries around the world. In Greece, we support liberal minded local politicians to promote democracy and open society because we believe that Cities and local communities play a crucial role in achieving positive results for the political challenges of our time, in sectors such as the economy, environment and integration of minorities of any kind. Moreover, in search of innovative solutions we turn to active citizens and local politicians to bounce ideas off and come up with an inclusive agenda for the future.

In this context, FNF participated in the 9th Greek-German Assembly (DGV) that took place in Erding, from November 5 to 7. DGV is a permanent bilateral forum for local administration and brings together every year many local officials from regions and cities, as well as relevant stakeholders, in a 3-day conference. This year, FNF participated with a delegation of young politicians and journalists with the theme “United Nations of Innovation: a liberal agenda for resilient democracy.” The purpose of this mission was to interact with other local politicians from Greece and Germany and, to discuss solutions to the question of how innovation and technology can make democracies more resilient, more efficient, transparent and citizen-oriented. Our focus is local democracy through the principle of subsidiarity.

Our panel discussion took place the morning of November 7 and it was moderated by Mr Christos Vouzas, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the local administration news portal aftodioikisi.gr. Mr Vouzas is an experienced journalist and in his introduction he referred to the creation of his website in 2008, when online information was in its infancy. He pointed out that one of the goals was “to create a democratic tool which would bring new media and new people in local governments; and, it seems that we have largely succeeded. Today, we have 120,000 unique readers per day, among them many young people (20-30 y.o.), making it one of the largest news sites in Greece and, of course, the largest portal for local politics.” Then he gave the floor to the panelists.

The first speaker of the panel was Mr Odysseas Nasimpian (21), the youngest councillor in the City of Nea Smyrni (near Athens) and one of the youngest elected councillors in Greece (May 2019). Nasimpian is a Law student at the University of Athens. He described how he conducted his own campaign and how his constituents, including his friends, responded: “Some of them were negative, others applauded my decision, but in the end most of them supported me,” he said. He added that he convinced them that his participation is meaningful should he was to support his political vision for the City and he applied new methods by giving out a USB bracelet with his information loaded.

Her own experience of joining political organisations to reach out to new people shared the political scientist Ms Theodora Pseftogiannis: “I hole the view that most young people are skeptical about politics. One of the reasons is that they feel that the older ones do not want them on their feet or if they are invited, they are invited only to catch votes from their fellows and then serve as decorative items,” she comented. Based on these facts, she described the ways in which she herself has approached young people, creating groups in which volunteering, giving to others, and entertainment coexisted. “So, when one sees within the group the outcome of their offer, it is easier for them to come into politics,” she summarised.

Panagiotis Bavaris (21) was the next to speak. A student of Accounting and Finance at Athens University, he was a candidate councillor at the City of Moschato-Tavros, a buffer town between Athens and Piraeus. Although he failed narrowly, the Mayor appointed him to chair the Committee on Youth Affairs. He cited the reasons why he was so young in politics, stressing that he wanted to contribute with fresh ideas about the place where he grew up in. “I believe that young people can bring new ideas and innovation to the government because our lives are intertwined with it,” said Bavaris who added that innovation and participation are inter-connected, proposing the use of electronic platforms for the getting more citizens involved.

 

Last but not least, Sophia Baskakis, talked about the role of local journals in the promotion of a resilient democracy. Baskakis is a journalist, Editor-in-Chief of north Attica and Boeotia “Apopsi Tora” newspaper, and a graduate of the London School of Journalism. She pointed out that since the beginning of the newspaper’s release and the operation of the website her aim was to keep informed all the people of the area. Knowledge is power, she said, and we want a liberal, pluralistic and tolerant community. For this reason, the web page highlights events related to young people and any innovations introduced by the Cities. “We report objectively about all social groups, migrants, the disabled, children, young people and strangers, and we give particular emphasis on the refugee crisis, reporting on the living conditions in the structure of Malakasa,” Ms Baskakis said. At the same time, she commented about the initiative of a dynamic group of young people who systematically promoted and ultimately contributed to the establishment and operation of the Special Secondary School in Oropos within just one year.