106th plenary session of the Committee of the Regions
Debate on “Towards a Multilevel Governance European Union”
3 April 2014, Brussels, Belgium
Speech by Herwig Van Staa (Austria, PPE/CCE), President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Mr President, dear friends, dear colleagues,
It is a great pleasure for me to be invited to address this session for this important debate. I am speaking today as the President of the Congress, so as most of you know, I am also a long-standing member of the Committee of the Regions, so I have a foot in both camps. The subject that we are discussing here is one that goes to the heart of the activities of both our Organisations.
In the Congress we have been closely following the work of this Committee with regard to Multilevel Governance. The Committee of the Regions has been leading the field in this respect for many years – and I would like to pay tribute to my colleague and friend Luc Van den Brande for his endless energy in this respect and the commitment and vision that he has shown in taking this issue forwards.
Multilevel Governance - why is this such an important issue for us? It is a recognition that the countries and territories that we live in cannot be governed effectively by a single level of authority. Many of us live in countries where there are several levels of governance. These levels are interdependent. Those of us who live in small countries are also aware that, in today’s world, small countries cannot exist as isolated islands, but are increasingly affected by the decisions made by international and supranational bodies. When we speak of Multilevel Governance, we are recognising that there is no level of government which has a monopoly on authority and decision-making: governance is a shared process, aimed at serving our citizens in the best possible way.
One area that we are currently focusing on in the Congress – which I believe is central to our concept of Multilevel Governance, is that of consultation. For us in the Congress, the different levels of government have to consult each other in a systematic way. Good decision-making requires good communication between all those actors which are affected and implicated by government policies. We call it consultation, because it is essentially a non-binding process, but we believe that the process itself has to be obligatory. Consultation is one of the main principles enshrined in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It is an issue that crops up time and time again in the missions that we carry out to monitor the implementation of the European Charter in our member states. It is an issue that we have flagged up as one of the main concerns that we wish to pursue in our political dialogue with the Committee of Ministers with the Council of Europe.
In 2012 we adopted a report, recommendation and resolution on consultation – the Right of Local Authorities to be consulted by other levels of government. In our plenary session in Strasbourg last week, we adopted a Consultation Strategy to implement these recommendations. Our rapporteur for this strategy is Congress Vice-President Anders KNAPE, who is also a member of the Committee of the Regions. Our goal is to ensure that there are effective consultation mechanisms in all of our member states.
There is good consultation and bad consultation. A lot depends on how consultations are organised, when they are carried out. Transparency and clarity are key issues here. However, the concept of consultation is one which is absent from the text that we have in front of us today. I believe that it deserves to be included.
Macroregions, transfrontier and inter-regional cooperation
Another area where the Congress of the Council of Europe is taking a lead with respect to multilevel governance is that of Macroregions, transfrontier and inter-regional cooperation. We have recent reports and resolutions on Macroregions and transfrontier cooperation and our report on inter-regional cooperation will be adopted at our next session in October. These are all different forms of governance, and they all involve subnational actors. Our world is changing and it is changing quickly.
In our 2013 report on Prospects for effective transfrontier co-operation in Europe, we examine the need and prospects for what we call “horizontal territorial cohesion” in Europe. Too often we restrict our thinking about Multilevel Governance to the interaction between different levels of government – we tend to focus on the vertical relationships. The horizontal relationships tend to get neglected and overlooked. And yet this is where some of the most exciting developments are taking place in our territories.
When we look at some of our regions – we are looking at some of Europe’s biggest economic powers. Regions such as Rhone-Alpes, Baden-Württemberg or Catalonia have economies which compare with – and are sometimes bigger than –some of our medium-sized states. The way that these regions cooperate with each other – their external relations – is little known and little understood. These regions are often poorly represented in international organisations. However, they are very powerful and very active. We need to give them greater recognition as institutional actors and pay more attention to the political and legal problems that they are encountering.
Macroregions are another form of this multilevel governance which is becoming increasingly important in the European space. Typically they bring together local and regional authorities from different countries, but they can also include national authorities in their structures. This is a relatively new form of cooperation which has many potential benefits and advantages in terms of improving territorial cohesion and developing our territories more effectively by working more closely together.
I have a particular interest in the recent preparations for an Alpine Macroregion. Such cooperation is not limited to the member states of the European Union. To help us overcome the obstacles to such cooperation, we have an impressive new tool in Protocol No. 3 to the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities concerning Euroregional Co-operation Groupings (ECGs), which entered into force in March 2013.
The Charter for Multilevel Governance
Today we are here to adopt a Charter for Multilevel Governance. This is a landmark in your work to ensure that Multilevel Governance becomes a guiding principle for the strengthening and deepening of the democratic processes in our continent.
The Congress welcomes the adoption of the Charter for Multilevel Governance in Europe (MLG Charter) by this Committee, as a contribution to building a democratic European Union and also to stimulate public sector innovation activities in Europe. This MLG Charter has been created as an awareness-raising and communications tool to bring the EU closer to its citizens. It will also serve as an important tool for refining and implementing EU policies.
We fully support this text and encourage the Committee of the Regions to disseminate it as widely as possible and to mobilise support at all levels – local, regional, national and EU – for the principles that it enshrines.
I am confident that wide and concrete support for this document and the principles that it promotes will be obtained. I urge the governments of the member states of the EU, who are naturally all member states of the Council of Europe, to introduce this issue, at the appropriate time, into the work of the Council of Europe, via the Committee of Ministers. The Congress will fully support any activities relating to this work.
There should not, and I am confident that there will not be any duplication with the existing work of the Congress. The Congress already has a strong monitoring process, to ensure that member states comply with their commitments as states parties to the European Charter of Local Self-Governance. We don’t see the MLG Charter for the EU as being in competition with this work - they are completely distinct and complementary activities.
So, to conclude, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, today is an important stage in our work to develop and promote multilevel governance in Europe. In this work, you have a strong and committed partner in the Congress of the Council of Europe. Thank you.