24th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe (Strasbourg, 19-21 March 2013)
Address by Mr Gilbert SABOYA SUNYE, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Andorra
21 March 2013
Distinguished members of the Congress,
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, Andorra has already had the pleasure of hosting the Bureau of the Congress in Andorra-la-Vella on 11 February 2013. However, it is with particular pleasure that I address the plenary session here today on behalf of the Andorran Chairmanship which, together with the forthcoming chairmanships of Armenia and Austria, have chosen to place the promotion of local and regional democracy amongst their priorities.
The responsibilities of local and regional authorities cover a wide panoply of issues, as Andorra, despite, or precisely because of its small size, is aware from its daily experience. Andorra is in practice divided into seven authorities (known as parishes), and a section of the Constitution (Title VI) is dedicated to local government.
Allow me first to inform you of the most recent developments of the Committee of Ministers of direct relevance to the Congress. In particular, I would draw attention to the decisions by the Ministers’ Deputies taken last November on the follow up to the 17th Session of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government.
In this context, the European Committee on Local and Regional Democracy has been instructed to carry out four specific tasks. Firstly, to analyse the impact of changing economic fortunes on local budgets and develop proposed policy responses on the basis, as appropriate, of the “Kyiv Guidelines”.
Secondly, to prepare proposals to strengthen awareness raising of the human rights dimension of local and regional governance in consultation with the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress and the Conference of INGOs. Thirdly, to examine how the principles of good democratic governance at local and regional level can be promoted and applied in the practices of local and regional authorities; and finally, to develop activities to help to overcome obstacles to transfrontier co-operation.
The CDLR has been mandated to carry out these activities while ensuring
co-ordination and promoting synergies with the Congress and other competent Council of Europe bodies.
The Committee of Ministers has also recently adopted a number of replies to Congress recommendations, including those relating to “The changes underway in the Arab countries – opportunities for local and regional democracy”, “The right of local authorities to be consulted by other levels of government”, “The governance of macro-regions in Europe” and “Second-tier local authorities – intermediate governance in Europe”.
Members of the Congress,
Your chosen theme for 2013 is “Europe in Crisis – Challenges to Local and Regional Democracy.”
It is clear that the current crisis facing Europe has brought major challenges for all levels of government. This situation creates a lot of uncertainty and in several countries, the economic crisis has led to, or risks leading to, a serious social crisis.
The recent Conference on “Poverty and Inequality in Societies of Human Rights: the paradox of democracies” perfectly illustrates this reality. The conference enabled awareness to be increased that any restrictions on access to social rights have negative effects on the exercise of civil and political rights.
It clearly emerged that this process affects the values on which Europe is based. One of the conference’s main conclusions was that it is vital to strengthen local capacities in order to reduce poverty and inequalities in Europe’s towns and cities, and that cannot be done unless citizens play their part.
But as it is rightly said – “when the going gets tough the tough get going” – and it is this attitude which must guide us all, and which we owe to the people who have voted for us to represent them. Political representatives at all levels must demonstrate, through vigilance and focused action, that they are equal to the challenges facing them. Particular attention must be given to the protection of democratic processes and social cohesion, in the knowledge that these both can be victims of the negative consequences of the economic climate.
Andorra’s history and cultural and linguistic diversity inspired its priorities for its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. We are fully aware of the need to learn and strengthen togetherness and the protection of diversity and respect for difference. As part of the action to further democratic life, the top priority for the Andorran Chairmanship has been to promote education in democratic citizenship that is in human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the Council of Europe’s essential values.
We consider that efforts in this field need to be intensified in a society which has become and is set to remain diversified, where promoting tolerance and discrimination is crucial alongside the ability to integrate. Such education also aims to raise interest in the functioning of democratic institutions and to temper the current trends towards a passiveness in the attitude of citizens, even disenchantment and a loss of trust in these institutions.
In this respect, a number of activities have and will take place to promote education for democratic citizenship and human rights, with a particular focus of youth. Amongst these activities are three conferences, one which was held in November on the impact of the European Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights, a second held in Andorra La Vella on 7 and 8 February on competences for a culture of democracy and intercultural dialogue, and finally the 24th Conference of Ministers responsible for Education in Helsinki on 26 and 27 April 2013 under the theme “Governance and quality education”.
This same underlying theme of youth training and education led us to organise, jointly with the Council of Europe and Andorra’s town councils, the gathering of Young Ambassadors for Peace which is to take place in Andorra in April. This event will go hand-in-hand with mediation training for young Andorrans who work with young people.
In support of this main priority, the Chairmanship just recently launched a campaign to promote the European Convention of Human Rights – the aim of which is to mobilise civil society and youth but not exclusively – also using online social networks and in co-operation with youth organisations – to increase awareness on human rights protection. Publicising the Convention seems to us to be essential so as to ensure that the rights set out in the text are recognised and universally and effectively applied.
The Andorran Chairmanship intends to encourage the general public to read the Convention through a campaign involving the creation of an Internet page on the Council of Europe website. Participants are asked to pledge to read at least one article of the text and to publicise the Convention to the people around them.
We believe that responsibility for “nurturing human rights” is shared by all of us, each and every one of the 800 million people in the Europe-wide area of the Council of Europe. I invite you to become active, to participate by joining in with this campaign as of today.
If these efforts are to show progress, commitment and engagement from all levels of government are required, not least at the local and regional level. The theme of your current affairs debate on Tuesday – fostering active citizenship – is a witness to the important role that the Congress can play in raising awareness and educating at the local level on the various dimensions of democratic citizenship.
I would therefore invite all Congress members here today to support or continue to support Andorra in its objectives, through initiatives in their home towns and cities and also through the promotion of the on-line campaign. I would also take the opportunity here to refer to the growing interest in the concept of Smart Cities which was debated earlier during the session and which encompasses the promotion of participation of citizens in the governance of cities.
Members of the Congress,
Another consequence of the current economic climate is the heightened risk of social exclusion. Again, this topic which is likely to remain high on our common agenda in the foreseeable future was the subject of debate yesterday. We can all agree that our shared goal is to ensure a cohesive society. In this respect, combating inequalities and exclusion is primordial. Even when resources are scarce, this objective must remain a priority.
We have the duty to continue to protect the most vulnerable, including young people, many of whom are destabilised by the current economic climate, as well as other social groups, victims of discrimination and confronted with specific difficulties to integrate in society.
In this regard, I should take the opportunity to congratulate the Congress on its commitment to improving the situation of Roma communities throughout Europe. The Committee of Ministers welcomes the official launch later this morning of the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, which has already carried out some significant work.
This Alliance is an excellent example of the value of concrete and practical initiatives at the grassroots level. I can only encourage other municipalities and regions to join in this co-operation framework.
The last issue I shall mention today is the subject of promoting ethics and preventing corruption which will be debated later this morning. Combating corruption is another priority identified by the Andorran, Armenian and Austrian chairmanships. This is a challenge faced by all European countries which is closely linked to the responsibility of political representatives towards their electorate. Integrity and a commitment to stringently upholding the rule of law is essential if we wish to keep the trust of our citizens in democratic institutions and in those who represent them.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At this turbulent juncture of European history, the values of this Organisation need to be promoted, upheld and strengthened in our member States more than ever. This requires not only our common energies and commitment but also a readiness to be innovative in our action.
I am sure that through our common efforts, the Council of Europe will continue to play out its core mission of protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law across the Continent. Together we have a key role to play in this respect and I want to pay tribute to your action to this end.
Thank you for your attention.