Local and regional democracy in Slovenia
Presentation by the Rapporteurs:
Merita JEGENI YILDIZ, Turkey (R, EPP/CD) and Jos WIENEN, The Netherlands (L, EPP/CD)
This report on the situation of local democracy in Slovenia follows upon a first monitoring visit conducted in 2001 and aims at assessing the action undertaken following the adoption of Recommendation 89(2001). The rapporteurs express satisfaction that local democracy in Slovenia complies with the provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and provides options for citizen participation. The report takes note of the improvements as regards the distribution of shared state taxes, good practices concerning the integration of Roma minorities and the status of the capital city. It notes, however, that the consultation process between the local authorities and the central government has not improved, the fragmentation of municipalities remains an issue and the process of regionalisation is still blocked. This being said, a consensus between the political actors seems to have been reached on the necessity to set up regions in Slovenia.
The Congress recommends that Slovenia increase the local authorities’ revenue autonomy, promote mergers of local authorities where appropriate, reach a compromise on the number of regions and launch the process of regionalization. It also invites the authorities to disseminate the existing good practices concerning the integration of Roma into local communities.
Local and regional democracy in Bulgaria
Presentation by the Rapporteurs:
Johan SAUWENS, Belgium (L, EPP/CD) and Artur TORRES PEREIRA, Portugal ((L, EPP/CD)
The office of Ombudsman and local and regional authorities
Presentation by the Rapporteurs:
Helena PIHLAJASAARI, Finland, (R, SOC) and Halvdan SKARD, Norway (L, SOC)
Despite great advances in Ombudsman services in recent years, there remain significant gaps in Ombudsman protection at local and regional level.
The report underlines the need to further develop Ombudsman services, ensuring that they are properly staffed and resourced. Local and regional authorities can help strengthen Ombudsman services and ensure that proper follow-up is given to their recommendations. Public awareness of these services is inadequate and measures should be taken to give them a higher profile.
The Ombudsman is an essential institution of good governance, safeguarding the individual against administrative abuses and fostering public confidence in local and regional services. The current economic crisis is increasing the workload of Ombudsman services at a time when many of these services themselves risk being cut.
Local and regional democracy in Finland
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Jean-Louis TESTUD, France (L, EPP/CD)
This report follows a monitoring visit on the situation of local and regional democracy in Finland, which had already been the subject of a recommendation and an information report in 1999. The report notes that, in Finland, the legitimacy of the exercise of power is firmly rooted in the principles of subsidiarity and local democracy and that there is an exemplary culture of consultation and involvement of local authorities by central government in Finland.
The recommendation calls on the Finnish authorities to continue to take steps to limit local government deficits so as to avoid excessive indebtedness of certain municipalities and to ensure an equal standard of basic services throughout the country. It also calls on local authorities to evaluate the repercussions of the recently launched reorganisation of deconcentrated public services in all regions, which may result in transfers of powers from municipalities to central government. Finally, it encourages Finnish authorities to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in local affairs as well as the Additional Protocols to the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities (ETS No. 159, ETS No. 169 and CETS No. 206).
Situation of Roma: a challenge for local and regional authorities
Presentation by the Rapporteur: John Warmisham, United Kingdom (L, SOC)
Roma have faced a long history of social exclusion and marginalisation within European society, exclusion which is compounded by severe disadvantage across a number of inter-related fields: lack of education, unemployment, poverty, lack of access to healthcare, poor housing and residential segregation, etc. Recent events are proof that this marginalisation and severe discrimination are on-going.
Anti-Gypsyism has deep roots in European history. Myths and stereotypes about Roma continue to prevail in the minds of the non-Roma population, rooted in ignorance, fear and segregation, and still largely unchallenged by education. The recent resurgence of extremism targeted at Roma and other groups, fostered by the economic recession, fomented by demagogues, and fed by media reports, demonstrates that anti-Gypsyism continues to be potent as a populist political force.
Local and regional authorities have a responsibility to protect and promote the human rights of their citizens and they have a wide range of powers they can use for this purpose. They have, therefore, a duty to take effective action at the local level to address Roma issues in order to remedy the situation of the social exclusion of Roma.
Revision of Congress texts concerning human rights adopted at the 18th and 19th Sessions upon recommendations of the Committee of Ministers
On 6 July 2011, the Committee of Ministers adopted a reply to Congress Recommendation 280 (2010) on "the role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights".
In its reply the Committee of Ministers welcomes the intensification of the Congress' work on the issue of respect for human rights at local and regional level and notes that the Congress does not intend to monitor the commitments of States with regard to human rights and their implementation by local authorities.
Nevertheless, for the sake of clarity and in order to avoid any possible ambiguity concerning the scope of the Congress’ activities with regard to human rights, the Committee of Ministers asked the Congress to reconsider the terminology used in Recommendation 280 (2010) and Resolution 296 (2010) on the implementation of human rights at local and regional level as well as in Resolution 307 (2010) on monitoring the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self–Government and Resolution 310 (2010) on priorities of the Congress for 2011-2012.
The above-mentioned texts are presented in this document with the proposed modifications (in bold italics) in order to clarify the content and scope of the activities of the Congress regarding human rights.
Raising human rights awareness among local and regional elected representatives
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Lars O. MOLIN, Sweden, (L, EPP/CD)
The report, based on Congress Resolution 296 (2010) on the role of local authorities in implementing human rights, develops an appropriate methodology for collecting data and providing analysis in order to identify the problems facing local authorities in their daily work.
The report sets out the Congress strategy on how to approach human rights issues from the local and regional point of view. It underlines the importance of adopting a rights-based approach at the local level (including civil, political, economic and social rights) and of building upon the work of existing Council of Europe monitoring bodies. To ensure an exchange of good practices, the resolution proposes a series of activities such as training programmes for elected representatives and action plans. It also proposes the holding of an international conference on raising local authorities’ awareness of human rights and drafting five-yearly reports on the implementation of policies for human rights by local and regional authorities in the member States of the Council of Europe.
Energy supply and efficiency at local and regional level
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Svetlana ORLOVA, Russian Federation (R, EPP/CD)
The 21st century is set to see major changes in the energy field which will have a direct impact on local and regional authorities. The energy supply framework which prevails today represents a break in the link between energy and the local area: local and regional authorities are excluded from decision-making processes and consequently become heavily energy-dependent. The present situation requires a transition to a new energy paradigm, making use of renewable energies which will result in a lower and more efficient consumption than is the case today. In this new, emerging model, local and regional authorities will play a decisive role as energy producers, distributors and consumers, as well as urban planners and investors. They must therefore have the requisite competences and responsibilities relating to energy supply and use, be able to choose energy sources and supply methods, and control the impact of the transport infrastructure on their areas and communities. The report examines the requirements for this energy transition, and sets forth recommendations for local and regional authorities to seize the opportunities presented by the current situation and to strengthen their role in the transition process.
Local and regional democracy in Serbia
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Odd Arild KVALÖY, Norway (R, NR)
The report concerns the first monitoring visit to Serbia since it joined the Council of Europe on 3 April 2003 and ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 2007. The Rapporteurs express satisfaction that the guiding principles of local self-government are secured in Serbian legislation. The report notes that there is widespread acknowledgment of the need for reforming local self-government and moving towards regional autonomy and welcomes the legislation granting special status to the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina. It also takes note of the developments concerning citizens’ participation in the decision-making process and the protection of human rights since the adoption of the present Constitution in 2006. It points to some areas of concern, such as the burden of the financial crisis on municipalities, the lack of intermunicipal cooperation for pooling scarce resources and the insufficient consultation of local authorities by central government.
The Congress recommends that the Serbian Government find a legislative solution to the issue of restitution of public property to local authorities and to improve intermunicipal cooperation as well as consultation between central and local government. It draws attention to the need to continue the implementation of the status of autonomy for the province of Vojvodina, and recommends that Serbia lift its reservations on Articles 4 para. 3 and 8 para. 3 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government dealing with the principle of subsidiarity. Finally, the Congress calls upon Serbia to sign and ratify the Additional Protocols to the Charter.
***Since the visit, new legislation has been adopted in Serbia making certain points of the recommendation and the report invalid. These points will be discussed during the session.
Local and regional democracy in Latvia
Presentation by the Rapporteurs: Jean-Claude FRECON, France (L, SOC) and Philippe LEUBA, Switzerland (R, NR)
This report follows upon a monitoring visit conducted in 1998, after Latvia’s ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 1996. It concludes that Latvia’s legislation on local government is a good basis for the development of local self-government and that the position of local authorities has been strengthened by constitutional case-law. However, it stresses concern over the local authorities’ inadequate level of own resources and the decline in their finances due to the economic crisis as well as the restriction on their free access to the capital market to borrow funds. It also underlines once again that the pending restrictions on the participation in public affairs of non-citizens who identify with a national minority, including the failure to allow them to vote in local elections.
The Congress recommends the Latvian authorities to increase local authorities’ financial autonomy, and to grant a special legal status to Riga as capital. It calls for developing the planning regions as autonomous entities and encourages measures to grant non-citizens the right to vote in local elections. Finally the Congress invites Latvia to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority as well as Protocol No. 3 to the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities concerning Euroregional Co-operation Groupings (ECGs).
II. REPORTS SUBMITTED TO THE CHAMBER OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Local elections in Albania (8 May 2011)
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Volkram GEBEL, Germany (EPP/CD)
The Congress accepted the official invitation from the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to observe the municipal elections of 8 May 2011 in Albania. The observer's delegation included 14 members (10 members of the Congress and 4 members of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union). The delegation was headed by Hana RICHTERMOCOVA (Czech Republic ILDG). Volkram GEBEL (Germany, EPP/CD) was appointed Rapporteur.
The report stresses that the elections, outside the capital city and apart from some exceptions, were transparent but that continuous tensions between the two main political coalitions were experienced. This negatively affected the electoral process and the political atmosphere.
The Albanian public authorities made considerable efforts and the election preparation improved. However, there were several shortcomings and the political parties, entitled to largely contribute to management of the elections, failed to discharge their duties.
The Congress is ready to support actions for improving the exercise of local democracy and, in particular, of local elections, to help the newly elected representatives on local democracy issues and to contribute to establishing a climate of trust and democracy between the stakeholders.
Local elections in Moldova (5 June 2011)
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Hannes WENINGER, Austria (SOC)
Following the official invitation from the Chairman of the Central Election Commission of Moldova to observe the local elections on 5 June 2011,1 the Congress appointed a delegation of 18 observers.2
The delegation concluded, after the pre-election mission and actual observation of the first round of votes, that local elections in Moldova were calm, orderly and well organised.
From a Congress perspective, the local vote of 5 June 2011 marked a further step in the right direction. It showed that progress was made in respect of the organisational framework of election management. There was a vibrant campaign, contestants behaved – mostly – in a responsible manner and there was improvement in respect of the media coverage of the campaign.
However, it is the Congress’ opinion that Moldova is not at the end of the reform process and there is room for improvement, in particular in respect of: accuracy of the voters’ lists; campaign and party financing and clarity of electoral competences between different levels of administration in Moldova.
The Congress delegation pointed to the need for clearer legislation for local authorities who are in charge of important areas of election administration in Moldova. The transfer of powers and resources must also be assured.
The Congress delegation called on the responsible Moldovan authorities to continue dialogue with the Council of Europe, particularly the Venice Commission, and to pursue further reforms to improve election administration and the situation of territorial democracy in Moldova.
Reservations and declarations to the European Charter of Local Self-Government
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Michael COHEN, Malta (SOC)
The European Charter of Local Self-Government remains the most important European legal instrument for guaranteeing and developing local and regional democracy.
The Congress is committed to increasing the impact of the Charter. It therefore undertakes to periodically review the reservations and declarations to this treaty and to encourage member States to do the same, with a view to extending, where possible, its formal application in member States.
The Congress will address this issue in all its country monitoring missions and invites associations of local and regional authorities to participate in this review process.
The Committee of Ministers is invited to consider preparing reports on non-accepted provisions of the Charter.
The European Charter of Local Self-Government in domestic law
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Willy BORSUS, Belgium (ILDG)
The Congress proposes a package of measures to strengthen the reception of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in the domestic law of its member States.
The Monitoring Committee is asked to examine the reception of the Charter during its monitoring visits and to encourage judicial bodies to base their decisions on the Charter, or on the domestic law related to its reception, in cases relating to local democracy.
The Governance Committee is asked to draft guidelines on the current interpretation of the Charter, for use by monitoring, legislative and judicial bodies.
Associations of local authorities are asked to work with their national authorities to ensure that the Charter is made available in their national, regional and minority languages and to encourage local authorities to use it as a legal instrument for protecting local democracy.
Education for democratic citizenship – tools for cities
Presentation by the Rapporteur: Dario GHISLETTA, Switzerland (SOC)
Citizens’ civil and political awareness is a necessary element in the development of a healthy pluralist democracy and of democratic citizenship. Local authorities have a duty to promote and facilitate active democratic citizenship, good local democracy being an essential building block for effective democracy at regional, national and international levels. By ensuring access to education for democratic citizenship (EDC) in their communities, local authorities will provide citizens with necessary knowledge, skills and understanding of democratic processes, help to develop democratic attitudes and behaviour, and encourage citizens to actively defend their rights and exercise their responsibilities in society. The report takes stock of the tools available to local authorities for developing policies on EDC and establishing frameworks for their implementation. It sets forth recommendations for an intelligent use of these tools.