8th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Migration Affairs
Kyiv, 4-5 September 2008
Comments on the Final Declaration by Yavuz Mildon, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The text of the Final Declaration, which is before us, is an excellent reflection of the proposals and ideas put forward at this Conference, and I wish to thank the Secretariat for their efforts in preparing this draft.
The Declaration begins by recognising the important contribution by migrants to the economic progress in Europe and identifies protection of migrants’ rights, enforcement of the principle of equal treatment and non-discrimination as key guarantees of social cohesion. It is important that this recognition be accepted by all levels of governance, including local and regional.
I also welcome the numerous references to coordination with local and regional authorities – as we in the Congress believe that a truly integrated approach to migration and its management must necessarily involve the local and regional levels. I think that this should be made clear when we talk about consultation mechanisms in paragraph 27 – that such mechanisms should include local and regional structures.
In the same spirit, we support the emphasis made on the need for interaction and dialogue between migrants and host societies, as mentioned in paragraph 15, and for regular dialogue between the State and civil society, referred to in paragraph 30. Here, too, we believe that regular dialogue on migration issues should also be maintained between national governments and local and regional authorities.
As more general remarks, I would like to stress that we are firmly behind extending the protection measures – and, I would add, public services and access to social rights –to all migrants, whether they are long-term or not. Equal treatment for migrants regardless of their status and duration of their stay must be ensured first and foremost at local level, in receiving or transit communities. Human rights don’t have a sell-by date.
We also agree that receiving societies have a moral obligation not to profit from and increase the misery of poor countries by plundering their intellectual capital and encouraging the “brain drain”, which cripples future possibilities of the countries of origin. The “brain drain” can be counterbalanced, for example, by investing into promising sectors of those countries’ economies and, more importantly, into particular regions or municipal communities. This could be action mounted also at local level – local authorities today account for two thirds of all public investments within EU countries.
There are two particularly important aspects of the Final Declaration which I would like to underline:
1. The importance of research and political action (as mentioned in paragraphs 26 and 28) to help tailor future policies to real needs on the ground – but also drawing from the concrete experience from the ground – as effectively measured by tried and tested indicators; and
2. the importance of ensuring participation of migrants in civil and political life and in the creation of measures and indicators affecting them.
With regard to the first point – as I mentioned briefly in my speech yesterday we are proud to say that through the CLIP (Cities for Local Integration Policy) network we are developing the very methods, mechanisms and indicators mentioned and called for in paragraph 28. We believe that such partnerships and networks are invaluable as a way of learning from shared experience and reinforcing contacts and an integrated approach.
With regard to the second point, on participation of migrants, I would like to stress that measures outlined in several paragraphs (for example, paragraph 15) and notably in the first paragraph of the plan of action (paragraph 33 of the Final Declaration), aimed at developing policies to improve the interaction between migrants and the receiving societies, as well as migrant participation in civil society – including political life – these measures are among the most important measures which we can take at local level.
The Congress considers that the right of all citizens to participate in the conduct of public affairs is one of the fundamental democratic principles shared by all member States of the Council of Europe. The question of participation of foreigners in local life is one that has a direct link with issues of social cohesion, integration, combating intolerance and racism and access to citizenship.
Past Congress texts on the participation of foreign residents in local public life through consultative bodies make it quite clear that the Congress believes that true democracy begins at local level and that true local democracy requires the participation of all residents of the community. This is not only in line with the principles of the Congress’ European Urban Charter regarding the effective participation by immigrants in local public life, but also very much in line with the Council of Europe Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local level, which unfortunately, although it was opened for signature as far back as in 1992, has to date only been signed by 13 and ratified by 8 of the 47 member states.
Given the poor reaction to this instrument since its entry into force, the Congress Institutional Committee – which deals with the monitoring of local and regional democracy and legal and political affairs – is thinking of preparing a report to investigate the question of why so many states have not signed the convention and what it is that is stopping them from doing so.
I believe that Ministers should have taken this opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to seeing across the board ratification of this Council of Europe Convention.
Having said that, I would like to welcome once again the work and efforts invested in this Final Declaration and the Plan of Action. We in the Congress look forward to their implementation at all levels and the tangible results which it will bring to our communities.