Jean-Claude Frécon: “Budgetary restrictions are suffocating the Congress”
Reacting strongly to the savings which are a feature of the 2009 Congress budget, a reduction of almost 2.5% compared with 2008, Jean-Claude Frécon (France, SOC) believes that the future of the Congress will be jeopardised if such stringent budgets continue.
Interview – 03.03.2009
Question: In your report on the Congress’s resources and budget for 2010, you point out that the current restrictions are particularly unacceptable since the Congress has expenses which the other Council of Europe bodies do not have, and must, in addition, undertake new activities: how much do you think the Congress needs if it is to meet all these challenges?
Jean-Claude Frécon: While the Congress represents 3% of the Council of Europe budget (6.11 million out of 201 million euros), or, for example, 2.5 times less than the Parliamentary Assembly, it has to cover out of its own budget its members’ travelling costs and a number of other expenses which the Assembly does not have because they are paid for by national parliaments. At the same time, we have to finance new activities, and we now have two plenary sessions a year. We have already rationalised considerably the way we operate, but this year we need to find somewhere between 300 and 400,000 euros in order to fulfil all our tasks.
Question: What are the practical consequences of the savings asked for and how can the impact of these be minimised?
Jean-Claude Frécon: The observation of local and regional elections, one of the Congress’s flagship activities, cost 226,000 euros in 2008, but this year we will have to make do with just 71,000 euros, ie just a third of that amount. The same is true for monitoring of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. This is really quite serious because states expect the Congress to carry out these tasks, which are a way of making sure that democratic standards are upheld in practice throughout Europe. We have already had to cease contributing to the funding of the Local Democracy Agencies, and this year, it is the ENTO training network that is under threat … and at the same time, we are being asked to do more! To put it frankly, we have been squeezed dry: the Committee of Ministers, or rather the governments it represents, has a duty to take action in order to change this situation. If it does not, it will be the beginning of the end for the Congress first of all, and later, for the Council of Europe itself.
Question: The 2010 budget does not look any more promising than the 2009 one: what are the financial challenges for the year to come?
Jean-Claude Frécon: The Congress contributes to a wonderful idea, the European Week of Local Democracy, but today this idea is a little like a plant deprived of water: if we do not give it any water next year, it will wither away even before it has a chance to flourish. I am also very worried about what will happen to our monitoring activities and about the future of the Euro-Mediterranean project. What will we have left if all of that is taken away? It is absolutely essential that all Congress members bring the situation immediately to the attention of their respective governments, telling them that the Congress is being suffocated and making them understand the momentous consequences of this stranglehold.