17th Session of Conference of European Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government
Kyiv, Thursday 3 November (12.30-14.30 - Lunch and exchange of views)
Communication Lars O Molin, Vice President of the Congress,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to thank you for this opportunity to have an exchange of views between our delegation of local and regional elected representatives and you, representatives of national governments and regional governments of federal states.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, that our delegation represents, is indeed the second assembly of elected politicians of the Council of Europe. Together with the Parliamentary Assembly, we are in constant political dialogue with the Committee of Ministers, and today, with your Conference of specialised ministers.
The Congress has always been in favour of a direct exchange of opinions with governments, although we have always maintained that such exchanges must be structured in a proper framework. Today, this exchange is taking place in a lunch setting, and while we fully appreciate the convivial aspect of this arrangement, we also hope to be able to focus on the political nature of the issues discussed.
The matters that are on the agenda of your Conference, if we examine them more closely, represent indeed major challenges for both national governments as well as local and regional authorities. They are all addressed in the report prepared for this conference by the Vice-President of the Spanish Government, Minister Manuel CHAVES.
In this report, he proposes a framework for co-operation between national governments and local and regional authorities, and identifies priority areas in which our joint action will have a maximum impact for the benefit of democracy and our citizens. I should thank Minister CHAVES for this excellent work, his political will for strengthening dialogue between the different levels of government, and the vision that he has brought into our discussion at this conference.
His eminent responsibilities at the national government level, combined with his fine knowledge and experience of regional governance, as well as his thorough knowledge of the Council of Europe and relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Congress, have led to a report truly geared towards synergies between the national and territorial levels. Thank you again, Minister.
Today, our discussions will be divided around several tables, and I would like to propose in particular three themes. Of course, this list could be much longer, but given a limited time at our disposal, we would like to discuss today in particular the questions of:
- broadening the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government;
- encouraging citizen participation, and
- fighting corruption.
Broadening the application of the Charter
We would like to speak about broadening the application of the European Charter, this very first binding treaty for local democracy that remains a benchmark legal text for territorial self-government.
In Europe, the Charter has shown its true potential as the driving force behind decentralisation, giving a strong local dimension to European democracy. However, we are convinced that this potential has not yet been fully explored, and that currently there is a positive dynamic in favour of the Charter’s wider application.
Ratifying its Additional Protocol on citizen participation is one way to broaden its application; lifting reservations to the Charter, made by member states years ago, is another, a way towards a coherent European space of common standards for local democracy.
Last but not least, current transformations in the Arab world present a chance for building democracy at the grassroots, and consideration should be given to opening the Charter for accession to those countries outside Europe that are in transition to democracy. There is a positive momentum there which we must seize, an opportunity that must not be missed.
Encouraging citizen participation
We certainly hope that a wider application of the Charter, and the entry into force of its Additional Protocol, will give a boost to citizen participation in Europe. Amidst the democratic fatigue and apparent apathy of citizens, reflected in low election turnouts, we must act to increase democratic participation at all levels in society.
There is a good momentum for this, too, as we are witnessing today new forms of citizen activism – through the use of social networks, civil society and social protest movements; we must channel this activism into creating a new model of participatory democracy and living together in dignity.
Finally, any participatory model of democracy will remain deeply flawed unless we stop the erosion of democratic values brought about by corruption at all levels. Most Europeans today qualify corruption as a major problem, reaching alarming levels.
Corruption is not only blight on society, undermining the rule of law, sapping the vitality of democracy itself and having a demoralising effect on our citizens.
This scourge is also a major obstacle to economic development because it erodes economies and thwarts their dynamism, making them anaemic, as the stagnating economies of kleptocratic regimes have shown – and we all know what is happening with these regimes today.
These are the issues we would like to raise today in our exchange of views which, I am sure, will be productive and will contribute to our further discussions during the conference.
We need to work together to achieve this. All of us: European institutions, national parliaments, national and regional governments, local authorities and civil society.
I wish you all a Bon Appetit and, to the extent possible, fruitful discussions.