25e Session du Congrès des pouvoirs locaux et régionaux du Conseil de l’Europe
Strasbourg, 29-31 octobre 2013
Giving regions special status helps to ease tensions
Strasbourg, 30.10.2013 – While many regions in Europe already enjoy special status, generally for geographical or historical reasons, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is reminding countries faced with regional tensions or conflicts that the adoption of "special status" can contribute to achieving negotiated settlements.
Its resolution, presented by Bruno Marziano (Italy, SOC) and adopted on 30 October 2013, is based on a study of regions with special status across Europe. Such regions are very often islands, such as Greenland (Denmark) or Madeira (Portugal), or enclaves within other states, for example the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in Azerbaijan. They are also frequently distinguishable by local people's cultural, linguistic or religious differences from the majority population of the state concerned.
Special status, which must be based in law, guarantees these regions greater autonomy, so as to take account of their particularities. However, the broader rights they enjoy must dovetail with those of the state as a whole. Relations between the two entities, in particular supervision of acts, substitution and co-operation mechanisms, must be clearly defined and co-ordinated. Regions with special status must have a democratic representative assembly and enjoy a number of core competences. These generally concern their cultural, linguistic and ethno-religious specificities and their infrastructure. These regions more often than not rely on their own resources to finance the implementation of their competences, but also receive lump sums from the state corresponding to part of the taxes levied within their territory.
The Congress points out that the introduction of special status has made it possible to settle a number of conflicts between such regions and "central" authorities, conflicts often linked to historical factors. A number of these regions came into being under international agreements, such as the South Tyrol in Italy or the Åland Islands in Finland. With autonomist tendencies on the rise in certain countries, the Congress underlines that granting such status, under a clearly defined legal and political framework, could help calm crises and counter the separatist risk. It moreover intends to pursue its research in this area, so as to develop effective models of such status that can contribute to the success of the regions concerned.
In addition, the regular monitoring visits made by the Congress to assess the state of local and regional democracy in Europe offer a good opportunity to assess the functioning of special status regions. Regional democracy is moreover often more firmly guaranteed there than elsewhere, making these regions good examples for others. Lastly, the Congress calls for the continued representation of these regions' democratic institutions within its Chamber of Regions..