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By Arne Øren, chairman of Østfold county council
An active democracy, the basis for sustainable communities in a secure world 2004-06-20
This speech was given at the PIPE EXPO 7 May 2004. Mr. Arne Øren is the president of the Østfold county council. Østfold is acting as the Lead Partner of the PIPE consortium. "Democracy is a challenging form of government. It demands tolerance and openness, active participation and cooperation."
 

An active democracy, the basis for sustainable communities in a secure world.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends and PIPE participants,

Democracy is a challenging form of government.

It demands tolerance and openness, active participation and cooperation. Democracy is about human values, and is in fact a form of living and working together not just a form of government.


It is our common task to show that the best way to meet future challenges is to work together within the framework of democracy. And we have to address one of the most dangerous threats to democracy in many countries, namely the feeling that "it does not matter what I think, say or do", and the often widespread frustration arising from this attitude.

This is what PIPE is about. When we engage and involve all citizens in community development we can reduce the distance between "the rulers" and "the ruled".  More human resources are made available to formulate and implement visions and concrete measures. And through the stimulation of innovative and entrepreneurial skills, new ways of local and regional development can be found.

In PIPE, the participants have experienced in practice how local democracy works and how to cooperate with other people to strengthen the democratic ideas. You will be able to study some of the contributions and results at the exhibition.


I am really impressed by the engagement and achievements of the more than a thousand individuals that have been involved in project activities. Most of them are young girls and boys who have analysed the participating communities, come up with concrete suggestions to improve the local conditions and implemented appropriate actions. Many youth enterprises have been initiated, some of them based on ideas that can be developed into commercial products and services.

Students, teachers, local politicians, administrative leaders etc. have participated in local and trans-regional activities. They have exchanged views, experience and knowledge in order to agree on development plans for their own communities as well as laying the basis for future learning and cross-sectorial networks. And interregional exchanges of students and teachers have widened the horizon of participants, spread valuable impulses and established new friendships.

During the project, many young people have achieved competence in working with partners from other countries and in presenting views and findings to international audiences. And teachers, politicians and administrators have experienced the value of joining forces in local development.


Seven countries have participated in the PIPE project, all of them belonging to the Northern Dimension of European politics. Some regions are situated in the Baltic Sea area, some belong to the Barents Sea area. This North-South dimension of the PIPE project has proved to be very stimulating for the project as such as well as for the individual participants. In this way we have been able to show even more of the diversities in our Northern European neighbourhood, but also been able to illustrate more of the similarities in challenges and ambitions.


In many parts of the world frustration and misery combined with a feeling of hopelessness lead to violent acts. I find it easy to understand that desperate people are willing to use any means to improve their situation, although we have to condemn some of the methods. We live in a world where we are getting more and more involved with each other and more and more dependent on each other. We are linked together in a common destiny, and must act together according to that. Therefore we must never be so occupied with our domestic matters that we forget to go into the reasons behind the misery, and contribute to sustainable solutions to fundamental problems. This is one of our duties as fellow human beings, but also in our own interest. 

The global development may have its negative effects. But it also makes it easier than ever before to communicate with each other, to convey knowledge and experience from one country to another, to establish real international cooperation. This is a good basis for people-to-people contacts across borders. Networks between local and regional authorities can contribute a lot to such activities - be it on the European level, on a macro-regional level like the Baltic Sea area or be it in a direct two-way cooperation between regions or municipalities. But it is as important to stimulate organisations, institutions and individuals in all sectors of life to cooperate closely to define common challenges, learn from each other and find better solutions.


In Northern Europe we are lucky to live in a peaceful part of the world, with a common desire to solve problems and matters of disagreement with democratic means.

Cultural, social and economic differences between the regions and countries represented here are easily recognized. And we need to know and understand those differences in order to cooperate closely. Both in the Baltic Sea area and in the Barents Sea area there are great challenges related to the need for more social and economic cohesion, and many basic problems have to be addressed in that connection.

But differences are not always connected with problems. There are also differences that can contribute to mutual progress. We can all benefit from exchanging concrete knowledge and valuable social competence like how we care for our family members, friends and other fellow citizens. And the cultural differences are essential to the cultural diversity which is such a valuable aspect of life and the basis for a rich and stimulating national and international community.

We have to be aware of differences. But it will be a big mistake if we let that awareness overshadow all the similarities that can be found between us, and our common values, challenges and interests. The underlying values of democracy and human rights are the same.

The recognition of differences and similarities can enable us to work together to develop sustainable communities and achieve social balance, political stability and economic progress. But most important of all: we can develop communities where every citizen is able to contribute, to have influence, to benefit from the common good which really belongs to all, to have equal opportunities for a meaningful life regardless of economic or social background, and to have a profound feeling that he or she is a valuable and appreciated member of a community.


A community can be compared to a big tree. The roots go far into the ground to find nourishment and to give stability so that the tree does not fall. In order to stay alive and to grow it also needs branches and leaves that can find nourishment in the air and from its surroundings. The flowers attract insects and other creatures that assist in spreading the seeds so that other trees can be borne.

Any community needs to be rooted in historical, cultural and social traditions. It needs its own identity. Throughout history we can find many examples showing how the specific identity of a group of people or a nation has helped them to survive during difficult times.

A community must also be open and receptive to impulses from outside. Without such impulses the necessary modernisation may never take place, and the future of the community will be doubtful. But we also have to be aware that part of the external influence may have negative effects on cultural diversity, often supported by commercial or technological strength. It is therefore essential that we are able to find the right balance between local identity and receptiveness of external influence. The point of balance has definitely changed from the days when I was a young man - in the direction of more openness and receptiveness. I very much appreciate that the importance of cultural diversity has now caught more international awareness as a counter-weight to the widespread opinion that the only valuable things in life are those having a price tag. 

And to fulfil the comparison with a tree: A community must also have some kind of "flowers" that attract people who can contribute to further growth. Good employment and housing opportunities are needed, as are school and health facilities, recreation opportunities etc. 


I firmly believe that the simple but essential values embedded in the slogan from the French revolution - Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité - should still be the basis of our communities. And not only in a national, regional and local context. These same values must be the basis for interregional and international cooperation if we shall succeed in building a more secure world based on fundamental human rights. 

It may be true as often said, that it is a more complex task to run a community than it used to be. But as I have already described, the general goals for our endeavours are as evident and simple as they were before.

One may wonder why we do not spend more time stressing these goals and the underlying human values. May be it is true that the majority of politicians as well as other community leaders have lost both the visions and the courage related to community building - in our efforts to reach the highest rate of economic efficiency in all aspects of life. We are so much occupied with the complexities that we may often use this as an excuse for not tackling urgent and simple needs and solutions. I believe that young people can help us a lot in this connection. They often know better than the rest of us what is needed to make a community attractive also in the future. They have the visions, they are not tied up in old thinking, they are open to new ideas, they have the guts to tell us what should be done, and they have the strength to do what is necessary. 


This is the closing conference of the PIPE project, but it should not be the end of the journey. The real challenge now lies ahead.

How can we use the findings and the networks of the PIPE project to continue and keep up our endeavours to improve local communities and strengthen the democratic ideas? And how can we contribute to spreading the visions and experience to other regions within the Northern Dimension area as well as other parts of Europe?       

The PIPE philosophy is consistent with the European Union's interest for the engagement of young people in community development and democratic life, as outlined in the Commission´s White Paper from 2001. Our project can contribute with valuable and useful input to the follow-up of those European intentions and objectives.

The PIPE methodology should be of great interest to teachers, school leaders and people working with educational policy in various countries. The methodology connects school activities to local development, cross-sectorial activities and trans-regional cooperation. It makes the school system more open to impulses from outside as well as it increases the possibility to convey and use school competence in the surrounding community. In this way schools can be important hubs for local development.

The Future Charters agreed upon by local authorities and young people in many municipalities as part of the PIPE project, may serve as concrete examples to other local communities. The preparation of the Charters can demonstrate how various groups may be involved in community development, and how visions and new ideas can be combined with practical planning.

Both in the Barents and the Baltic Sea regional cooperation, youth activities are among the important priorities. Let me just mention that within BSSSC, which is the organisation for cooperation between regions in the Baltic Sea area, youth was a central topic at the annual conference at Lillehammer in 2002. And at the conference in St. Petersburg in 2003 there was a special presentation of the PIPE project.

It is a general intention of the BSSSC to strengthen the cooperation with the Barents region within the framework of the Northern Dimension Action Plan. The PIPE project has proven that the North-South dimension of cooperation is as essential and valuable as the more traditional East-West dimension. On this background I feel that it will be appropriate for BSSSC to follow-up important PIPE findings, and I believe that the same will be true in the Barents region.


Many institutions and organisations need to be involved in our future activities. But we must always remember that a good and attractive community can never be built by "some one else". It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to contribute. To make this come true it will be necessary that we all - especially the political and administrative leaders - are willing to evaluate our various actions and reactions. Do we welcome various - and sometimes awkward - inputs from the public, do we take citizen participation seriously? And not least: Do we really consider youth visions, engagement and resources to be an asset and not a nuisance? 

We must see to it that national, regional and local authorities formulate and introduce appropriate attitudes and working methods for citizen participation. And we must all actively stimulate the inhabitants in our own region and our own municipality to use their innovative and entrepreneurial skills to the best of the common good.


The PIPE project reminds us that a community is not just a number of individuals belonging to a certain geographical area - it is a living organism where all parts are dependent on each other. I therefore thank you all for what you have accomplished, and look forward to the future with great expectations.


Thank you for listening.