35th Congress Session – Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, 8 November 2018, Strasbourg

Speaking notes for Anders KNAPE (Sweden, L, EPP/CCE), Rapporteur

Check against delivery - Seul le prononcé fait foi

Report on The consultation of local authorities by higher levels of government

Dear Chairman, Dear Colleagues,

I am very pleased to at last be able to present to you the “Guidelines on the consultation of local authorities by higher levels of government”

These guidelines have been several years in the making. Back in 2012 we adopted a Resolution on “The right of local authorities to be consulted by other levels of government” – and urged national governments, local authorities and associations of local authorities to develop consultation systems in their own countries.

I am very pleased to tell you that at the outset this was a Swedish initiative. Our national association SALAR made a lot of input in the draft texts, but the drafting took longer than expected and the person who was working on this has now retired.

Consultation – or rather the need for consultation - is one of those issues that comes up time and time again. Last September I was invited to speak on this issue at a workshop in Yerevan, Armenia, and was pleased to remind them that  the right of local authorities to be consulted is a core principle of local democracy, enshrined in the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

It is the one cross-cutting principle that is relevant to all key provisions of the Charter and underpins all the other principles. Unfortunately, not all of our national governments have a good record in this field.

Consultation is important for two reasons – it strengthens the democratic process, and it makes for better policies and decision-making.

Well-managed consultation helps to develop the democratic process at national, regional and local level. It reinforces good governance, when policies and decisions are enacted by all the levels concerned.

These guidelines ensure that useful principles – which benefit both democracy and governance – are respected and applied. National governments need to abide by local democracy principles as well as also consulting local authorities. Excuses are often made by national governments with regard to this matter, suggesting that, due to time, constraints, the necessary consultations are not carried out.

I believe that these guidelines can and will serve as an effective tool for our national and regional governments to organise consultations.

They are organised in two sections. The first focuses on how to build up a political and legal environment to support consultations; the second looks at how to carry out result-oriented negotiations.

To achieve the optimum political and legal conditions for good consultations, our guidelines underline the importance of two conditions.

The first of these is to have a good legal framework, with the consultation process being defined by law;

The second, stresses the need to have a formal and adequate institutional setting, with local authorities having an institution to represent them, and national authorities, institutions to coordinate their actions with local authorities.

It is important that you take into account two important conditions: appropriate laws and appropriate institutions.

Let’s begin with laws. National laws should preferably incorporate the principles of the European Charter. The Charter states that consultations should be made whenever they concern decisions that have a direct impact upon local authorities. Note that there is also a specific provision for local authorities to be consulted on financial matters.

Article 4.6 of the Charter, on the Scope of local self-government states, I quote, “local authorities shall be consulted, insofar as possible, in due time and in an appropriate way in the planning and decision-making processes for all matters which concern them directly”.

To put it simply, local authorities must be given as much time as they need to examine government proposals, and hold internal consultations before providing an opinion. We have to avoid situations where the right to be consulted is overridden on such pretexts as urgency and cost-saving.

To ensure the application of these principles, it is better that they are grounded in law and in practice. Both factors are important. For instance, some countries have long established traditions of consultation, but they are not grounded in law; therefore, it would be better for them to implement an appropriate legal framework. In doing so, local authorities could be reassured, especially in the case of a change of political regime in the country concerned.

On the other hand, some countries possess the necessary legal framework, yet rarely carry out meaningful consultations in practice, which is simply not acceptable.

This is the reason why I stress that the Congress, in its monitoring recommendations, should ask national authorities to develop more institutionalised and legally guaranteed consultation mechanisms. A formalised consultation process, defined in national law, is what the Congress looks for, so that there is greater transparency and the Charter is properly applied.

The experience of the Congress monitoring activities shows that ineffectual and uncoordinated local government associations only weaken democracy.

The ideal scenario is for local authorities to speak to national and regional governments with a united voice, via strong national associations of local authorities.

It is also a good idea for national governments to create or designate institutions, that can provide the framework for discussions with local authorities – such as a line ministry responsible for local government and territorial administration. Consultations can also be conducted at higher levels, with the President or Prime Minister.

A key actor in consultation is the national legislative body. In national parliaments, issues related to local self-governance and regional policy are usually discussed in the relevant committees before they go to the session of Parliament for adoption.

Our guidelines suggest that consultations should be organised at the preparatory stage of drafting of decisions or policies. Local authorities must be properly informed, at all stages of the consultation process, either on the process itself, or on the motives and objectives of the planned decision or policy.

Dear Colleagues,

After all these years of preparation, I am happy that these guidelines are now ready. It is now up to you all to use them or rather to ensure that your national governments use them..

We have drawn up areas where improvements can be made. For example:

-       The promotion of institutionalised and systematic consultation of local authorities by higher levels of government through the formalisation of the consultation process;

-       Cooperating with national governments and parliaments with a view to introduce efficient forms and mechanisms of consultation

-       Strengthen the capacities of national associations to be the national voice of local authorities

-       Provide assistance to fragmented associations with the aim of establishing national consultation systems

I will leave you with these points in mind. As I have said, I believe that consultation is one of the most important principles of the Charter and I believe that these guidelines will serve as a reference text for years to come.

Thank you for your attention.