Falun Democracy City: Bringing in the People
Until now, the capital of the central Swedish province of Dalarna, 250 kilometers northwest of Stockholm, has been primarily known for its deep copper mine and its high ski jumps.
More than a thousand years ago the world’s richest deposits of copper were discovered in Falun, which resulted, in the 13th century, in the city having the world’s first joint-stock company: Stora Kopparberg (The big copper mine). In the 17th century, when Falun was the second largest city in this northern kingdom, the mine (now on the UNESCO World Heritage list) supplied more than two-thirds of the global demand for copper.
In more recent years, this regional centre, set in a charming rural landscape with a university and provincial hospital, has hit the headlines primarily through its repeated hosting of the world championships in ski jumping and cross-country skiing - most recently in spring 2015 for the 50th Nordic World Ski Championships. This was the fourth such world championships in a city with a population of only 58000, far fewer than the hundreds of thousands of fans who show up.
”Best in Democracy” target
In fact, it was the latest world championships that sparked an intensive debate on how well - or poorly - local democracy was functioning. Critics of the financial outlay for the 12-day event complained that the Falun residents had not been sufficiently involved in the decision-making process for the event. Attempts by citizens to launch popular initiatives on the issue in the late 2000s were repeatedly rejected by the local parliament.
However, after the 2010 elections, the parliament had set up a Democracy Commission, with members from all nine of the political parties represented in the parliament. The Commission came up with the proposal for making Falun the best municipality in the country in participation, especially with regard to how citizens influence the political process between elections.
Why "Democracy City"?
The Democracy Commission established the keyword ”Democracy City” to describe the framework and to involve the local level as a framework of people power by investing in an infrastructure for active citizenship and participatory democracy.
In the course of a wide-ranging public consultation process, the Falun Democracy Commission produced proposals that became part of the 61-member local parliament’s “Democracy Plan 2015” proposals. The main aim of the Democracy Plan was to provide the city’s residents with better information and to support them in being involved in the political process. A particular focus of the measures was helping members of underprivileged groups (young people, immigrants, the unemployed) to exercise their civil rights.
This package approved by the local parliament included the following elements:
- The opening of a Democracy Centre in the city library as a very visible and accessible venue, meeting-place, symbol and shop-window for the “Democracy City”-initiative. Visitors to the former newspaper reading
room of the library will find informational materials published by the municipality, the political parties and interest groups on current political issues, forthcoming elections and major public projects. The Democracy Centre also serves as a (free) venue for meetings with politicians, representatives of the administration and interesting guests from outside the city.
- The creation of a Democracy Consultation and Advice function within the municipal administration. Falun has more than 4500 public servants. Two of these are now available as “Navigators” who become
involved when members of the public are pursuing a political issue that cannot be resolved by a simple phone call to a leading politician or a civil servant with relevant specialist knowledge. The Falun Democracy Navigators support citizens in choosing the right time and the right political tool at the appropriate political level to take forward their concern.the newly introduced “Democracy Passport”, which offers concise and targeted information on where and how members of the public can involve themselves in the political process - whether at the local, provincial, national, or even European level. Since the launch of the Democracy Passport, more than 15,000 copies have been issued; they provide a valuable social studies teaching aid especially in the municipality’s schools. The idea of the Democracy Passport has been adopted in other municipalities and even in the European Union (democracypassport.eu).