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The OECD Global Forum: Building Trust & Reinforcing Democracy has now finished—but you can still watch all of the session replays!
For me, democracy is the only way of life. The opposite is dictatorship or anarchy.
— Elie Wiesel, Author and Nobel Peace Prize Laurate
It’s news to no one that our democracies are under pressure, both from within and without.
Political discourse and public debate have become increasingly polarised, with a growing number of citizens dropping out of traditional democratic processes or even protesting against them, sometimes violently. This is compounded by roiling geopolitical tensions, economic crises and creeping foreign influence in electoral and political processes, notably through mis- and dis-information. These tensions are making it difficult to reach consensus within societies and across countries on crucial global challenges such as climate change, which further undermines public trust in government. The OECD Trust Survey showed that while just over half of citizens think governments should be doing more to reduce climate change, only slightly more than a third are confident that countries will actually succeed in reducing their country’s contribution to climate change.
Yet as we are faced with these mounting challenges, we must not lose sight of what is essential: our modern democracies, while not without flaws, are worth fighting for. They guarantee us many freedoms that we now take for granted—free speech, the ability to participate in public life and vote, respect for justice and equal access to opportunity—and rights as basic as choosing where to live, and how and with whom to spend our time. And those are but a few examples. We must also remind ourselves of all that democracy has brought over the past 50 years: increased individual and social freedoms, long-lasting well-being gains, protection of minorities and vulnerable groups and relative peace.
We must come together as like-minded countries with shared values to work collectively to make our democracies resilient and fit for the 21st century.
We must not forget that our democratic institutions are the guardians and purveyors of those rights. Just ask citizens in countries that have reverted to authoritarian regimes how precious and fragile those “rights” are once they have been lost.
Now—more than ever—we must take stock of what we have done well and less well, listen and respond to citizens’ evolving needs and take the necessary steps to deepen and protect the fabric of our democracies. We must come together as like-minded countries with shared values to work collectively to make our democracies resilient and fit for the 21st century.
The OECD is at the forefront of this effort through its Reinforcing Democracy Initiative. On 18 November 2022, Ministers and high-level representatives from 38 OECD countries and the European Union, as well as some OECD accession candidate countries, met in Luxembourg for the OECD Public Governance Ministerial on “Building Trust and Reinforcing Democracy” to advance concrete actions to address the pressing challenges facing democracies today.
Drawing upon insights from a survey of over 50,000 OECD citizens on the drivers of their trust in governments, these actions focus on five key governance challenges for democracy:
- Combating mis- and dis-information. The massive spread of mis- and dis‑information poses a fundamental threat to the free and fact-based exchange of information that underpins democracy. By making it more difficult to access timely, relevant and accurate information and data, the amplification of mis- and dis-information content can undermine the public’s willingness and ability to engage constructively in democratic life and, down the line, the ability of society to forge consensus and protect free speech. While mis- and dis‑information are not new phenomena, they have largely been amplified by the new information technologies that have both allowed an enormous increase of diversity of sources and political voice for many, but also enabled malign actors to undermine the fabric of democracies. Efforts by civil society, media and governments are needed to build a whole of society approach to strengthen information integrity, by building solid checks and balances while ensuring the full preservation of free speech.
- Upgrading representation, participation & openness in public life. The OECD Trust Survey finds a widespread sense of lack of opportunities to exercise effective political voice in many countries. Less than one third of people (30.2%), say the political system in their country lets them have a say. In fact, more than four-in-ten respondents (42.8%) say it is unlikely that their government would adopt opinions expressed in a public consultation. Governments need to take a close look at how they are meeting the increased expectations of citizens for public participation and democratic representation.
- Transforming governance for digital democracy. The rapid digitisation of societies, economies and governments is changing and challenging the traditional institutional mechanisms supporting the functioning of OECD countries. While digital innovations originally expanded civic space, and citizens’ participation mechanisms have been made it easier, there are increasing concerns of traditional democratic institutions eroding in this new context. Developed for the analogue world, the institutions of OECD countries will need to continue adjusting and adapting to the digital age
- Governing green. The fates of democratic governance are interconnected with the climate and environmental action more broadly. Addressing global, systemic environmental challenges requires comprehensive and long-term efforts on all fronts and from all actors—yet there are critical tasks that can be carried out only by government. While success in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss will involve action from all actors in society, achieving the ambitious changes required necessarily depends on how governments steer and implement policies, both at home and internationally.
- Embracing the global responsibilities of governments and building resilience to foreign influence. Delivering for citizens in the face of the growing number of global challenges—pandemics, energy and cost of living crises, mis- and dis-information and climate change, among others—has not gotten any easier for democracies. At the same time, governments will need to become resilient to the destabilising impacts of foreign non-democratic influences. Strong public trust in governments’ capacity to respond to global challenges and robust public governance responses to foreign interference will be critical to reinforcing democracy.
The Ministerial meeting was preceded on 17 November by the OECD Global Forum, which gathered over 50 speakers from government, civil society, business and academia to provide wider perspectives on these critical challenges and delivered their views for consideration by Ministers the following day.