Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government
“Good local and regional governance in turbulent times: the challenges of change”
16th Session, Utrecht, Netherlands, 16-17 November 2009
Speech by Ian Micallef, President a.i. of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to speak at this Conference on behalf of local and regional authorities of our continent, on behalf of elected representatives chosen by our citizens.
Local and regional authorities are close allies and partners of national governments in their endeavours to improve the well-being of their nations. It is even more so in a time of change when territorial communities come forward as the beacons of the nation’s stability, which will depend to a great extent on the quality of their governance through these turbulent times.
In the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, it is our strong conviction that a major component of this time of change is the shift of power towards local and regional level as a result of decentralisation and regionalisation in Europe, which brings to the forefront the role of territorial communities and their authorities in this process.
With the process of decentralisation, the governments of Europe have recognised first the legitimacy and then the usefulness of local and regional governance. This is why we are in charge, on the basis of the European Charter on Local Self Government, of the monitoring of our countries for the quality of local and regional democracy. This monitoring is the sole responsibility of the Congress and sometimes, Ministers, we would like to see you more active on the implementation of our recommendations in this respect.
We are convinced that, paradoxically, the era of globalisation is also the era of the localism. Local authorities are at the heart of the economic revival policies, and sustainability, the other wing of the new policy to find a way out of this crisis.
It is clear therefore that any action to ensure good governance of our communities must necessarily involve local and regional authorities themselves. The importance of their input into national policy-making has already been recognised by most governments, and it is equally important to engage them in decision-making on the implementation of your decisions.
However, this is a duel process: as a partner, we, local and regional authorities and their Congress, expect national governments to fulfil their responsibility in implementing our recommendations on local and regional democracy.
Insofar, as it is crucial for national policies to receive grassroots support, it is critical for local and regional action to be supported by national governments.
This is why governments and territorial authorities today, and especially so in this challenging time, need to be engaged in constant dialogue with each other, both within national frameworks and at European level, in the institutional framework of the Council of Europe.
Addressing the Committee of Ministers on 9 September this year, I stressed the effectiveness of creating a constructive dialogue and closer working relations between the Congress and the Committee of Ministers.
The Congress wishes to pursue its cooperation with all pillars of the Council of Europe, and in particular with the Committee of Ministers, and also the CDLR and this Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government. We do so in a positive spirit, bearing in mind our specific role, at the same time sharing our goals of the Council of Europe. We need to work together. However, the Congress, as an accountable body, is extremely concerned at the proposal that external experts should be put in a position to evaluate the activities of a democratically elected assembly and effectively to undermine the principle of subsidiarity by suggesting that local politicians are not capable to make decisions themselves. To pursue this policy is totally unacceptable to the Congress.
Therefore, we are convinced of the necessity to engage in dialogue with governments during this Conference and to put forward our position on behalf of local and regional governments.
The Congress gave its favourable opinion on the 3rd Protocol to the Madrid Convention on transfrontier cooperation and, although with some reservations, on the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government, concerning democratic participation at local level. Cooperation between communities and citizens’ active involvement in community affairs are both extremely important aspects in improving local and regional governance.
However, the Congress made clear its position, which is also shared by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. They concern the Kiviniemi report on enhancing the work of the Council of Europe in the field of local and regional democracy, as well as the reference framework on regional democracy.
As I have already underlined, the Congress, much as the Parliamentary Assembly, is an elected political assembly within the institutional framework of the Council of Europe, representing the views of more than 200,000 local and regional communities. There is no doubt in our mind that with this institutional role, the Congress must be fully involved as an equal partner in enhancing the Organisation’s work in the field of local and regional democracy. Local and regional authorities will be the first to put into practice proposals for concrete action, and their views cannot be ignored.
The same is true for the reference framework on regional democracy which should be seen to be the first step towards a recognition of regional government.
We are confident these positions will be taken into account in your final decisions.
I wish this Conference every success.