Brdo, Slovenia, 9 June 2009
Communication by the President of the Congress, Ian Micallef
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my particular pleasure to welcome you to Brdo as it is the first time that the Standing Committee meets on its own, outside the framework of a session. As you know, this is the first year of the new calendar of the Congress – from now on, the Standing Committee will always meet in between sessions. We will also try to establish a new tradition, initiated by the Slovenian authorities – for the Standing Committee to meet in the country chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. On behalf of all of us, I wish to express my gratitude to them for inviting us and hosting our meeting here, on Slovenian soil.
This is an excellent opportunities to exchange views with this country’s authorities on the priorities of their Chairmanship – to which we will devote a part of this meeting. But this is also a very good occasion, and appropriately so, to discuss the advantages of transfrontier cooperation for South-East Europe and for Slovenian local authorities in particular. Ms Zlata Plostajner, Minister for Local Self-Government and Regional Development, has kindly agreed to share with us Slovenia’s point of view on this topic. She will be joining us later for this debate.
Of course, the Slovenian Chairmanship largely coincides with the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe this year, and this item is also on our agenda today. Some Congress members have already participated in the events to mark the anniversary – for instance, Mr Keith Whitmore, Chairman of the Congress’ Institutional Committee, represented the Congress at the commemorative ceremony in London on 5 May. For my part, I had the privilege of addressing the session of the Committee of Ministers in Madrid on 12 May, which adopted the Declaration reaffirming this Organisation’s core objectives sixty years on. The Congress, along with the Parliamentary Assembly and other bodies of the Council of Europe, has been invited to provide the vision of its mission in the light of the Declaration, and its contribution to the 60th anniversary. We will take up this issue further during the Congress’ next session in October, when a number of events is planned also in cooperation with our host, the City of Strasbourg.
The question of our mission brings me to the situation in which the Congress finds itself today, and which compels us to seek innovative solutions to the problems we are facing. But before going into greater detail on this matter, I wish to inform you, with great pleasure, that the state of health of our President Yavuz Mildon is improving, although he is still temporarily unable to resume his duties as Congress President. As you know, on 29 March he was elected member of the Provincial Council of Istanbul, and we hope that he will be able to return to our ranks soon.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As a result of the increasing importance of the Congress’ place and role as a watchdog of local and regional democracy, there is a growing number of demands which are being put before us by local and regional communities of Europe – demands to monitor more rigorously the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and intervene more often in situations of its alleged violations; demands to follow up our recommendations and pursue our missions until the result is achieved; and demands to help local and regional authorities to respond to challenges before their communities – be it challenges of the financial and economic crisis, climate change, provision of public services or management of resources.
Against this background, we have to face the reality of the dwindling budgetary resources and the related issue of the sufficiency of human resources at our disposal. And there is no promise of improvement on the financial front: in the Madrid Declaration, governments made it clear that no additional resources were forthcoming, saying instead that – I quote – “the serious budgetary constraints call more than ever for the efficient use of resources. Reforms to this end must be pursued, focusing on the Organisation’s core objectives” – end of quote.
This is the imperative of the situation – to inject innovation in our working methods and work out new modalities for the optimal use of our resources. It is in this light that we should organise our discussions today as we look at matching the Congress’ political role with its working methods and its budget for 2009 and 2010. Let this meeting become the starting point of the process which will lead to raising further the efficiency of the Congress and its Secretariat and the effectiveness of its action.
Without prejudging our discussion later, I would like to stress that, in my opinion, we should look at the possibilities for fund-raising, outsourcing of our action and revision of relations with our partner organisations as plausible solutions.
By “fund-raising” in a broad sense, I mean, for example, general monitoring that could attract voluntary contributions. We have already made the first step with the revision of our cooperation agreement with the EU Committee of the Regions, approved by the Congress Bureau on 7 May in Paris. Also in May, in St Petersburg, I signed a Protocol of Intent calling for the elaboration of a cooperation agreement with the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which could be a track to pursue with regard to joint projects.
We will also need to refocus our activities in line with our priorities. In the past several months, we have been increasingly called upon to react to specific situations of concern for the functioning of local democracy in our member states, and to make sure that the European Charter of Local Self-Government is being implemented properly and that its letter and spirit have not been jeopardised. I could mention the constitutional referendum in Azerbaijan, the law on dismissal of mayors in Russia, the post-election situation in Turkey, persistence of the Flemish authorities in the non-appointment of three mayors in Belgium or lack of the follow-up to our recommendation on “non-citizens” in Latvia, or still new situations with regard to Romania and local autonomy in Moldova.
All of these have been brought to our attention since the Congress’ session in March, and – I can assure you – many more requests will be coming, and they will not be limited to a particular group of countries or a particular region in Europe. Because, when we speak about the increasing importance and role of local and regional democracy and of the Congress, this is not an empty sound: the expectations of territorial communities vis-à-vis their national governments are rising, as are the expectations of local and regional authorities vis-à-vis their Congress. And this across our continent.
It is clear therefore that our monitoring activities must remain the core of our mission and that we should take a closer look at possible ways of developing further “early-warning”, “rapid-reaction” and “follow-up” mechanisms in this regard. Such mechanisms would involve, for example, associations of local and regional authorities for the “early-warning” and “follow-up” and fact-finding missions for the “rapid-reaction” part. The idea of “outsourcing” could be applied in this context.
By the same token, we must also improve our traditional monitoring mechanisms of country-by-country reporting and election observation. We have just undertaken a monitoring mission to Switzerland and soon Iceland, almost completing with it the first monitoring cycle of all 47 member states. Today, we will be discussing reports on the observation of local elections in the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and the first-ever municipal elections in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia – we must make sure that our post-election recommendations are not only to the point, but that they are also implemented by the country’s authorities. There is certainly room for further improvement in this area, which is why the Congress called for elaborating an election observation strategy in its resolution in December 2008.
We have already acted on certain matters which I have just mentioned. However, we need to prepare ourselves to be able to enlarge this activity and respond to the growing number of requests and situations worth examining.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, I would like to stress once again that both challenges and prospects before the Congress today are truly breath-taking. However, we must not fall victim of our own success. We need to rethink our functioning, our working methods, our mode of financing in order to come out of this situation stronger, more efficient and better fit to do the job.
Let us begin this process of reflection and reform today.