Autumn Session of the Congress of local and Regional authorities of the Council of Europe
13-15 November 2006, Moscow
Speech by Halvdan Skard President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, at the opening of the Autumn Session
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First and foremost, I would like to express my appreciation on behalf of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, to the Russian authorities for inviting us to hold this Autumn Session in Moscow, in the framework of the Russian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. I believe that this is a very good initiative for one of the Congress sessions during the year to be held in a Council of Europe member states, and I hope that this will serve as an example for other Chairs of the Committee of Ministers to follow.
Secondly, I would like to underline that the Russian authorities have been paying a very close attention to the work of the Congress both before and during their Chairmanship which, for me, shows the importance that they have been giving to the questions of federalism – an issue on which the Congress and the Russian Federation have been cooperating for quite a long time – as well as the matters relating to the development of territorial democracy and local and regional self-government. On the other hand, it shows the understanding of the growing role of territorial communities, at both local and regional level, in today’s Europe.
This is why I am so pleased to see, and I welcome, a great number of personalities representing national, regional and local tiers of government participating in this Session, to discuss the sometimes complex issues of relationships between central governments and territorial communities – such as the distribution of competences, financing of local self-government, budgetary and spatial development planning, and others.
In this regard, we cannot but express our concern about the draft law submitted to the Russian State Duma which provides for the transfer of competencies concerning the administration of regional capitals to regional structures. We believe that with so much progress that Russia has made in developing self-government in the recent years, including two laws on this matter adopted in not such a distant past, this new draft law, if adopted, will be a setback and will jeopardize the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which Russia has ratified, on the territory of the Federation.
It is heartening to see that this attitude is also shared by many municipal associations in Russia, including the Association of Siberian and Far Eastern Municipalities which has just adopted a petition calling on the State Duma not to adopt the law the way it is, and to take into account concerns expressed by our Congress.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The issue of ensuring the proper functioning of territorial communities has been growing in importance over the years since the fall of the Communist regimes paved the way for the unification of Europe, and we, in the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities representing 200,000 territorial communities, are working to make sure that territorial democracy flourishes. As I said at the outset, we have achieved a lot of progress with the Russian Federation as far as self-government is concerned. We have launched together, with the Russian authorities, an ambitious project of a Centre for inter-regional and cross-border cooperation, to be placed in St Petersburg, which will create bridges between European regions both bordering and not bordering each other, between both EU and non-EU member countries.
We also have been promoting – in a similar spirit – Euroregions of a new type, based around the semi-closed European seas (such as the Adriatic, the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea Euroregions) and bringing together national, regional and local authorities from the countries with the access to these basins. We certainly hope that Russia will fully participate in the creation of the Black Sea Euroregion, which has been recently discussed in Samsun, in Turkey, during a conference organized by the Congress.
All these issues make this session ever so more important as we embark on our renewed priorities in the fields of developing territorial democracy, reinforcing communities, strengthening local and regional self-government and promoting cross-border cooperation. It is important for us, it is important for democracy on our continent, and I am sure that our deliberations today will bring it forward.