Spring Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Malaga, 13 March 2008
Address by María Tena, General Director for Local Administration, Spain
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you on behalf of the Minister for Public Administration, Ms Elena Salgado, who, owing to her commitments in connection with the recent elections, regrets that she is unable to be here with you today as she would have liked.
I would also like to thank the city of Malaga, and in particular Mr Francisco de la Torre Prados, Mayor of Malaga and member of the Congress, for the warm welcome given to the other members of the Congress and for the excellent organisation of this year’s Spring Session.
It is particularly satisfying to have the opportunity to take stock of the situation of local and regional democracy in Spain just a few days after the election of representatives not only to the national parliament but also to the parliament of Andalusia, the autonomous community which is hosting this session. The high turnout in the 9 March elections is, as you will doubtless agree, a sign of a healthy democracy and provides an appropriate background for our discussions.
It is also a pleasure to attend this Spring Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, a European institution for the representation of local and regional authorities which does commendable work in upholding and promoting local democracy and local and regional self-government.
There are strong ties and warm relations between the Congress and the Spanish Government, and in particular the Ministry of Public Administration, as is only to be expected in the case of a country like ours, which has engaged in far-reaching processes of decentralisation that place it in the vanguard of Europe where this field is concerned. As you know, Spain has gone in a very short time from a highly centralised and unitary state model to one characterised by a high degree of political decentralisation. We have established a new level of regional autonomy which now plays a fundamental role in providing public services and, at the same time, we have also strengthened local self-government.
We are here today, for the third time in the last few years, to discuss the consequences of the assessment which gave rise to Recommendation 121(2002) of the Congress on local and regional democracy in Spain.
Like my predecessors in this forum, I would like once again to underline the quality and seriousness of the assessment of the state of local and regional democracy carried out by the Congress, which made an excellent diagnosis of the Spanish situation and put forward generally sensible and pertinent proposals that were undeniably the result of rigorous work and a sincere and open dialogue with the Spanish national, regional and local authorities. We are particularly satisfied and proud of the way in which the procedure was conducted and that we were all capable of working together to improve the standards of local and regional self-government in Spain.
Since the last session of the Congress in which we took part (2005), the Government and the democratic institutions of the Kingdom of Spain have continued their programme for the strengthening of local and regional democracy, and I will confine myself to presenting some of the aspects which are of particular relevance in illustrating the extent of the reforms carried out in these two fields.
First of all, with regard to matters of autonomy, I must stress the substantial progress that has been made in reforming the statutes of many of the autonomous communities. The revised versions of six ‘Statutes of Autonomy’ have already been approved and other draft reforms have been approved and are only awaiting final adoption by the national parliament – the Cortes Generales. Other autonomous communities have begun to take the necessary steps to reform their statutes.
The purpose of this new generation of reforms to the Statutes of Autonomy, which are being carried out in autonomous communities that are governed by a wide range of political forces, is to improve and define more clearly the powers and institutional framework of the autonomous communities.
The main thrusts of the approved reforms can be summarised as follows:
The statutes establish and/or strengthen the so-called new generation of rights, which reflect the social, scientific and technical changes that have taken place in Spain in recent years, and focus primarily on the citizen.
The reform of the Statutes of Autonomy is a significant step forward in the distribution of powers and in establishing a model based on three pillars. The result has been an increase in powers of self-government and a clearer distribution of these powers, and this increase in and clarification of powers have confirmed the need for co-operation between central government and the autonomous communities. The final outcome has been a change from a traditional bureaucratic form of government to a new type of joint government.
The most striking feature of the new Statutes of Autonomy is, beyond all doubt, the strong impetus given to co-operation between central government and the autonomous communities.
The basic principle of the statutes is that co-operation must be multilateral and bilateral, bearing in mind the specific characteristics of each autonomous community. The statutes establish or reinforce bodies of bilateral co-operation and, in keeping with national legislation, provide for the participation of the autonomous communities in the appointment of certain national bodies, and in some national decision-making procedures.
In keeping with the underlying principle of the new generation of statutes, aimed at fostering institutional relations and co-operation between the local and regional authorities, the statutes strengthen and broaden relations between the relevant autonomous community and the corresponding local government bodies, within the basic framework established by the central government.
These relations are therefore based on the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality, differentiation and budgetary autonomy, in keeping with the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Local self-government is also reinforced with a hard core of exclusive powers, the autonomous communities have greater financial responsibility towards the local authorities, and co-operation bodies are established between the autonomous community and the local authorities on its territory.
The provisions of the new statutes, which require co-operation between central government and the autonomous communities, are being implemented through corresponding agreements between the Spanish Government and the governments of the autonomous communities, as well as through existing co-operation bodies.
Moreover, the Conference of Presidents, set up by the current Government and comprising the Spanish Prime Minister and the Presidents of the Autonomous Communities and Cities, has firmly established itself, and become the main forum for securing agreement on major areas of general policy affecting the autonomous communities.
This top-level body proposed by the Government for co-operation between the different levels of administration is the result of a commitment given by the Prime Minister in his campaign programme, and is in keeping with the principles of democracy.
This high-level conference has already met on three occasions to discuss important subjects affecting the lives of the general public, such as the financing of the national health system, water issues or research and development policy.
Moreover, within this co-operation framework, an agreement on representation of the autonomous communities in the Council of the European Union has been signed in the Conference on matters relating to the European Communities, CARCE, which is chaired by the Minister for Public Administration in the Senate.
Under this agreement, the autonomous communities have secured direct representation on four Councils of Ministers of the European Union. Ten sectoral conferences are responsible for appointing the representatives of the autonomous communities, on a consensus basis. Likewise, two officials of the autonomous communities are now appointed to the Spanish Permanent Representation to the EU.
This system has enabled the autonomous communities to play a direct part in formulating the Spanish Government’s position vis-à-vis the European Union on various subjects concerning it.
We also intend to make progress on a number of key areas of local self-government.
One of the new Government’s objectives in the legislative sphere is to enact a new basic law on local government and administration while seeking the greatest possible consensus among all those concerned.
The new law should substantially strengthen local self-government in Spain, especially as far as the powers of local authorities are concerned. Because of the elections, the law did not secure final approval, so we will have to wait for the new government and national parliament to launch a new process to achieve the broadest possible consensus on a law governing an entire level of government, which is, moreover, the level closest to the grass roots.
I also wish to point out that two important laws have been enacted which stipulate the special arrangements governing the two biggest Spanish cities, Madrid and Barcelona – the former taking account of Madrid’s status as capital – and meet the demands of both municipalities in numerous spheres by reinforcing their powers and responsibilities.
Another important aspect that I should underline is the improvement in local financing, which is a fundamental aspect of self-government. During this term of office, i.e. since 2004, there has been a more significant increase in the percentage of non-earmarked funding from the state than ever before, in keeping not only with one point of the Government’s programme in this field but also – at least partly – with a long-standing requirement of Spanish local government.
I should also point out that, through the new ‘Land Law’, higher standards of public ethics and transparency have been introduced into local government management, a sphere in which the “acquis” and work of the Council of Europe are also relevant and significant. These improvements in public ethics have helped to strengthen the standing of local government authorities in line with the demands of the public at large.
Finally, I would like to point out that the question of the right to unemployment benefit for local authority members who perform their duties either full-time or part time has already been settled, thus resolving once and for all a discriminatory situation which has generated a great deal of injustice and helping to substantially improve the status of local elected representatives.
As you can therefore see, the Spanish Government has continued its work on strengthening local and regional democracy in our country, in keeping with the spirit and letter of Recommendation 121(2002), and to my great satisfaction I have today been able to report to you on the substantial progress made.
I am available to answer any questions you might have on these aspects of local and regional self-government.
Thank you very much.