24th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 19-21 March 2013)
Communication by Herwig van Staa, President of the Congres of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
19 March 2013
Dear members of the Congress,
Dear observers and guests of the session,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This session is taking place in a time that is both challenging and promising for us in the Congress.
It is challenging because Europe continues to face multiple crises of the economy and finance, of institutions of governance and public confidence, and finally, of values and commitment to democratic processes, against the background of rising corruption, extremism, xenophobia and hate speech. This is why we chose as the theme for both our sessions this year “Europe in crisis: challenges to local and regional democracy”, and this is why Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjøn JAGLAND, in his address to the Parliamentary Assembly this January, stressed that our action priorities must focus on responding to these multiple crises and the challenges they represent.
But this is also a promising time. Never before has there been so much recognition of the importance of local and regional democracy and grassroots action in response to these challenges, giving us a truly historic opportunity to engage in concrete action together with national governments.
Responses to the crisis require such concrete action, action that produces tangible results reaching all levels of governance, reaching our citizens at the grassroots. Becoming less theoretical and more practical, more operational, more action-driven and result-oriented is the reason that the Council of Europe has carried out its comprehensive reform, and the reason why the Congress followed this logic of reform.
The Congress has not always been like this, nor was the Council of Europe, but the times are changing, and we need to adjust to new realities. We cannot respond to today’s challenges with theory alone. We need to develop a practical vision of the situation and of the way to improve it. The world is changing fast, exposed to threats, tested by challenges, and the Congress simply cannot remain as it used to be – only setting standards and not concerned with their practical application. The Congress must become an actor in the field, on the ground, to advance our ideas.
The Council of Europe is discussing a matrix based on the pooling of knowledge and experiences of its constituent entities gained during monitoring. This matrix will help national governments overcome specific problems, through co-operation programmes and action plans. We, in the Congress, must follow the same logic: we must develop co-operation with national as well as local and regional authorities to work on the problems identified during our monitoring, election observation and post-monitoring dialogue. We must make sure that our monitoring and post-monitoring activities are followed by concrete follow-up action. We do not want to limit ourselves to simply describing the situation – we need to change it through practical co-operation.
During my exchange of views with the Committee of Ministers last November, I stressed this focus of the Congress on translating the results of its monitoring into specific action, on developing its operational capacity and adding an operational dimension to its statutory activities.
We have already made progress in this direction. Our co-operation project on strengthening local government structures in Albania was officially launched in Tirana at the end of February this year, and we have just reached agreement on a project with the Russian Federation as part of a forthcoming Council of Europe Action Plan. We have become more deeply involved in implementing the local and regional dimension of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine, and continued our co-operation in the Mediterranean under Council of European Action Plans for Morocco and Tunisia.
At this session we will be launching the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion – the result of a year and a half of efforts building this co-operation platform. Just last week we launched an online platform for exchanging and showcasing best local and regional practices in support of our Pact of Towns and Regions to stop sexual violence against children. This Pact is part of our contribution to the Council of Europe’s One in Five Campaign. I use this opportunity to call on you, your municipalities and regions, to join the Alliance for Roma Inclusion and to sign up for the Pact of Towns and Regions.
And of course, since our session last October, we pursued monitoring and election observation, with monitoring missions in Italy, Albania and Spain, a monitoring and a fact-finding mission to Georgia and a forthcoming mission to observe local elections in the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I have stressed at the beginning of my speech, we have never been so close to European consensus on the importance of local and regional democracy. All chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers, beginning with Ukraine, made enhancing local and regional democracy a priority of their chairmanships. This means six past, current and future chairmanships!
In January this year, Monaco ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government, becoming the 46th member state of the Council of Europe to do so. This means that we now have a quasi-total application of the Charter across the continent. Add to this the fact that more countries are lifting their previous reservations to the Charter, and the slogan launched two years ago by Jean-Claude FRECON, President of the Chamber of Local Authorities – 100 per cent Charter for 100 per cent of the continent – is coming true!
We are standing on the threshold of a uniform and universal application of the Charter in Europe, on the threshold of completing a pan-European legal space for local democracy. This represents our concrete and substantial contribution to consolidating the Council of Europe legal space and ensuring that this Organisation’s standards and mechanisms are applied throughout Europe.
We should see this situation as a great opportunity for working in proximity with the Committee of Ministers, for expanding our good working relations with national governments and for advancing dialogue and co-operation between national and local and regional authorities in their countries.
I am confident that we will seize this opportunity for the full benefit of local and regional democracy and European citizens.