Council of Europe definition of Active Citizenship

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April 14, 2013
Council of Europe definition of Active Citizenship

The Concept of Active Citizenship

There is no universally accepted definition of Active Citizenship and no standard model of what an active citizen is. But there is general agreement that it refers to the involvement of individuals in public life and affairs. This can take place at local, national and international levels. The term is used especially at local level to refer to citizens who become actively involved in the life of their communities tackling problems or bringing about change or resisting unwanted change. Active citizens are those who develop the skills, knowledge and understanding to be able to make informed decisions about their communities and workplaces with the aim of improving the quality of life in these. At national level it can move from voting to being involved in campaigning pressure groups to being a member of a political party. At international level the global active citizen may be involved in movements to promote sustainability or fair trade, to reduce poverty or eliminate slavery.

An active citizen is not necessarily a ‘good citizen’ in the sense that they follow the rules or behave in a certain way. An active citizen may challenge the rules and existing structures although they should generally stay within the bounds of democratic processes and not become involved in violent acts. There is a general set of values and dispositions that can be associated with active democratic citizenship including respect for justice, democracy and the rule of law, openness, tolerance, courage to defend a point of view and a willingness to listen to, work with and stand up for others.

Active Citizenship is a form of literacy (1) : coming to grips with what happens in public life, developing knowledge, understanding, critical thinking and independent judgement of local, national, European, global levels. It implies action and empowerment, i.e. acquiring knowledge, skills and attitudes, being able and willing to use them, make decisions, take action individually and collectively.


We can identify some key characteristics of Active Citizenship:

  • Participation in the community (involvement in a voluntary activity or engaging with local government agencies)
  • People are empowered to play a part in the decisions and processes that affect them, particularly public policy and services
  • Knowledge and understanding of the political/social/economic context of their participation so that they can make informed decisions
  • Able to challenge policies or actions and existing structures on the basis of principles such as equality, inclusiveness, diversity and social justice.

(1) Council of Europe, Education for Democratic Citizenship, Dec 2004.

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