Exchange of views with the Ministers’ Deputies (Strasbourg, 14 November 2012)

      Speech by President Herwig Van Staa, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe

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      Mr Chairman,

      Excellencies,

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      It is a great pleasure for me to address you today for the first time since my election as President of the Congress one month ago, and to present my vision of the Congress for the next two years.

      The past two years were focused on implementing the comprehensive reform of the Congress, on retargeting our priorities and adapting our structures and working methods. I can refer you to the statement of the outgoing President of the Congress, Mr Keith Whitmore, at the Congress’ session last October which sums up our efforts and key achievements over this period.

      The results of this work enable us today to invest in developing our operational activities, in becoming a truly operational actor of the Council of Europe, in addition to the statutory role of the Congress.

      As President, I will remain committed to pursuing the reform which I see as a permanent process, and to work in this spirit to realise my vision of the Congress – Congress as a reliable and operational partner of other sectors of this Organisation in enhancing the local and regional dimension of the Council of Europe work, and in helping these sectors to accomplish their objectives at local and regional level.

      We will continue our monitoring of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, observation of local and regional elections as well as our thematic activities, and will make sure that they lead to a concrete follow-up action. Our ambition today is to translate the results of these activities – our assessments, recommendations and proposals – into concrete operations on the ground in member states, targeting specific problems and bringing about improvement of the situation.

      We will be developing this operational arm of the Congress in close co-operation and dialogue with our partners within the Council of Europe – first and foremost, the Committee of Ministers and the intergovernmental sector – be it through Council of Europe Action Plans, bilateral co-operation programmes, or transversal projects.

      We are already well under way in this regard, working closely with operational Directorates General and Council of Europe field offices. We are actively involved in putting into practice the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine and elaborating its Action Plan for Armenia, and we are developing co-operation with the southern Mediterranean in line with the Council of Europe priorities for Tunisia and for Morocco. We are contributing to the One in Five Campaign to stop sexual violence against children – most recently through a Pact of towns and regions with proposals for concrete local and regional activities, in co-operation with the intergovernmental sector and the Parliamentary Assembly network of parliamentarians.

      Our initiative to establish the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, in co-operation with the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma issues, will carry out its first operations before the end of the year – and I would like to thank in this regard the governments of Austria and Italy which seconded staff for the Alliance secretariat, as well as the Joint Programmes with the European Commission and Open Society Foundations for their financial contributions.

      We have developed a co-operation programme with Albania, and I would like to thank the Swiss authorities for their financial contribution to this programme. I also wish to thank the Albanian authorities for giving priority to local and regional democracy in the many activities during their chairmanship, in particular conferences on regionalisation, on human rights at local level and on the role of decentralisation in Albania.

      We have also taken initial steps with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve the situation of local and regional democracy, following our monitoring and the observation of local elections in that country.

      These activities have already attracted interest and contributions from both our internal and external partners, helping us to ensure human resources for the initial stage of their implementation. I wish to express my strong hope that other member states will also support the operational work of the Congress financially.

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      These activities are proof of the growing operational capacity of the Congress, and its future action will continue to be geared towards consolidating and expanding further the operational pillar of its work. We have succeeded in taking the first, encouraging steps in this direction despite the very difficult situation for 2012-2013 in which the Congress finds itself, after a substantial reduction in its staff and a zero growth in financial resources.

      At its October session, the Congress not only renewed its membership and its leadership, but also adopted its new priorities for the next four year – in line with a new, four-year mandate of its members. These priorities are in synch with the priorities of the Council of Europe as a whole, and will serve to ensure maximum contribution to this Organisation’s core objectives of promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

      While I would refer you for more detailed session results to the communication of the Secretary General of the Congress, distributed to you as document CG(23)19, I would like to point out that the Congress’ priorities for 2013-2016 are grouped into three key fields of action:

      - raising the quality of local and regional democracy and governance, human rights and the rule of law in Council of Europe member states;

      - addressing the problems faced by cities and regions because of the economic and financial crisis which represents currently – and will continue to represent in the next years - the main challenges to them;

      - and developing the operational capacity of the Congress, through partnerships and cooperation, to achieve concrete results in the field.

      These three lines of action will have as a common goal the strengthening of the capacity of cities and regions, the promotion of good governance and ethics, the fostering of greater respect of fundamental rights, the fight against discrimination and intolerance and helping to build citizen’s participation in the democratic process.

      It is my intention as Congress President to strengthen and broaden our dialogue with the Committee of Ministers – dialogue with you – aimed at building synergies in our action in common in order to ensure its maximum impact. I welcome in this regard the decision of the current and future chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers to make promoting local and regional democracy their common priority.

      The Congress looks forward to working closely with the Andorran, Armenian and Austrian Chairs in this area, and particularly in ensuring the local and regional dimension of education for democratic citizenship, intercultural dialogue and integration, action for young people, and combating corruption. The Congress has already accumulated experience and made proposals as a basis for its future action in these areas, that we will be pursuing further.

      Once again, the Congress will remain your reliable partner in pursuing our common objectives, and we look forward to broadening our co-operation with you.

      Thank you.



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