Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government

      16th Session, Utrecht, Netherlands, 16-17 November 2009

      Exchange of views between the Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

      Speech by Keith Whitmore, President of the Institutional Committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

      Director General of Democracy and Political Affairs,

      Ministers,

      Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

      Fellow members of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities,

      Ladies and Gentlemen,

      It is a great privilege for me to represent the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities during this exchange of views.

      The Congress grew out of the conviction that democratic Europe is being built every day in our communities, in our villages, towns, cities and regions – at the level closest to the citizen, which is the first line of defence of their rights, the level where public services can be delivered most efficiently and where our action yields the most tangible results.

      We in the Congress are convinced that the magnitude of the territorial dimension in Europe today puts local and regional authorities on an equal footing with governments and parliaments, working together as indispensable parts of the democratic machinery created by the Council of Europe over the past 60 years. Today, the dialogue between governments and territorial communities is of crucial importance for finding adequate solutions to the problems facing us, addressing the concerns and meeting the expectations of our citizens. Much as the dialogue between governments and national parliaments, it is an integral element of the democratic functioning of our societies.

      Ministerial conferences such as this one offer a great opportunity not only for an exchange of views on specific subjects of common concern, but also for coordinating our positions and approaches in the long-term and establishing a lasting relationship of interaction between the three tiers of governance. I hope that this Conference will give a special impetus to our regular cooperation, cooperation between the Congress and European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government, as we share the common goal of improving the well-being of our communities and our citizens.

      During these two days, you will hear our views, the position of the Congress which is today the main pan-European reference point for territorial authorities of more than 200,000 communities. The Congress represents a unique voice indeed, different from that of governments or national parliaments. It is the voice of the local and regional authorities, the voice of your communities, of our communities.

      As we speak about bringing improvement to local and regional governance, we must hear this voice of those who will be directly affected by our decisions. The Congress has a special input to make to our discussions, and some specific issues to raise, in particular with regard to the Kiviniemi report and the reference framework on regional democracy.

      We hope that this exchange of views will allow us to explain our position on the key issues of the Conference in greater detail, and will set the scene for our discussions during these two days, helping us to find a common ground for our cooperation on this matter. We certainly hope that you will take special heed of our voice and, most importantly, will fully recognise our place and role as part of joint decision-making and of the implementation mechanism, from this time onward.

      I wish all of us very productive discussions.

      Thank you.



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