Exchange of views with the Ministers’ Deputies
Strasbourg, 18 September 2013
Statement by President Herwig van Staa, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities Council of Europe
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today, almost a year since our previous exchange of views last November: first, to be able to highlight main developments in the work of the Congress and its concrete achievements over the past ten months; and secondly, to continue the direct dialogue with you, which is much needed to focus our common efforts on key priorities of this Organisation.
Over this period, Monaco has ratified and San Marino has signed the European Charter of Local Self-Government – in January and May, respectively. I would like to thank the authorities of the two countries for taking this crucial step towards a common legal space for local democracy on the European continent. With the Charter covering soon 100 per cent of the Council of Europe territory, one of the Congress’ long-standing objectives will have been fulfilled 25 years after the Charter’s entry into force. During the forthcoming Congress’ session in October, we are organising a special event to mark this accomplishment by our member states.
During our last exchange of views, I emphasised that the Congress’ work is being re-oriented to rest on three pillars – in addition to its political consultative work:
- first, to pursue our core activities and to improve, in the spirit of reform, procedures and effectiveness of our monitoring and election observation;
- secondly, to develop post-monitoring and post-election observation dialogue addressing the existing problems and helping with the implementation of our recommendations;
- and finally, when it is necessary, to develop co-operation activities based on the results of our monitoring and post-monitoring dialogue, and focused on the priorities established by this Committee and the mandate given by our member states to the Congress.
To become more efficient, our focus today is on creating a “virtuous cycle” of monitoring – post-monitoring – co-operation activities.
In the past ten months, we have pursued our election observation activities, which the Congress carries out in all European countries without exception. After observing local elections in Armenia and the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, the Congress Bureau decided yesterday to observe municipal elections in the Netherlands next March, following an invitation by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, for which I would like to thank the Dutch Ambassador.
In October this year, local elections through e-voting will be held in Estonia. We hope to be able to observe this new method on the basis of our previous experience with electronic voting in Norwegian municipalities in September 2011 and in Finnish municipal elections in October 2008.
We much appreciate your invitations to observe elections in your regions and municipalities. Our observation missions offer, in the form of a recommendation and a report, to other Council of Europe member states the possibility to share best practice and improve their local or regional elections’ organisation. There is always room for improvement in all member states.
Since last November, the Congress has carried out 11 monitoring missions, and we are currently pursuing post-monitoring political dialogue with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Portugal. In this respect, I must say that we have an excellent cooperation with Portuguese authorities and we already have another appointment with the Secretary of State, Mr AMARO, at the beginning of next year to continue our work. I am confident that thanks to this working political partnership we will achieve a roadmap to implement the Congress recommendations. This is exactly how we want to improve the application of the Charter in member states, through a political and continuous dialogue with national authorities.
In March, we also had a meeting of this kind in Baku to work on our recommendation for Azerbaijan, and I trust that we can repeat this exercise to make our recommendation more effective.
As for Georgia, I know that the Ambassadors of Sweden and Switzerland referred to our activities in this country, and I would like to use this occasion to inform you that the Congress carried out a fact-finding mission there in March in response to the allegations of pressure being put on local authorities to resign from their posts. Our Monitoring Committee had its meeting in Tbilisi in July and had the opportunity to observe closely these developments, in particular with regard to the detention of some councillors on corruption charges. The Committee issued a declaration expressing concern with these detentions, and we will continue to follow this situation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Congress’ action today is more and more in synch with that of the Committee of Ministers and the whole organisation, addressing political issues that are also on your agenda. For example, in North Africa, we are pursuing co-operation on reform processes in Morocco and Tunisia, and elaborating a “partner for local democracy” status to be granted to those countries’ delegations. In Belarus, the Congress is planning a round table on the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
In compliance with its priorities 2013-2016, the Congress has pursued its co-operation activities to promote local governance and strengthen local elected representatives’ role in political decision making. The Congress has systematically contributed proposals to all Council of Europe Action Plans and co-operation programmes in order to strengthen the pillar of democracy with a local and regional dimension – such as for Ukraine, Armenia and Albania as well as for Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova which are being prepared.
We are implementing a project in Albania which is funded by Switzerland, and will start on 1 October a project in Armenia with the voluntary contribution from Denmark – signed last Monday, 16 September. I would like to thank the authorities of these two countries, which are also extensively supporting local and regional democracy in Ukraine and will contribute to the post-monitoring activities there following the adoption of the recommendation on this country at the Congress session in October.
As for thematic activities, our efforts for improving the situation of Roma have led to the launch of the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion in March this year, with 120 participating municipalities and regional entities. An agreement is about to be signed by the Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General and the European Commission for a new Joint Programme, ROMACT, to support the work of the Alliance. The Congress also continues to contribute to the Council of Europe’s “One in Five” Campaign. We launched, also in March, an online platform for the Pact of towns and regions to stop sexual violence against children.
I would like to stress our close and fruitful co-operation with the Armenian Chairmanship. A meeting of the Congress Bureau was held in Yerevan in June, followed by a very successful conference on citizen participation in democracy at local level, and the Congress is also co-organising in October a conference of mayors of capital cities, to deal with challenges in making the metropolis citizen-friendly. I wish to thank the Armenian authorities for this co-operation and, first and foremost, for keeping local democracy high on their political agenda, as a priority of their Chairmanship, supported by concrete action. In this regard, we are looking forward to our exchange of views with Deputy Prime Minister Armen GEVORGYAN during the Congress session in October.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to conclude by stressing that the Congress is a loyal partner that adds a political local and regional dimension to the work of the Council of Europe. But to be able to succeed in this mission, we need a competent and sufficient secretariat working under the political authority of the Congress leadership. This is the very understanding of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. You have received a position paper on this subject, adopted by the Congress Bureau.
I will reiterate that we are convinced of the necessity to pursue and strengthen dialogue with national governments – which is to say dialogue with you, the Committee of Ministers – in our own, distinctive sphere of competence. I am very pleased therefore that the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Chair of the Rapporteur Group on Democracy, will have an exchange of views with the Congress Bureau on 25 November.
I am convinced that this Committee will continue to offer its support for the important work of the Congress.