“Council of Europe Convention on Regional Self-Government – progress of the draft” - CPR (11) 2 Part II

Rapporteurs:
Giovanni DI STASI, Italy,
Chamber of Regions
Political Group : SOC
and
Karsten BEHR, Germany,
Chamber of Regions
Political Group: EPP/CD

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EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

1. In 1997, the Congress adopted Recommendation 34 (1997) proposing that the governments of the member States of the Council of Europe back the preparation of a European Charter of Regional Self-Government. Since then, the Congress has stated its views on the progress of this work on several occasions, firstly by adopting Resolution 146 (2002) on the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government. At its 10th Plenary Session (Strasbourg, 20-22 May 2003) the Congress, having before it a proposal from the Chamber of Regions and basing its response on a report by Peter RABE (Germany), adopted Resolution 161 (2003) on the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government - progress of work for its adoption as an international convention.

2. Mr Rabe's report set out to summarise the various phases of the discussions held within the Council of Europe, and also the European Union, since the adoption by the Congress of Resolution 146 (2002) concerning the same subject. Resolution 161 stressed in particular the importance of harmonising the provisions of a future European Charter on Regional Self-Government and the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the future convention on regional self-government. It called on the Congress, its members and its delegations to continue lobbying national governments with a view to having the Council of Europe adopt a European Charter of Regional Self-Government with the legal status of a convention.

3. In the context of the follow-up action to Resolution 161 (2003), the Bureau of the Congress decided on 13 February 2004 to ask the Bureau of the Chamber of Regions to prepare, in co-operation with the Chamber's Institutional Committee, a third progress report on work on the European Charter of Regional Self-Government. Giovanni DI STASI (Italy), President of the Chamber of Regions, was appointed as Rapporteur for the Bureau and Karsten BEHR (Germany) as Rapporteur for the Committee.

4. The objective of this report is to take stock of intergovernmental activities in this field since the 10th Congress Plenary Session, above all in the light of the finalisation of a draft Convention and of a draft Recommendation of the Committee of Minsters by the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR), and to determine the action to be taken by the Congress so as to promote the adoption of a European Charter of Regional Self-Government in the form of a Council of Europe convention.

II. Progress of work to prepare draft legal instruments on regional self-government by the CDLR

5. In accordance with the Declaration adopted in June 2002 at the Helsinki Conference by the European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government and with reference to the core concepts of regional self-government accepted by these ministers on the occasion of said conference, on 10 October 2002 the Committee of Ministers assigned new terms of reference to the CDLR, instructing it to prepare drafts of different types of legal instruments on regional self-government by the end of 2003 (see the terms of reference in Appendix). In accordance with these terms of reference, the CDLR started at the end of 2002 preparation of a draft Convention and a draft Recommendation on regional self-government. In fulfilling these terms of reference, the CDLR was assisted by its Committee of Experts on the Framework and Structure of Local and Regional Government (LR-FS).

q Committee of Experts on the Framework and Structure of Local and Regional Government (LR-FS)

6. Following the adoption of the Congress's Resolution 161 in May 2003, the LR-FS held a meeting on 29 and 30 September 2003 to prepare draft legal instruments on regional self-government of different types, namely a draft Recommendation by the Committee of Ministers and a draft Convention. At that meeting the Committee of Experts approved both draft texts, which were then transmitted to the CDLR.

q Results of meetings of the CDLR (Steering Committee for Local and Regional Democracy)

7. At its 32nd meeting (Strasbourg, 3-5 November 2003), the CDLR finalised the draft European Convention on Regional Self-Government, as presented by the LR-FS. However, the CDLR did not reach agreement on the provision concerning regional financial resources and decided to submit two alternative versions of the article in question to the Committee of Ministers. Regarding inclusion of a provision on the potential accession of the European Union to the convention, the CDLR's position was that, for the time being, the possibility of accession should remain open.

8. In general terms, it should be noted that, in comparison to the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government of the Congress, the draft Convention drawn up by the CDLR has the additional advantages of more detailed provisions, more precise definitions and principles directly founded on the common principles of regional self-government formulated by the Ministers in the 2002 Helsinki Declaration.

9. In particular, the draft Convention:

    a. expressly recognises the right of states to establish, reform and abolish regional authorities on their territory,
    b. in order to make the text more flexible and therefore acceptable to as many states as possible, introduces an a “menu” formula allowing the states to ratify only some of the convention's provisions;
    c. in the interests of harmonious coexistence with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, enables the contracting states to choose to be bound, where their regional authorities are concerned, either by Part II of the Convention on regional self-government, or by the provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, pursuant to its article 13.

10. From a political viewpoint, the draft Charter drawn up by the Congress offered provisions that were more favourable to regional autonomy, for example as regards the financial resources of regions, machinery for supervising the application of the Charter or transfrontier cooperation and the operational arrangements for it.

11. With regard to the draft Recommendation by the Committee of Ministers on regional self-government, following a detailed discussion of the text, similar to that held on the draft Convention, the CDLR failed to reach a consensus at its November meeting, in particular on the wording of the paragraph concerning regional taxes and own resources.

12. Given the difficulty of debating financial autonomy and in order to finish its work in time, at the meeting in November 2003 the CDLR decided to request the Committee of Ministers to extend the deadline for completion of its terms of reference concerning the preparation of draft legal instruments on regional self-government until the end of June 2004. At their 867th meeting on 8 January 2004 the Ministers' Deputies agreed to grant the CDLR this extra time to complete its work.

13. Taking into consideration the Ministers' Deputies decision, the Hungarian delegation of the CDLR proposed that the next Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government, initially planned for the second half of 2004, should be held in Budapest during the first half of 2005 (in February according to the most recent information).

14. Mr. György HERCZEG (Hungary), Chair of the CDLR, addressed the Standing Committee of the Congress on 26 November 2003. In the part of his statement concerned with preparation of draft legal instruments on regional self-government he stressed the importance of close co-operation between the CDLR and the Congress in these matters. He also reiterated that it was necessary to arrive at a result acceptable for all concerned, allowing the adoption of a legal instrument on regional self-government acceptable for each member state, and said he hoped this compromise solution would be reached at the ministerial conference in Budapest in 2005 (see above).

15. [In the light of the aforegoing, at its 33rd meeting, held in Strasbourg from 17 to 19 May 2004, the CDLR finalised and definitively approved the draft Recommendation and the draft Convention on regional self-government, within the framework of its final activity report adopted at that meeting. The texts have been forwarded to the Ministers' Deputies by the CDLR Secretariat. On that basis, the Deputies could decide to forward the documents to the next Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government to be held in Budapest in the first half of 2005.]

III. Statements before the Congress by the high representatives of the UK and Italian governments

16. Speaking at the 10th Session of the Congress, John PRESCOTT, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was keen to stress the importance of asserting democratic principles concerning local and regional self-government in Europe. In this context and being directly involved in creating elected regional assemblies in England, Mr Prescott voiced clear support for regionalisation. However, he confirmed that his government had reservations over a European convention on regional self-government.

17. Even so, the British Deputy Prime Minister wished to reassure the Congress that the British Government would closely examine the suggestions made and was prepared to play a constructive role in intergovernmental discussion of this convention.

18. On 25 November 2003 Enrico LA LOGGIA, Italy's Minister for Regional Affairs, addressed the autumn session of the Congress. On that occasion he reiterated his feeling of confidence about the adoption of a European convention on regional self-government by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and stated that his ministry intended to play a constructive role in the CDLR's work on the subject.

19. The Minister believed that states still opposed to a convention should not prevent those in favour from adopting such an instrument within the Committee of Ministers. Although they were entitled to voice their misgivings, states still against the idea should attempt to understand the needs clearly identified by other countries. In a spirit of European fellowship, these states could accept that a solution which did not suit their requirements could in fact be a necessity for others.

20. In that connection he believed that the legal solutions that would be proposed to make the convention more flexible and to reinforce the right of individual states not to sign and ratify it should ultimately enable all member states of the Council of Europe to agree to this new international legal instrument.

21. With the aim of better explaining the convention, its political foundations and its legal mechanisms, Mr la Loggia was envisaging holding an informal ministerial meeting in Italy in 2004, to mark the halfway point in the process and to help prepare for the 14th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government in 2005.

IV. Conclusions

22. The Rapporteurs can say that the project initiated by the Congress and its Chamber of Regions, in 1997, has completed a further step required to obtain the necessary backing among the member States for its adoption.

23. The work of the CDLR has clarified the different conceptions and political orientations of the member State governments in this area. It has also yielded two draft European legal instruments, one of them binding in the form of a Convention, and other non-binding in the form of a Recommendation.

24. Both are high-quality texts and have the merit of now existing. They are based on the principles and basic concepts of the regional authority adopted at the Helsinki Conference and recognised by the governments within the CDLR.

25. In addition, it can be seen from the draft Convention that a number of basic concepts shaping the initial draft, prepared within the Congress and adopted in 1997, feature in the draft prepared by the CDLR, pointing to a common overall vision of the basic concepts and working machinery of regional democracy in Europe shared by the government representatives and the office-holders at local and regional level represented by the Congress.

26. It remains to be decided whether this European legal instrument is to be binding or not on the member States and to what extent. The question will certainly be at the heart of future debates within both the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and the Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government likely to be held in 2005.

27. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is closely following activities and debates at intergovernmental level. Its continuing wish is that those responsible at governmental level and their representatives can agree on an approach allowing the adoption of a Convention. The Congress reiterates its conviction that an instrument taking the form of a Convention would be the appropriate formula for promoting regionalisation in Europe and implementing a policy of decentralisation and application of the subsidiarity principle.

28. The Congress believes that a Convention on regional self-government would be an important instrument complementing the European Charter of Local Self-Government, considering the two instruments as a legal basis for developing and stabilising local and regional democracy in all Council of Europe member States. The draft has received the backing of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. The support of the European Union's Committee of the Regions is further evidence of the importance attached by this European Union Institution to such an instrument, capable of ensuring regional democracy at European Union level and in its new member countries in particular.

29. The Rapporteurs wish to take this opportunity to renew the call to the government representatives within the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and to the forthcoming Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government in Budapest to pledge themselves to European regional democracy and seek a compromise aimed at adopting an effective legal instrument in the form of a Council of Europe Convention.

Appendix

Decision No. CM/850/10102002
Ad hoc terms of reference

1. Name of the Committee
Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR)

2. Source of the terms of reference
Committee of Ministers

3. Completion date
31 December 2003

4. Terms of reference

To elaborate drafts for legal instruments of different types on regional self-government.
To this end, the CDLR shall:

    a. bear in mind the Helsinki Declaration on Regional Self-Government as a whole
    b. be aware that “legal instruments of different types” denotes both conventions and recommendations
    c. base itself on the guidelines contained in paragraph 18 of the said Declaration
    d. take into account all the proposals made during the Conference of European Ministers responsible for local and regional government (Helsinki, 27-28 June 2002).
    e. have regard to the developing experiences of member states.

In order to fulfil these terms of reference, the CDLR can establish working parties and/or have recourse to a consultant.

5. Name of the Committee(s) to which these terms of reference are communicated for information



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