13th Plenary Session of the Congress : 30 May to 1 June 2006

Speech by Halvdan Skard, new President of the Congress at the opening session as President

Strasbourg 30 mai 2006

As President, I will continue the development of our congress to be an even stronger pillar in the Council of Europe, and more than just a consultative body in the narrow interpretation of our role.

The Congress has an important role as the guardian of local and regional democracy. One aspect of this is to support the development of democracy in all member countries. We must continue to monitor the situation for local and regional democracy, as well as the observation of elections. This is certainly a most important activity in controlling the implementation of the European Charter on local Self-Government.

The work to strengthen political participation in a changing world should be continued. This ranges from the participation of woman and young people, the participation of foreign residents and migrants. Some of the means are education, and the use of modern communication technologies. Much has already been done by the Congress, but certainly the work must continue. In this connection I also want to emphasize the need for a much stronger female participation in the Congress itself.

Another aspect concerns the relationship between the national state and the regional and local authorities. Tendencies towards further centralisation of authority or competences from local/regional to central level must be examined and counteracted. National democracy can only function well if there is an active and strong local democracy. Here the Congress has an important role to play, pushing subsidiarity and decentralisation.

The Congress gives many possibilities for dialogue. In committees, in plenary sessions and in other institutional settings we discuss best practises, we compare experiences and we exchange points of view. The creation of the new centre in St. Petersburg for interregional and trans-frontier cooperation is an example. For this centre I hope that the Congress can continue to rely the enthusiasm and force of our Past President, Giovanni Di Stasi, to develop the concept into reality.

More emphasis must be placed on intercultural or transcultural contact and dialogue. This is about mutual respect for each other and about common values. We must use dialogue to prevent conflict, but more generally as a part of the deeper democratic development in Europe.

Now I could add for example the important work to develop better access to social rights, the protection and integration of vulnerable groups, action plans for disabled people. But the condensed way of saying this, and more, is to declare that we should emphasize the follow-up
of the Third Summit of Heads of State last year.

Thank you for the confidence you have shown in me in electing me as your President. I shall try to live up to this honour and responsibility.

I shall use my experience as a member of the Conference/Congress since 1988, as a member of the Local and Plenary Buraus since 1996, and as a President of the Local Chamber the last four years.

Being elected without a rival candidate, places a special responsibility on my shoulders. It means that you all, regardless of political affiliation, expect me to represent you as your foremost spokesman. This will be the basis of my work.

But not very much can be achieved without the contribution of all representatives of the Congress. So in many ways it is up to you all, how well we manage to reach our goals during the next two years. I am sure that together we shall achieve good results.

So again I thank you, - and now we shall get on with our work together.



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