Closing of the 16th Plenary Session by Congress President a.i. Ian Micallef

      Strasbourg, 05/03/2009

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      The 16th Plenary Session of our Congress is coming to its close.

      It is usual to say at this point that we have had an excellent session, fruitful and productive debates, that we have charted our way for further action. Often, these are mere words.

      But, frankly speaking, this time, at this session these words have true meaning. I am convinced that the importance of the themes chosen for our session, the content and quality of our debates - which were always lively and sometimes heated - the level of personalities who addressed the Congress and the sharpness of our questions to them – all this shows that it was not a session as usual.

      I will be sincere with you. I was impressed by the quality of your attention, by the attendance of sittings and presence in the room, by the desire to speak and to listen, desire to contribute.

      I expressed my conviction at the opening of the session that the Congress was in a new situation, and this is a proof of it. I am very satisfied with the wide range of issues that we have addressed this week.

      The Congress Bureau began the week by calling on Azerbaijan to postpone its referendum on constitutional amendments which seem to be inconsistent with European standards, in our case the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

      Just before the session, the European Court of Human Rights, almost as a follow-up to the Congress debate on non-citizens in Latvia last December, made a judgment against linking the rights of an individual to the naturalisation process in that country, calling it discrimination.

      On Monday, Vice-President Jean-Claude Frécon welcomed the Court’s decision and reiterated our call on Latvian authorities to grant non-citizens voting rights at local level.

      These were important political issues.

      However, we have also had some difficult moments. It is my responsibility as President to speak with you frankly about this. At the beginning of the week, we had an important, some say divisive debate on the credentials of our members, which goes to the heart of the legitimacy and functioning of the Congress.

      I would echo the words of our Rapporteur Anders Knape. "There were no winners in this debate". We have to address the very real issues which were raised and which go to the heart of what the Congress is and what we stand for. This debate was painful at times.

      But we need to continue to work hard at this and we need to work together. We must ensure that we continue to seek the best solution, and that includes consulting our Russian colleagues. I would like to tell them that I count on their cooperation in this matter. We will work together to find a solution that is in accordance with our principles and standards, but also takes account of their situation.

      We also raised the question of how to continue to function amidst the budgetary crisis of the Council of Europe and the Congress, which is threatening the very mission of our institution. We raised this issue with the leaders of this Organisation – the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly – asking them difficult and sometimes unpleasant questions.

      I am certain that we have made ourselves clear, and we will now maintain this pressure until we have clear answers, and, more importantly, we get a result.

      We had a ground-breaking debate on the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, which is increasingly becoming a dominant axis of action for all levels of European governance. The Congress cannot and will not stay on the sidelines of this action. We will work together with the Committee of Regions of the European Union and our other partners to promote local democracy in this region.

      We also opened an important dialogue with the observers from Belarus, with a view to strengthening local democracy in that country.

      We have addressed the global financial crisis, which has hit local communities hard. We will certainly pursue this experience-sharing and formulate it into recommendations to local authorities on how best to cope with the financial and economic downturn. Taking up another global challenge, the Congress adopted its contribution to the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul.

      We have dealt with a major scourge of our times, domestic violence against women, formulating recommendations on what can be done to fight it at local and regional level – recommendations, I must stress, which are the result of the very active involvement of territorial communities in the Council of Europe two-year campaign. We will now be following it up through our support for the drafting of a Council of Europe convention on combating this evil.

      We have tackled ways of improving cohesion in our communities, through dialogue and interaction of people with different cultural backgrounds, through integration of different cultures in today’s multiethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic cities. This was a sharing of experience which will help us to move forward our action on an intercultural approach in society at the local level.

      We also looked at local government reform in Malta. We pursued the development of the Black Sea Euroregion. We discussed citizens’ participation. We had an excellent and stimulating debate in the local chamber with a high level of participation and a marked interest in the European Local Democracy Week.

      Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, this session was serious, intense, deep, a session that confirmed that we are at the threshold of a new phase for the Congress.

      This new phase has been several years in the preparation, but now the ship is clearly launched.

      Ladies and gentlemen, we have had an excellent session, and I congratulate all of us on this bold new beginning.

      Our ship is in good shape. We are ready for a long and exciting journey.

      May the wind be in our sails!



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