Final conference of the CLIP Network “Six years CLIP – Moving beyond city level”

      (Stuttgart, 26-27 November 2012)

      Welcome address by President Herwig van Staa, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities Council of Europe

      Check against delivery

      Dear Mayor Schuster, dear Wolfgang,

      Distinguished members of the CLIP Network,

      Dear guests of the conference,

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      It is a great pleasure for me indeed to welcome you to the final conference of the CLIP Network on behalf of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

      It is my pleasure not only because the Congress was a co-founder of this Network six years ago, in partnership with the City of Stuttgart and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions – Eurofound, and it is natural that we feel an almost parental bond with the cities for local integration policy. But I am also pleased because today’s conference marks a new beginning in the CLIP process, its evolution towards a larger endeavour, its own integration – if I may say so – into a broader framework for integration in Europe.

      It is always exciting and challenging to be on the threshold of something new, ready to set sail on the course to ambitious objectives of building together inclusive and cohesive local and regional communities on our continent, for the benefit of all Europeans. This is why the Congress and I are looking forward with great anticipation to this new chapter of European integration, a new chapter for municipalities participating in the CLIP process.

      The Network has brought with it to this new beginning an impressive record of achievements over the past six years – first and foremost, your experience of co-operating and networking in identifying the existing problems, examining the underlying reasons for them, proposing possible solutions and implementing these recommendations in your communities. Since 2006, CLIP recommendations have been contributing a great deal to the work on integration in a wide range of European institutions, foundations, networks and platforms, including the Congress. The multitude of their representatives participating in this conference is the best testimony to it.

      For its part, the Congress has been translating CLIP proposals into its own policy recommendations addressed to both European local authorities as well as national governments of the 47 Council of Europe member states. Each of the Network’s modules over the past six years has become the subject of a Congress report debated in plenary sessions of its Chamber of Local Authorities – on local housing, on diversity in municipal employment, on managing intercultural tensions and, most recently, on migrant entrepreneurship. This last report has been prepared in the Current Affairs Committee of the Congress – a new committee set up two years as a result of the Congress’ reform – and will be debated next year.

      The Congress has been following closely the work of CLIP and has taken part in all its conferences and exchanges. The Congress and other bodies of the Council of Europe have also made reference to the CLIP Network in many policy documents and activities, using it as an example to follow. For example, the need for co-operating with CLIP was specifically included in the Council of Europe’s framework for integration activities.

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      The setting-up of the CLIP Network in September 2006 was a response to several major challenges in Europe. First, the challenge of growing cultural diversity, with European societies becoming increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. A multitude of cultural groups in our communities highlighted the need for building harmonious intercultural relations, fostering intercultural dialogue and achieving better social cohesion – beginning at the local level, through co-ordinated integration policies.

      Secondly, the CLIP Network responded to the challenge for local authorities to assert themselves as fully-fledged actors in the European political landscape, as genuine policy makers rather than mere service providers. The complexity of problems and tasks at hand in Europe today means that national governments can no longer adequately deal with them alone, and brings to the fore the growing role of local and regional authorities as key political stakeholders. At the same time, the decentralisation of power and the transfer of more and more competences to the grassroots level enable local and regional authorities to assume effectively their increasing responsibilities. The success of the CLIP Network in proposing solutions at community level is concrete proof of this new dimension of the grassroots level.

      In fact, history shows that we were ahead of our time in anticipating the need for such responses when we set up CLIP. A report of the Group of Eminent Persons, commissioned by the Council of Europe and published last year, examined the main challenges to European democracy today and said that they were very closely linked to the growing cultural diversity of European societies, which had to be addressed at all levels of governance. This report, entitled “Living together: Combining diversity and freedom in 21st century Europe”, also identified towns and cities among the main actors for change, and pointed to their key role in responding to this challenge.

      Thirdly, the Network was a response to the need to seize the opportunities for cross-border co-operation between towns and cities, created by the European integration process. The disappearance of political borders and the advancement of transfrontier co-operation across the continent opened the door to pulling together the expertise and resources of municipalities from different parts of Europe, and to establishing direct exchanges of experiences and good practices between them. Today, we are witnessing a growing number of European municipal networks on specific issues of community development, and CLIP was among the first. To name but a few, I could mention Eurocities, Intercultural Cities, Energy Cities, Cities for Human Rights or Cities for Children – this last network, which the Congress fully supports, is by the way also an initiative of the City of Stuttgart.

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      I would like to conclude by thanking all of you for your hard work and staunch commitment these past six years, and especially personally Mayor Schuster and the City of Stuttgart for this and many other initiatives in the field of local democracy. Building on the experience of CLIP, we can now move on to the new level of tackling integration challenges within a genuinely pan-European framework. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities remains fully committed to this cause, and will continue to support European municipalities and regions in this new framework, as their reliable partner.

      I wish all of us fruitful discussions today.

      Thank you.