Forum for the Future of Democracy, Yerevan, October 2010

      Yerevan, 19 October

      Speech by Ian MICALLEF, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe

      Dear friends,

      It is a pleasure for me to participate at the opening of this Forum. As you know, the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, which it has been my honour to lead for the past 18 months, is one of the 4 partners of the Forum.

      This year's themes are of particular interest to us. As the Congress focuses on democracy and governance at the local level, the threats and opportunities to democracy in this time of rapid social change are constantly on our agenda.

      I am delighted that this Forum is taking place here in Armenia, since yesterday I met with Armen Gevorgyan, the deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Territorial Administration and he underlined the important reforms that are being prepared to increase local autonomy in this country. So this event comes at a good time for Armenia, which is planning important changes to improve the quality of democracy in this country and I trust that this conference will contribute to that.

      I am pleased that one of the objectives of the Forum is to draw up a list of strategic tools with respect to the Council of Europe's work on democracy.

      There are a number of key tools that we would want included in such a list - such as the Revised Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life and the Reference Framework for Regional Democracy. However our single most important text, which guides a large part of our work, is the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

      The old fashioned name of this treaty hides the fact that it is the essential international reference when it comes to local democracy. I believe that we in the Congress can claim to have a competitive advantage in this field, since we not only have a democracy treaty ratified by 44 (and soon 45) Council of Europe member States, but we also have a clear mandate to monitor its implementation. The Charter is the envy of other international organisations. The UN has used it as the basis for their Habitat Guidelines and we have recently seen a Latin American Charter which is again heavily inspired by the European text.

      We are in the process of reforming the Congress and re-prioritizing our work, in line with the on-going reform of the Council of Europe, to give much greater emphasis to cooperation with our member states.

      I would urge this Forum to follow our example and to examine how this and other European legal tools can serve to secure, to deepen and to invigorate our democracies.

      For us, democracy is essentially a bottom-up process. Politicians cut their teeth in local politics. It is also evident that the future can best be seen in what is happening at the grassroots.

      However, I am not here to make a speech, but to introduce our keynote speaker. Adam Michnik learnt his politics the hard way, as a member of the Polish underground opposition, a role which involved frequent arrests and several spells in prison.

      For many years he was a leading figure in this movement and in 1976 he co-founded the Committee for the Defence of Workers. Then in 1989 he entered the first non-communist Polish Parliament.

      Today Mr Michnik is editor of Gazeta Wyborcza and a well-known figure in Polish politics. He is also well-known for his writings, not least his "letters from prison".

      His life story is a lesson for us that democracy cannot be taken for granted.

      Adam Michnik, you have the floor.