10 February 2014

Declaration on the new Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia

1. The Bureau of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe welcomes the promulgation, on 27 January last, of the new Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia. It notes with satisfaction that this Constitution is grounded on democratic values and on the principles of separation and balance of powers, pluralism, impartial administration and good governance. Already in its Preamble, it guarantees respect for the “supremacy of the law, freedoms and human rights, independence of the judiciary, equality of rights and duties between all male and female citizens and fairness between all regions”, principles that the Council of Europe endeavours to defend and promote. The Bureau further observes, with interest, that preserving the balance between the regions and strengthening decentralisation appear among the General Principles of the new Constitution.

2. In particular, the Bureau views favourably the fact that the new Tunisian Constitution devotes Chapter Seven in its entirety to Local Government, which comprises municipalities, regions and districts. It underlines the fact that local government is based on decentralisation and that local authorities enjoy legal personality as well as financial and administrative independence. Furthermore, the Bureau holds the view that the Constitution also embodies, at least in an implicit manner, the principle of local self-government, notably by recognising, in its Article 132, the principle of administrative autonomy. It observes that local and regional democracy are enshrined in the text of the Constitution, which provides that municipal and regional councils are elected through general, free, direct, fair and transparent elections. The mechanisms of participatory democracy and the principles of open governance have also been incorporated into the new Constitution. Finally, the Bureau notes the recognition of the principle of financial autonomy, the inclusion of the target of achieving equivalence “between local resources and local burdens”, the possibility of dedicating a portion of the income from the exploitation of natural resources to stimulate regional development, as well as of the undertaking to “guarantee women’s representation in elected councils”.

3. The Bureau observes that the local and regional democracy dimension has been an integral part of the co-operation priorities established between the Council of Europe and Tunisia since the formation, in 2011, of the National Constituent Assembly, entrusted with the task of drafting the Constitution which has just been promulgated. In this context, the Bureau welcomes the many in-depth and fruitful exchanges that have taken place between the Congress, in close co-operation with the Venice Commission, and the competent Tunisian authorities, exchanges which have been instrumental in achieving a positive outcome in this field. The Bureau underscores, however, that the Constitution only stipulates the main lines of approach in the area of local and regional democracy, relying for the remainder on subsequent implementing legislation. Whilst recalling the importance of avoiding, as far as possible, a long time-lag between the promulgation of the Constitution and the adoption of the forthcoming implementing laws, the Bureau expresses the Congress’s resolve to pursue its co-operation with the Tunisian authorities with a view to facilitating a swift adoption of the above-mentioned implementing legislative rules.

4. Finally, the Bureau highlights the work that is already under way within the Congress with a view to providing for a future “Partner for Local Democracy” status, open to the participation of local and regional authorities of countries in the Council of Europe’s neighbourhood. The Bureau expresses the hope that, once in place, this new status will offer additional opportunities for deepening the links between the Congress and the newly elected local and regional authorities of Tunisia (notably in the preparation of local election legislation and, if necessary, the observation of local and/or regional elections), that it will contribute to the establishment and development of such authorities and, more generally, that it will enhance co-operation with this country in the area of local and regional democracy.