Press release - 379(2008)

“Congress has a reinforced political role and unique institutional presence”, says Halvdan Skard in his final activity report

Strasbourg, 27.05.2008 – “Over the past two years, the Congress has been gaining in political weight as a unique body monitoring the state of local and regional democracy in Europe,” stressed today outgoing Congress President Halvdan Skard, presenting his activity report to the 15th Plenary Session.

The report pointed out that the Congress, which was underpinning the Council of Europe’s action in the field of local self-government, had consolidated itself as the truly pan-European watchdog of and spokesman for territorial democracy, in partnership with national governments. The Congress today had a unique institutional presence and a remarkable range and depth of activities, in line with its priorities for 2007-2008. These are aimed at strengthening territorial democracy, promoting interregional and transfrontier cooperation, empowering territorial communities, and fostering intercultural and interreligious dialogue, among others.

The Committee of Ministers recognised the reinforced political role of the Congress and its position in the institutional balance of the Council of Europe by adopting, in May 2007, the new Congress Charter. The 15th Plenary Session was the first organised according to the new Charter, which provides for the possibility of holding two plenary sessions per year and stipulates, among other things, that all national delegations to the Congress must include a minimum of 30 per cent of the under-represented sex – a requirement met by all delegations at the 15th Session.

The Congress stepped up its cooperation with the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, especially through the European Committee for Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR), working together on the implementation of the European Strategy for Innovation and Good Governance at Local Level and the organisation of the European Local Democracy Week – a new annual event aimed at raising public awareness of and participation in democratic processes at local level.

Tools to monitor local and regional democracy – the Congress’ unique task in the European political architecture – were further developed, through discussions of a new procedure of compliance by member states with Congress recommendations, and the adoption of resolutions and recommendations on each election observation. The Congress’ Institutional Committee continued to monitor the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and elaborated amending and additional protocols to the Charter, opening it for accession by the EU and non-member states and introducing new provisions with respect to local authority property and finance. Both were adopted in 2007. The Committee also completed its work on the draft European Charter of Regional Democracy, a regional equivalent of the Local Self-Government Charter, to be adopted at the 15th Plenary Session.

The Congress continued its work in promoting interregional cooperation and in geographical priority areas – South-East Europe, South Caucasus, Ukraine and Moldova. A new ad hoc Working Group on Interregional Cooperation was set up at the end of 2007. The Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS) began its activities under the new Action Plan, and the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA) expanded its action from South-East Europe into South Caucasus, with an Agency opened in Kutaisi, Georgia.

The Congress was also expanding its activities beyond European borders, pushing for the renewed and continuing dialogue between European and Arab towns (the third Euro-Arab Cities Forum was held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in February 2008), involving local authorities in the Middle East, engaging – through Morocco – the Maghreb countries as well as other non-member states (Japan and Mexico, in particular), and cooperating with the UN Habitat on the implementation of decentralisation guidelines worldwide.

“This is a session of the renewal of Congress membership and leadership. Stepping down as Congress President after two years, I strongly believe that the Congress has a bright dynamic future, propelled by the will of its members to move forwards, and that Europe will only progress with reinforced co-operation and common standards at local and regional levels,” concluded outgoing President Halvdan Skard. “The role and activities of the Congress puts it in a unique position among European institutions to make a major contribution in this respect, and I am convinced that, endowed with proper means and resources, this dynamic and enthusiastic elected assembly, totally committed to its mission, will succeed in fulfilling it,” he said.

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