Keith Whitmore: “The Congress reform will improve its effectiveness and its policies”
Elected Congress President on Tuesday 26 October 2010, Keith Whitmore intends not only to reform and modernise the institution, but also to make it more effective, better enforce its decisions and raise its profile among European local elected representatives. It should be a case of “when we say something, we do it”, he explained in an interview.
Interview – 28 October 2010
Question: Following your election, what is your frame of mind and what are your top priorities going to be?
Keith Whitmore: There are many challenges ahead, for example, budgetary problems, but first and foremost the Congress reform must be set up in order to refocus this institution on what it does best: monitoring local democracy, observing elections, and promoting human rights at local level. The new committees’ structure will enable us to accomplish these tasks. I know the Congress very well, having been a member since 1996, notably as a committee chairman, and I think that this experience will help me get to grips with my new duties fairly quickly.
Question: Reform of the Congress will be your main project but are there any other changes that you would like to bring about?
Keith Whitmore: Above all, I would like to see a situation where, when the Congress decides or announces something, it follows through on its decision. This particularly applies to monitoring: when we ask for a particular measure to be implemented, we must ensure that it is actually introduced, rather than repeatedly calling on states to heed our recommendations. Unfortunately, too many Congress recommendations end up in the drawer. It should be a case of “When we say something, we do it”. Rather than increasing the number of our priorities, from now on we will focus on our core activities, and see them through to completion. The fact that we have new tools for the Congress members to work more closely than in the past with its Secretariat, is also a big help here.
Question: How do you see the Congress’s role developing in relation to other Council of Europe institutions?
Keith Whitmore: There is a need to strengthen the Congress’ partnership with the Parliamentary Assembly and to work more closely with it on reports that are examined jointly or that involve both institutions. We need to have more joint sittings. I would also like Congress members to be “ambassadors of the Congress and the Council of Europe”, back in their own countries. The Council of Europe is not widely known and yet whenever we talk about it to local elected representatives in our respective countries, they express keen interest in its activities. We need to communicate better about what we do. The European Local Democracy Week, which I started, is a good way of getting ourselves known, and is proving increasingly popular.