Second International Meeting of the Territories of Co-responsibility
Mulhouse, France, 22-23 November 2012
Speech by Vice-President Gaye Doganoglu, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Dear Mayor ROTTNER,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this 2nd Meeting of Territories of Co-responsibility, and I wish to thank in particular the City of Mulhouse and its Mayor Jean ROTTNER for maintaining and expanding this initiative launched here several years ago.
I would like to recall that the process of territories of co-responsibility comes from an initiative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities put forward in 2005 within its Committee on Social Cohesion, in collaboration with the Council of Europe’s then Directorate General of Social Cohesion. The initiative was aimed at implementing at local level the Council of Europe’s Strategy for Social Cohesion and common social cohesion indicators.
The Strategy defines the objective of social cohesion as the capacity of the society to ensure the well-being of all and to avoid disparities, while stressing the need for shared responsibility of local authorities, citizens and other local actors to achieve this objective. Essential elements of this process are a shared vision of the well-being and active participation of citizens in the design and implementation of actions geared towards reducing situations of vulnerability and social malaise through better use of existing resources. And, of course, we need to take into account the interests of future generations in the well-being of all, in order to integrate sustainable development objectives in this process.
The City of Mulhouse was indeed the pioneer in elaborating, in partnership with the Council of Europe, quantitative and qualitative social cohesion indicators, and it was here where the First Meeting of Territories of Co-responsibility took place in September 2009. I had the privilege of participating in that First Meeting, which was the starting point for the launch of the very first network of such territories, called “Together for Co-responsibility”. During the past three years, the Network, supported by the funding from the European URBACT program, was organised around eight cities from as many different countries: Mulhouse in France, Brainel-L'Alleud in Belgium, Botkyrka in Sweden, Covilha in Portugal, Debica in Poland, Kavala in Greece, Pergine in Italy and Salaspils in Latvia.
Today, it gives me great pleasure to see that this Network will be expanded to some 200 municipalities from 15 countries, which are already involved in the process. This is why the Second Meeting of the Territories of Co-responsibility marks a turning point for the future of territories of co-responsibility. On behalf of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, I welcome this enlargement of the Network, which will now been joined by municipalities from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Latvia, Poland, Russia, my native country of Turkey, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Malta.
I am convinced that, drawing the lessons learned from three years of exchanges between the eight pioneering cities, the enlarged Network will enjoy greater support of local and regional governments and will be able to take on a much larger and more institutionalised dimension, involving a wide range of topics and more diversified methods – in particular through its trainers-of-trainers network and its new website.
Most importantly, the Network will continue to pursue the innovative approach of constituting services around the needs of the citizens, involving everyone. Constructing well-being indicators together with the inhabitants of our towns and cities and other stakeholders is the basis of this citizen-oriented approach, which goes to the heart of the new model of participatory democracy in Europe that we are seeking to build. When elaborating indicators, it is essential to measure not only the objective elements of well-being, but also our citizens’ subjective feelings, be they negative or positive. This is the key for a better knowledge of our territory.
I would like to add that the initiative of territories of co-responsibility dovetails with the Congress action in the field of social cohesion, in particular its Urban Charter II: Manifesto for a new urbanity, adopted in 2008. This Manifesto gives voice to the Congress’ philosophy for a new urban environment and modern urban governance, reflecting our ambition of making our towns and cities truly citizen-centred, sustainable, cohesive and knowledge-driven, catalysts for innovation and creativity. The new Urban Charter is an invitation to local authorities to implement the principles of ethical governance, sustainable development and greater solidarity in their public policies, and I and sure that it will continue to inspire the participants of the Network “Together for Co-responsibility” in their work.
I also would like to point out that this initiative is particularly timely in this period of the economic crisis. Today, as never before, the crisis revealed the need for solidarity – solidarity between different tiers of governance and joint policy elaboration to ensure coherence of responses to the crisis and to its social consequences, but also solidarity between different sectors of society and different cultural groups. This need for joint action in the face of the crisis was discussed at the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government in Kyiv in November last year and again last month at the 2nd Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Social Cohesion in Istanbul. The concept of territories of co-responsibility contributes to building such solidarity between the various actors at the territorial level.
Local and regional authorities are indeed the first to face the social impact of the crisis as they bear the primary responsibility for the well-being of their communities, and hold key competences in relation to social protection. However, today they find themselves under the double pressure: an obligation to increase social assistance to a growing number of citizens in distress against the background of a shrinking revenue base due to the economic downturn, cuts in intergovernmental transfers, limited tax authority and budgetary autonomy and, most recently, fiscal austerity measures.
At the same time, social cohesion is a concept that goes beyond economic circumstances. Building a cohesive society and a secure future for all also requires the promotion of equal participation and inclusion, equal access to social rights, eradication of discrimination, intercultural and interreligious dialogue within communities, integration of migrants and other foreign residents, action for children and young people, special assistance to vulnerable groups – all these issues are factors in achieving the overall goal of social cohesion.
All these issues are prominently featured on the political agenda of the Congress today. Local and regional authorities play a crucial role in achieving a cohesive society – role that is only increasing with the crisis, and which is central to the process of territories of co-responsibility.
This is why the Congress supports this process and will continue to follow it closely, in co-operation with the Council of Europe’s Social Cohesion and Diversity Department and its Social Cohesion, Research and Early-Warning Division. We encourage local and regional authorities to draw inspiration from this initiative, to make sure that the process of building more cohesive and inclusive communities, together with citizens and other local actors and taking into account the challenges facing our planet, becomes a reality in Europe today.
Once again, I welcome you to this meeting and wish you fruitful and constructive discussions.