18th Plenary Session of the Congress
Debate on the launch of the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) and the role of the Congress
Introduction by Ian Micallef (L, EPP/CD1), Rapporteur and acting President of the Congress
Strasbourg, 17 March 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In January this year, the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly, known as ARLEM, was born in Barcelona, through the efforts of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union. ARLEM is designed to serve as a platform for political dialogue and cooperation in the Mediterranean between local and regional communities, and thus to represent the territorial dimension of the Union for the Mediterranean, created in July 2008.
The Congress gave its full support to the initiative of setting up ARLEM, and looks forward to participating in its work as observer. With the establishment of ARLEM, we now have a territorial pillar for the Euro-Mediterranean rapprochement, complementing the already existing Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly, EMPA.
The Barcelona process and the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean is the logical consequence of this rapprochement, which reflects the need for engaging our neighbours on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean in creating a common space for North-South cooperation, intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding – a space of democratic values, stability and sustainable socio-economic development.
For many years we have been witnessing the growing recognition of the need for greater cooperation within the Euro-Mediterranean, and the process of bringing together the two shores to face common economic and social challenges. However, the process of building this common space cannot be limited to governments alone. National development starts with local and regional communities, which should also be the main beneficiaries of development processes, and democracy is built from the grassroots. ARLEM stems from the imperative to involve all levels of governance in the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and create a platform for local and regional interaction in the Euro-Mediterranean space.
This is something that has long been desired by our Congress. I should recall that a year ago, in March 2009, this Congress held a large debate on ways to strengthen Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and involve in it local and regional authorities from both shores. It is during that debate that the ARLEM initiative was presented by Luc VAN DEN BRANDE, then President of the Committee of the Regions.
The creation of ARLEM comes at a time when the Congress’ involvement in the Euro-Mediterranean is growing. The Congress gave a new boost to the Euro-Arab cities’ dialogue, with the 3rd Euro-Arab Cities Forum in Dubai in 2008, which decided to put this dialogue on permanent footing and create a steering group for organising the next Forum in 2011. It is also in this spirit that the Congress Bureau decided to set up a working group of Euro-Mediterranean cities and provinces, which will clarify and target our strategy and activities in the region.
There is clearly interest on the other side, too. I don’t need to remind you that the Union of Local Authorities in Israel and the Association of Palestinian Local Authorities – not to mention the Arab Towns Organisation – all have observer status with the Congress. I don’t need to recall that the Congress helped to set up a national association of local authorities in Morocco, a country which has also been very much inspired by the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
But I should inform you that during the seminar on co-operation with Morocco, organised by the Council of Europe in Rabat last month, the authorities asked the Congress to provide its advice and expertise on the territorial reform in that country. Our eyes are also on Algeria, the country that approached, and has been approached by, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for its participation in the Partnership for Democracy, established by the Assembly.
Against this background, the creation of ARLEM is opportune and welcome. The Euro-Mediterranean Basin will now have an institutional structure linking, on the one hand, local and regional authorities from both shores and, on the other, providing a link between these authorities and the governments of the Union for the Mediterranean. Your Rapporteur is honoured to be a member of ARLEM and as such, will do his utmost to make sure that the Congress will use the full potential of its observer status.
The Congress has much to contribute to the work of ARLEM, not least by promoting our local-government "tool-kit" – our main reference texts, the acquis of the Congress, such as the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the European Code of conduct for the political integrity of local and regional elected representatives, or the European Urban Charter II: Manifesto for a new urbanity, to name but a few. We can also contribute by setting up structures similar to local democracy agencies in South-East Europe and South Caucasus, and using more efficiently City Diplomacy and its initiatives.
These steps are fully in line with the ARLEM objectives that feature in the conclusions of the ARLEM Inaugural Meeting in Barcelona on 21 January – a meeting which your Rapporteur had the privilege of addressing. One of these objectives is to put the long-standing experience of local and regional authorities on the ground at the service of the Euro-Mediterranean projects. With its pan-European dimension of 47 countries, with its wealth of contacts, expertise and commitment to planting grassroots democracy in the Mediterranean region, the Congress can make a major contribution to these objectives.
The resolution before you asks the Congress to express its full support to ARLEM, to endorse the Congress’ participation in this new Assembly as observer, and to invite local and regional authorities of its member states and their associations to forge bilateral relations with authorities in the countries of the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
I ask you to adopt this resolution.