Congress of Local and Regional Authorities - 17th Plenary Session
Strasbourg, 13 October 2009
Communication by Congress President a.i. Ian Micallef
Check against delivery
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The year 2009 is the year of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe (and, I should add, of the 15th anniversary of our Congress), the first year when the Congress held two plenary sessions under its new Charter.
The year began with the bad news about the health of our President Yavuz Mildon. I thank him for his message and his continued support of the Congress. I know that he is recovering well and that he is fully intending to be back with us soon. I am in regular contact with him and, on your behalf, I shall convey to him the good wishes of the members here today.
The 60th anniversary is a good occasion to take stock of the progress made in implementing our work programme in accordance with our priorities, and to assess to what extent we have managed to seize the momentum created by the changes which were introduced at the 15th Plenary Session in May 2008. I am speaking about the renewal of Congress membership and in particular the compliance by all national delegations with the minimum requirement of 30 per cent for the under-represented gender (which means women). I am proud that we are the first organisation to have such a level of participation of women! We have also introduced a new calendar of two plenary sessions a year which was one of the priorities of Yavuz Mildon.
A word about the Secretary General. As you know, our Secretary General, Ulrich Bohner, is retiring. We will give him a fitting "sending off" later this week. We had been planning today to hold the election for his successor. It is my duty to inform you that yesterday the Congress Bureau decided to postpone this election until the next session, since the process of evaluating the applicants has taken longer than expected, and it is important that this selection process is carried out properly, so that the Congress gets a Secretary General that it deserves.
The activity report before you, The State of the Congress, covers a larger period from the 15th Plenary Session until now. In my view, this offers a better picture of the continuity of our action and of our efforts to take full advantage of the innovation that has been injected into our work since May 2008.
I would like to focus on our main objective: Monitoring the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the situation of local and regional democracy in our member states remains the core mission of the Congress. This has been reaffirmed time and time again over the past year. We firmly believe that this monitoring constitutes our major contribution to the mission of the Council of Europe as a whole, our contribution to advancing democracy at territorial level.
I conveyed this message to the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies during an exchange of view with them on 9 September this year. I also stressed then that to be effective, this monitoring must be ongoing and not on an ad hoc, come-and-go basis, and that it should represent continuing dialogue with national authorities, both central and territorial.
For monitoring to have a desired efficiency, the Congress should report on each country at least every five years, which translates into some 10 to 12 monitoring missions a year. We are far from that figure today. Reaching it implies, of course, adequate resources.
The Congress’ action is based on this essential pillar, consisting of democracy and human rights, and this must be reflected in our financial and human resources, in our budgetary situation.
And yet, the Congress’ capacity to pursue these priorities has been seriously affected by the budgetary situation and the dwindling resources. This situation has been on the agenda of the Bureau throughout the year 2009, and was subject of two Congress recommendations to the Committee of Ministers.
We called on the Committee of Ministers to reconsider their budgetary approach and budgetary choices. I raised this issue again last month at the meeting with the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies, where I proposed to establish a platform for informal and constant dialogue between the Committee and the Congress. This proposal was well received.
Despite these difficulties, the Congress has made considerable progress in completing the first monitoring cycle of the 44 member states which ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government. As you know, there are still three countries which have not yet done so – Andorra, Monaco and San Marino. I have written to their authorities, offering to assist them to bring about the Charter’s ratification. Coming as I do from a small country, I understand the preoccupations of these countries and I remain convinced that the Charter is an essential tool for their democratic development.
[There remain just three member states which have yet to be monitored - Austria, Montenegro and Serbia.]
Another form of monitoring is election observation. The Congress has observed seven elections since May 2008, including the first-ever elections of the Mayor of Yerevan in Armenia, which we will be discussing at this session. Last but not least, as far as regular monitoring is concerned, we held a follow-up debate on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in March.
Specific situations in which violations or improper application of the Local Self-Government Charter are alleged is another, rapidly growing area of monitoring. This year, the Congress also held debates and adopted recommendations following two fact-finding missions. Follow-up visits are being planned by Rapporteurs to check on the state of their implementation.
The Congress Bureau continues to be regularly seized with complaints from national associations of local and regional authorities, individual self-government structures or our experts.
In my capacity as acting President of the Congress, I intervened on several occasions in the spirit of maintain the political dialogue with the countries concerned.
[For instance, last month I visited Azerbaijan. We are sending two more missions to Azerbaijan before the end of the year – a pre-electoral mission and one to observe municipal elections in December].
I should add that in the same spirit of expanding our reach, the Congress observed, for the first time ever, municipal elections in Israel in November last year, which further strengthened our will to pursue cooperation in the Middle East and the southern rim of the Mediterranean in a broad sense. In this regard, the Congress held a debate in March on the role of territorial authorities in Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, an activity which I personally hope will be maintained and advanced.
As I have already said, the situation with the Congress’ resources has put a brake on our capacity to reach the full speed. This compels us to look into our own working methods and the optimal use of available resources, and to inject innovation. The reflection process on the possible reform of working methods began in June in Brdo, with a report by Past President Halvdan Skard. We should examine in greater detail various options, including possibilities for fund-raising and attracting voluntary contributions from member states and outsourcing of activities. With regard to new working methods, we should look into developing further our “early-warning”, “rapid-reaction” and “follow-up” mechanisms in the field of monitoring.
I could go on further describing the Congress’ action in response to the problems faced by our communities, or extending cooperation networks and fostering partnerships, but this is not the objective of this intervention. Let me just say that progress has been made with regard to all the priorities set for 2009-2010, and invite you to study the activity report on the state of the Congress, which gives this information in great detail.
I gave you some examples of our action pertaining to the core mission of the Congress to make one point: we are a part of the Council of Europe and we are contributing to the goals of this organisation.
In the year of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe, the Congress stands strong to pursue its mission in the field of democracy and human rights at territorial level. Our help and advice are being sought by local and regional authorities across Europe and beyond, and we can do much more if our aspirations are matched with adequate resources.
Let us continue along this path, let us continue our work of convincing and persuading and putting pressure, if needed, but let us also discover our true potential through innovation and reform.