General Assembly of CALRE, Mérida (Spain) 29-30 November 2012.
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Speech for Mr Clemens Lammerskitten, Vice-president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe
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“Recent developments in European regionalism, regional parliaments in the activities of the Congress, Congress priorities 2013 – 2016
President Manzano Pedrera,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
on behalf of Herwig Van Staa, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities I would like to thank you warmly for the invitation to take part in your plenary session 2012 here in Mérida.
CALRE can look back upon 15 years of cooperation between representatives of regional parliaments, which started in 1997 with the Declaration of Oviedo. My best congratulations to this special anniversary.
As a Member of the Parliament of Lower-Saxony and Vice-president of the European Affairs Committee I can assure you: Many regional governments consider the participation in European affairs as a matter of „ external politics“ and therefore as a prerogative of the executive branch of government. It was nevertheless high time that the parliaments of European regions got involved in European affairs too and strengthened their interregional parliamentary cooperation and coordination network. In times of Troika-programmes, bail out or not bail-outs, discussion about fiscal unions, EFSF and ESM, people get more and more disoriented when they come in touch with European politics, faith in political leaders vanishes and parts of our population lose confidence in the capacity of our political systems to resolve problems on regional, national and particularly European level and act in the interests of our citizens. So regional parliaments are fully mandated to guarantee democratic legitimacy of all our regional activities, including our obligation to give a piece of our minds to the further development of European legislation.
The Congress priorities 2013-2016 are insofar very clear:
10. Local and regional elected representatives have a major responsibility in terms of safeguarding the fundamental rights of their citizens and their participation in the democratic process.
The challenge for the Congress and CALRE will be: What do we have in common? What are we going to do together? How to transfer our parliamentary responsibilities into practical political action?
In the cooperation agreement between the Congress and CALRE from 2010 we had agreed in a series of common activities. Let me underline some particular points of interest:
1. Mutual Presence in our meetings and activities
We are inviting each other to participate in important sessions. Though it is not always possible to attend these meetings, I am convinced that we should continue to do so in view to maintain a sufficient level of transparency concerning our activities.
2. Common representation
Nearly all of the CALRE parliaments are represented within the Congress, about 66 members or substitutes, that is an important group. We should try to use this representation to push or reanimate topics of special concern for our group of regions. I will suggest to the bureau of the regional chamber of the Congress on 3.December, that we will introduce a point of order: „Development of the cooperation between the Congress and CALRE” into the agenda of our March 2013 meeting in Strasbourg.
3. Similar priorities
Your work programme and the new Congress priorities a characterised by a large scale of common elements. You stressed the enhancement of citizen participation, improvement of democratic principles on local and regional level, strengthening of the subsidiarity principle, interregional cooperation and a stronger coordination with EU institutions with regional importance. Concerning subsidiarity, your Mérida declaration will give important hints about this instrument and the role of regional parliaments to monitor it. If regional parliaments will not observe conformity of EU legislative action with the subsidiarity principle of the Treaty of Lisbon, who else will worry? Sometimes, there is success in controlling the compliance with the subsidiarity principle: Have a look upon the Monti II directive, the EU Commission had to withdraw the first proposition.
You will find many of these elements in the Congress priorities 2013 – 2016. Our general orientations will be:
- raising the quality of local and regional democracy and governance, human rights and the rule of law in Council of Europe Member States,
- helping local authorities to rise to the new challenges resulting from the economic and financial crisis,
- developing cooperation and partnerships.
Sure, there is an important difference concerning the scope of our action: The Congress has to take into consideration the whole range of the interests of 47 member states of the Council of Europe and cannot only take in mind the interests of EU member states. But if you follow our discussions in the Plenary and the Chamber of Regions, the development of regional democracy, the strengthening of regional participation in national and European affairs as well as the intensification of European integration processes are core topic for many CoE Member states outside the EU too. Insofar I have to refer particularly to Russia and Switzerland. The Congress representatives of these countries are strongly committed to topics of regional autonomy and self-government.
The Congress attaches great importance to implement our core orientations in daily member states politics. Monitoring of local and regional democracy is our key instrument. We have accelerated the monitoring process and intend to visit all member states every 5 years. We will analyse the consequences of the fiscal and economic crisis upon regional autonomy and we will improve our cooperation with institutional partners within the CoE – Parliamentary Assembly and Committee of Ministers – as well as with the Committee of the Regions and CALRE. In 2012 we are monitoring Italy and in 2013 Congress Rapporteurs will carry our monitoring visits to BELGIUM.
We are fully aware, that our monitoring process has asymmetric fundaments. We have the European Charter of local self-government from 1985 as our legal reference document for the monitoring process concerning local democracy. But we do not have an equivalent document relating to regional democracy. There is no legal binding instrument for regional self-government. It would be worthwhile to review our engagement in favour of the „European Charter of regional self-government“,
which we started in 1997. But we had to admit, that many important member states of the Council of Europe were absolutely hostile to adopt a legal binding instrument concerning regional autonomy. I will come back to some reasons later on.
That’s why the Congress refers in its priorities to the „Reference-Framework of regional Democracy” which has been adopted 2009 from the Conference of ministers for local and regional affairs of the CoE Member states. I refer to figure 46 of our priorities:
Ziff. 46. The Congress will particularly concentrate, within its ambitious and proactive approach with respect to its future priorities, upon the evaluation of measures taken by member states to overcome the effects of the debt crisis to determine whether they are in line with the “European Charter of Local Self-Government” and the “Council of Europe Reference Framework for Regional Democracy” and whether a fair distribution of the financial burden between the levels of government according to the principle of proportionality is guaranteed.
The „Reference Framework” is a political text without legal binding effect. But the principles included in it are nevertheless helpful, to promote regional self-government. They define the large scale of different regional models in Europe from self-administration to self-governance and autonomy and are insofar particularly helpful for regions with strong parliamentary representations and legislative powers.
4. Common political challenges
The regional outcome of European integration, intensifying multilevel governance and the effects of the crisis – these are only some important topics regional entities have to deal with today. The Congress, particularly his Governance Committee and his Chamber of Regions will insofar try to concentrate upon 3 core questions:
a. Will regional autonomy be guaranteed on national and European level after 5 years of particular challenges or will other levels of government – national or European - determine core elements of regional self-government?
b. Do regions have sufficient revenues to execute regional powers in the interest of our citizens or, to take your Aquila wording: „are we on the way to stable regional finances“? and
c. Are regions still in the same boat or do we disintegrate ourselves?
In our autumn session last month, the Congress has adopted two recommendations concerning the „Governance of macro-regions in Europe” and „The second tier local authorities –intermediate governance in Europe“. These activities underline our strong commitment to institutional consequences of European integration processes upon our regional and local structures.
With respect to the second question, the Congress priorities ask for „taking action in response to threats to local and regional funding“. I will particularly refer to item 48, 49 and 50 of our priorities.
48. The Congress will continue to promote adequate funding of their missions and support the fair sharing and redistribution of funds both of national and international origin, thus guaranteeing that the budgets enable them to continue fulfilling their duties in terms of providing services to local inhabitants.
49. It will also address issues concerning financial and budgetary decentralisation, decision-making autonomy and the means of making the best use of local resources.
50. The Congress will also help to promote solidarity between local and regional authorities in the same country or between different countries and at different levels of governance, so that they can seek joint solutions, particularly with regard to meeting their debts and dealing with the problem of toxic loans.
I am sure, that these orientations are fully in line with your proper CALRE positions. So I will invite the CALRE representatives in the Congress to support all follow-up measures in line with these orientations.
Beyond these general positions, I would like to stress a particular and most controversial point of interest. The monitoring report of the Congress about Portugal refers to special effects of the troika-mission with respect to local and regional government.
The Portuguese government committed itself without formalised consultation of the territorial self-government bodies
- to reform the freguesias level of government ( i.e.to abolish it largely)
- to oblige local and regional authorities to reduce their staff
- to cut salaries on local and regional level and
- to sell or close local enterprises, if they made losses in the last three years of activity.
By the way: Similar commitments are included in the Greek and Irish programmes.
Let me be frank: Not every troika forecast to future macro-economic developments are valuable. Not all of the troika propositions led until now to an improvement of the economic and social situation of the countries concerned. So it takes obviously more time to restore the economy and the negative social consequences are heavier than expected. Local and regional governments are deeply involved in these developments too. That’s why we need a broad participation including the local and regional level with respect to get propositions to overcome the effects of the crisis.
Concerning the third point, all of us are recognising a growing discussion on regional, national and European level around the topics: self-government, autonomy, independence. The inherent political questions contain a very high potential of controversial positions and we should discuss these topics very carefully. The nation states are highly attached by these discussions – within the context of the Council of Europe Minister Committee the fear of regional secession and independence was one important point why a majority of member states did not want to adopt a legal binding instrument of regional self-government.
Although the European Commission has obviously recently taken a position to the question, whether newly independent states, who secede from EU member states, maintain members of the European Union –Mrs Reding has written a letter to M. Méndez de Vigo – the topic is not only important for the EU member states.
I am convinced that we cannot sweep the discussion under the carpet. I push to include the topic: “Diversity in unity “on the agenda of our Congress. I already referred to the „Reference framework of regional democracy” above. I will quote it again because we will find insofar a clear position in a Council of Europe political document:
The "reference framework" must also stress the principle of subsidiarity, the principle of social and territorial cohesion and the need for solidarity among the components of a sovereign state (or "federal" loyalty).1
The Congress is far away to have firm and finalised positions to these questions. Probably there will be different approaches in different parts of the Council of Europe member states. But we are aware, that the answers to these questions will largely influence the reality of local and regional democracy in Europe in the next years to come. So I would like to invite you to participate in the discussion process with the Congress. Your draft Mérida declaration seems to me a good basis for further political discussions upon the future of regional democracy in Europe.
5. My last topic refers to improve instruments to strengthen the practical cooperation
We have already mentioned in the cooperation agreement the possibility to install a small coordination group in the format „3+3“. We will furthermore discuss in the bureau, if a president of a CALRE region may take a particular liaison function between the two organisations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the effects of the European integration process, particularly within the EU, upon local and regional self-government are very often extremely complex, intransparent and need persisting explanation. Regional parliaments have insofar an ever increasing function to play to safeguard regional interests within the further development of the European legislative framework. I am optimistic that CALRE as an institution as well as all members of regional parliaments present here in Mérida, that you will be able to develop practical solutions to improve regional self-government in the interest of all our citizens.