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Usted está aquí: Inicio Acerca del CLAD Publicaciones Revista del CLAD Reforma y Democracia Artículos por número publicado 031, Febrero 2005 Participatory Budgets in Europe: Objectives and Challenges

Participatory Budgets in Europe: Objectives and Challenges

Yves Sintomer

In the last years, participatory budgets have spread quite quickly in Europe. They represent a tool that enables citizen to take part in the budgetary decision-making process, most of all at the town or city level. They imply a methodology that differs from place to place. At the end of 2004, around 50 local governments had begun such an experiment. This paper describes and analyses this development, exposing the first results of an international comparative research.

It compares various European countries in terms of participatory democracy and opposes the European experiments with those of Latin America, and especially with Porto Alegre’s one. What are the aims of participatory budgets? Three levels can be distinguished: the administrative, the social and the political. European participatory budgets contribute to the modernization of public management and, to a limited extent, to a political democratization. However, they hardly modify the social structure, a process that is one of the major outputs in Latin America. What are the actors of these experiments? Political parties, foundations and NGOs play a role, and the major peculiarity of European experiments is that they are top-down processes that are not based upon real social movements. Moreover, the middle class and the upper working class are those that are most active in the dynamics. What are the challenges participatory budgets have to face? The first one is efficiency: how can one make democracy compatible with administrative rationality? The second one is participation. One cannot decree it. It imposes looking for innovative methodologies and, perhaps, other political dynamics in order to find a real answer. The third challenge is instrumentalisation of civil society by the political system, which is more probable in the absence of social movement. It requires a strong political will and an adequate methodology. The fourth challenge is deliberation. How is it possible to organize a good deliberation, which goes from the neighborhood level to the global problems? The last challenge is democracy: how is it possible to articulate forms of direct participation and the classical representative democracy?

Some concluding statements present the most plausible tendencies for the future: the alliance between neoliberalism and authoritarian tendencies (the “Bush scenario”); neoliberalism softened by a reform of the State and some participatory methodologies (the “Blair scenario”); an internal reform of the political system and of the public management, which enables it to compete with the market, together with the introduction of some participatory mechanisms (the “social-democratic Scandinavian scenario”); and a participatory governance based on citizen participation and articulated with a strong modernization of the public administration (the “Porto Alegre scenario”).

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