18th Plenary Session of the Congress

      Strasbourg, 18 March 2010

      Speaking notes for Rapporteur Mme Marjan HAAK-GRIFFIOEN, Netherlands (NI)

      Regional democracy in Switzerland – Chamber of the Regions

      - It is a pleasure for me to present, in my capacity as rapporteur, the monitoring report on regional democracy in Switzerland.

      - This is the first ever monitoring of regional self-government in Switzerland carried out by the Congress and it’s particularly pleasant to note that its elaboration and adoption coincide with the Swiss Chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

      - Before going into any detail about the presented text, I should inform, that initially Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe, a distinguished, now former member of this Congress, was the rapporteur for regional democracy in Switzerland. He has headed the Congress delegation during the monitoring visit to Switzerland in May 2009 and, based on his findings, has prepared and elaborated this very interesting report and recommendation.

      - In the meantime, since his mandate as Congress rapporteur expired in early 2010, I was appointed as a new rapporteur for this report. I fully share the conclusions reached by the previous rapporteur and agree with them, therefore I happily accepted the nomination. Please allow me to thank, on behalf of all of us, Mr Van Cauwenberghe, for his remarkable work, which I have now taken over.

      - Colleagues, the report deals mainly with cantonal self-government in Switzerland, its structure and functioning, the major reforms of recent years, as well as their conformity with European standards.

      - Although the content of the report bears principally on cantonal democracy in Switzerland, it also includes references to the organisation of the municipalities and communes.

      - What is remarkable about this report, is that it is the first one carried out by the Congress, which bases its analysis on the Reference Framework on Regional democracy, as noted by the European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government during the Ministerial Conference in Utrecht in 2009.

      I hope this will set a trend for all future similar reports.

      - The fundamental principles of regional self-government, as they are defined in the Reference Framework, are fully respected in Suisse legislation and practice. Regional democracy in Switzerland complies with the democratic principles and the organisational and operational concepts embodied in the Reference Framework.

      - The major “Reform of financial equalisation”, has introduced a clearer apportionment of responsibilities between the Confederation and cantons, and made the financial equalisation system more manageable and fairer. Swiss cantons enjoy broad fiscal autonomy as regards the level of contribution.

      - Swiss cantons are systematically consulted on matters of concern to them. The Conference of Cantonal Governments plays a very special role on the Swiss political scene.

      - Swiss institutions, on federal as well as cantonal level, take appropriately into consideration the rights of minorities, in conformity with norms and principles established by the Council of Europe in this respect. We hope that the "Question of Jura", as it is often referred to by our Suisse colleagues; will also achieve a negotiated solution through the ongoing constructive dialogue.

      - Colleagues the well-developed practice of direct democracy is an essential feature of the Swiss political system. Cantonal autonomy is exercised in this area too, since the cantons have the right to choose for themselves how the citizens may participate in political decisions.

      - Following the visit to Switzerland by Congress delegation and the drafting of this report, an important event marked the political landscape in Switzerland: on 29 November 2009, the Swiss population accepted a popular initiative calling for a ban on building new minarets on Swiss territory.

      - We at the Congress were closely following these developments, and therefore this report mentions our concern about possible abuses of the application, without additional safeguards, of popular initiatives, which may contravene the obligations derived from international law.

      - The presented recommendation draws the Swiss authorities' attention to a few areas, which could be the subject of possible reform. Amongst others the recommendation calls upon Swiss authorities to

      a. consider a structural reform at municipal level and establishing a model for agglomeration structures. This emerging 3rd tier of government seems less fully developed than the others.

      b. make a critical review of the proliferation of intercantonal agreements such as those concluded between the Confederation and the cantons. An analysis would be useful for rationalising them in order to guard against a risk of dispersal and unduly bureaucratic implementation;

      c. consider the possibility of finding new institutional foundations for regulating intercantonal agreements and their application, so as to let traditional direct democracy operate, and the elected representatives exercise their full political responsibility, in this respect;

      - The text of the Recommendation includes a detailed list of these and other suggestions, which will hopefully be taken into due consideration by competent Suisse authorities.

      - In summary, I should like to stress that regional democracy in Switzerland is extremely elaborate and highly developed. It is dynamic, lively and progressive, and is experienced directly by citizens.

      - It operates in the context of a federation which arose from Switzerland’s historical, geographical, religious and sociological development. It has all the features of an efficient, coherent system enabling this “country of differences” with such a highly complex territorial structure and different communities to live in harmony and relative consensus.

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