“The participation of foreign residents in public life at local level – consultative bodies” - CPL (9) 5 Part II

Conclusions of the Hearing of Stuttgart (Germany), 14 December 2001




1In line with its founding principles on the protection of human rights, the Council of Europe has been working for more than 25 years to achieve recognition of the social and political rights of foreigners who are legally resident on the territory of its member States.

Nonetheless, it must be recognised that the debate on foreigners remains controversial in the vast majority of European States, including some of the newer democracies of central and eastern Europe recently accepted into the Council of Europe.

The Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level, dated 5 November 1992, is the reference text in this area but has so far been signed by only nine member States and ratified by only six of these: Denmark, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Nonetheless, the proposed mechanisms for participation are flexible, gradual and adaptable to each country’s situation. They include:

- measures to provide foreign residents with full information about their rights and civic duties;
- the creation of consultative committees or other mechanisms to enable foreign residents to inform local authorities about their points of view;
- giving foreigners who meet specific residence criteria the right to vote and stand for election in local elections.

In order to give this Convention a higher profile and increase awareness of the measures recommended in it, the CLRAE recently organised two large-scale meetings:

- a major conference entitled “What participation by foreign residents in public life at local level?”, held in co-operation with the city of Strasbourg and its Foreigners’ Consultative Council, which brought together 400 participants in the Council of Europe’s Assembly Chamber, (Strasbourg, 5-6 November 1999)2. At the close of this conference, an Appeal was adopted, and is included as an Appendix to this document. Ms Helene Lund (Denmark) reported on the conference to the CLRAE’s 7th Plenary Session, and Recommendation 76 (2000) and Resolution 92 (2000) on the participation of foreign residents in local public life were subsequently adopted3.

The Stuttgart hearing was held on 14 December 2001 at the initiative of the Culture and Education Committee of the Chamber of Local Authorities, following an invitation from the Mayor of Stuttgart, a member of this Committee. The hearing brought together about a hundred people. Its aim was to examine in some detail one of the measures put forward in the Council of Europe Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level, namely consultative bodies, and to exchange experiences in this field. The programme for the hearing appears as an appendix to this document and the full proceedings are published separately.

It should be emphasised that the major interest of these two meetings lay in the opportunity to bring together institutional representatives, including many elected representatives, and citizens involved in the issue, mostly activists and heads of associations, to discuss the question of foreigners’ participation in local political life. Many of those present, even those who had been involved for many years, had not previously had an opportunity to discuss or compare their experience outside the national or even local context. Foreigners themselves, although directly concerned, are rarely given an opportunity to speak.

The Strasbourg meeting had concluded with “the Strasbourg Appeal”, addressed to the European institutions, the Council of Europe member States and their local authorities, and political parties, calling on them to allow foreign residents, without distinction of nationality, the right to vote and stand as candidates in local elections. It also stressed the need for member States to sign, ratify and apply the provisions of the Council of Europe Convention of 5 November 1992.

The Stuttgart meeting was a follow-on to this event, and indicated both a willingness and a need to move from expert-led debate to public discussion on this issue.

The CLRAE thus offers a particularly apt forum for discussing this issue and developing ideas that are simultaneously European, national and local:

- European, since implementation of the Maastricht Treaty has introduced the notion of European citizenship: “Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a member State shall be a citizen of the Union […]”, making it possible to exercise de facto residence-based citizenship separately from the rights attached to nationality. The path has been indicated, but the reality is that a new form of discrimination exists vis-à-vis certain foreign residents, who have been pushed to the background because they are excluded from the latest European and local elections. Nonetheless, the European Parliament has on several occasions expressed its support for extending the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal and European elections to all citizens from outside the EU who have been resident in the Union for more than five years.

- National, since the issue of foreigners’ status is being debated in Europe. This debate incorporates supervision of borders and the expulsion of illegal immigrants, the rules for granting asylum and nationality regulations. It sometimes becomes a major electoral issue: this has been the case in Germany, Austria and France for the past twenty years, and has recently been true for Denmark.

- Local, because local political leaders are directly confronted with the consequences of immigration policies. Discrimination in employment, housing and leisure is one issue, as is religion, particularly in our cities and neighbourhoods. Depending on the context and the persons involved, these questions are dealt with in very different ways, sometimes with political and ethical deliberation and sometimes with only security issues in mind.

We will begin by examining the experiments conducted in Europe to facilitate participation in local life by immigrant populations, before considering the question of the right to vote and the discussions on residence-based citizenship.

Participative bodies, whatever their status, and the right to vote, considered the highest form of democracy, are frequently contrasted. This opposition is not necessarily appropriate.

Participative bodies

Some of the various forms of participative bodies were described in detail in Stuttgart. These are outlined in the written summaries and we will not touch on them here. However, the arrangements for setting up such bodies merit further discussion. The approach adopted is clearly an essential criterion for success.

In this respect, we can state that there is no single model for participative bodies. Equally, national policies may provide encouragement, but it is not necessarily their task to establish a framework that is too restrictive. Participative democracy cannot be imposed from above.

The concept of participation itself must be clarified. The reference is clearly to political participation: giving individuals the means to become involved and take part in civic life, to influence their future within a community of residents or even to participate in preparing political decisions, even if these remain the prerogative of elected representatives whose legitimacy comes from universal suffrage.

Most foreign residents in the European Union have arrived as a result of successive waves of immigration, mainly from other European countries and also from other continents. The last mass arrival of foreigners ended with the economic crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, immigration has generally been limited to family reunion and to refugees, a situation that will have to change in western Europe, since the working population is due to fall through ageing.

Some of these foreigners have been naturalised, whilst others have settled on a permanent basis but have not renounced their original nationality. Most abandon sooner or later any plans to return, often on account of the presence of children, who settle definitively in the host country and frequently acquire its nationality.

This raises the question of political representation for these foreigners. The initial forms of participation were social, though voluntary associations and trade unions. It was only later, and often in order to tackle specific problems (segregation, academic failure, the creation of “ghetto” neighbourhoods), that issues were raised in terms of political rights, equal rights or access to full citizenship.

The development of local self-government everywhere in Europe has played a major role in recognition of the need for better understanding and a new approach to foreign populations. Through this stimulus, and the commitment of local elected representatives who were directly confronted with the social realities of their populations, participative bodies for foreign residents have been introduced, often on an experimental basis and in very varied forms.

Although there is no fixed participation model, nor an ideal body that would only need to be copied to guarantee foreign residents the recognition they aspire to, certain shared characteristics do emerge when we examine the various policies implemented.

Expression of political recognition

The territorial authority “recognises the resident foreigner not on the basis of a specific identity, but on account of the rights and duties that he or she has in common with other residents of the municipality”. This extract from Strasbourg’s Foreign Residents’ Charter, signed in 1992, illustrates what can be considered as the principle of political recognition, the sign of a willingness to take account of a shared destiny that is more than its specific features and to go beyond the legally-established limits on political participation. This is the spirit in which consultative bodies for foreign residents have been set up. They are fundamentally different from open municipal committees or extra-municipal bodies for technical discussion, which lacked any real political influence and which they have sometimes replaced.

Political participation by foreign residents is primarily perceived or demanded as a corrective measure in the absence of the right to vote. Electors and elected representatives do not represent society as a whole. This gulf must be breached by involving a larger share of the population. Participative bodies aim to give tangible expression to the principle of equal rights.

Accepting both differences and shared values

Integration and assimilation should not be confused. Every individual has a particular culture, and it is society’s task to provide the most suitable conditions so that everyone can develop his or her full potential without having to abandon these specific features. Everyone should be able to claim a cultural, ethnic, religious or national identity that is universally respected.

In this learning process, an individual’s confidence in his or her own values can only facilitate the acceptance of shared values. Citizenship consists in claiming, promoting and defending these shared values.

Taking account of specific needs

The foreign population as a whole has to deal with specific difficulties and particular social problems linked to language, culture and economic integration, administrative difficulties, desire to maintain cultural or family links with countries which are sometimes very distant, etc. The desire to resolve these difficulties implies a wish to involve all the parties concerned: foreign residents themselves, and the elected representatives who are responsible for the public good and for maintaining social cohesion.

Seeking a forum for dialogue

Political figures who establish specific participation bodies for foreign residents are sometimes accused of introducing an ethnic dimension to social relations. However, descriptions of successful consultative bodies show that a shared view quickly emerges, which is that of the foreign residents and does not necessarily reflect the individual interests of each community represented. Introducing a forum for collective expression helps to highlight the diversity within foreign population groups: however, this occurs from a collective perspective, based on shared problems and sublimation of each person’s individual identity.

Giving priority to the role of associations

Immigrant organisations or support associations play a vital role, whatever the form of participative body decided on. Where this is an elected body, as in Stuttgart, awareness-raising, campaigning and practical electoral arrangements are channelled through voluntary organisations. Where participative bodies are composed of representatives of organisations, these bodies again provide the basis for legitimacy. All political leaders are happy to emphasise the major role played by voluntary organisations in local democracy. Dialogue is sometimes difficult, even imposed; we remember the North African and Turkish associations who occupied empty buildings in Amsterdam before receiving recognition from the local authorities and obtaining use of the buildings, as well as the resources to maintain them. Many immigrants left their own countries for political reasons; naturally, they have formed organisations in host countries as soon as possible, and sometimes have difficult relations with the consular authorities from their countries of origin. They continue to form a hard core of activists for equal rights. Certain highlight the fact that, due to insufficient financial resources, they cannot play a more active role in the European debate. The CLRAE is an exception in this area, enabling the exchange of information and free speech.

Training in citizenship

Where preventing or resolving social conflict is a shared objective, giving access to the management of local public services may be an effective method of achieving it. Transparency and an understanding of what is at stake help to focus attention on real rather than assumed problems, and to clarify the limits of what can be accomplished by politics. Participation facilitates the transmission of civic values within families, and may encourage children (many of whom will be naturalised) to exercise their own responsibilities once they are old enough. This is a way of promoting successful integration of immigrants in the host society. Because the local level is directly linked to daily life, it is the most appropriate level for furthering understanding and democratic practice, so as to ensure genuine integration into the host society. Thus, participative bodies have a training and exemplary role.

A way of promoting cultural openness

As already stated, asserting one’s own identity is not opposed to integration. Giving emphasis to a person’s original culture facilitates the development necessary if individuals are to live a full life. Participation in civic life is also cultural. Numerous initiatives have shown that culture is a powerful vector of political messages and tolerant values, and for fighting xenophobia and racism. Recognition comes primarily through knowledge: cultural festivals, national festivals and multicultural events are often suitable venues at which the expression of difference facilitates exchange on the basis of shared values. Voluntary organisations’ contribution to organising activities in city neighbourhoods is recognised by all. Times of celebration and conviviality may allow for debate and involvement, both for immigrants and “natives”. Participation by foreigners should not be defined by or limited to cultural activities, but many associations successfully use this channel in their activity programmes.

These objectives having been identified, it is also appropriate to consider the methods to be implemented if they are to be met.

Working methods

Members of participative bodies have usually come from the voluntary sector, and are widely enlisted on this basis as well on account of their professional capacities. They often face great difficulties, dealing with the excessive number of meetings, journeys and functions that are necessarily implied by any form of public activity. Costs are sometimes the only benefit offered to cover travelling expenses. Indemnity on the same basis as other elected representatives remains the exception. Equally, the creation of an administrative support cell within the local authority is essential. This would relieve volunteers of administrative tasks such as letters and minutes, and would also ensure a permanent link with elected representatives and follow-up to and momentum for projects. Providing administrative resources for participation implies a willingness to integrate the participative body’s work into municipal management in a tangible manner.

A permanent secretariat, attached to the local authority, an activity budget and a training budget, and a newspaper or information bulletin to disseminate and publicise the work done are appropriate methods. Training should be a matter for particular attention. Providing ways of understanding a local authority’s functioning and decision-making mechanisms and, for example, those of a lending organisation, is essential if one aspires to fruitful dialogue. Information is the key to power, and this saying is also applicable where there is a willingness to share power. Experience shows that, when training is provided by the heads of the various administrative sections, it is an excellent method of disseminating information about a consultative body’s existence within the local authority. The task should not be handed over to a few elected representatives or officials with exclusive responsibility for looking after the concerns of foreign residents. Each tier of local government should feel implicated and be involved.

Democratic functioning

There are many varied forms of participative bodies. They range from “associate” representatives, elected by foreign residents, with similar roles to other councillors but without the right to vote, to community committees or councils, whose representatives are chosen or elected from the immigrant population as a whole or from within an “electoral college” of representatives of voluntary associations. The choice is wide. However, the limits of these participative bodies always lie in their ability to involve the widest section of the population concerned. It is sometimes beneficial to facilitate the emergence of leaders or an elite in the immigrant community, but if we wish to make progress in taking account of daily realities for foreign residents, the distance between those whom we wish to consult and their representatives must be reduced as much as possible. This involves operational methods and dissemination of information (we will not return to this point), as well as a clearly-defined framework of action. Transparency and the use of contracts are factors in success. Some local authorities make a point of formalising their relationship with consultative bodies, through jointly-agreed charters outlining the major principles, methods, objectives and limits of participation. This can only increase the approach’s credibility, since founding documents act as reference texts and provide meaning. In other countries, the institutional framework for participation is established through national legislation.

A genuinely consultative body

Linked as they are to the work of local institutions, truly active participative bodies are required to bring concerns before the authorities or, conversely, to respond to these authorities’ queries. In such cases, the authorities are seeking to ascertain foreign residents’ opinions before taking decisions that could concern them, to include them in discussion and to make this consultation an integral part of the decision-making process. The complexity of decisions, the influence of technocrats, and the predominant role of municipal executives mean that, with very rare exceptions, participative bodies are only sometimes consulted, and no more, alas, than other municipal or extra-municipal committees. However, this could be a way of injecting fresh credibility into these structures.

Long-term perspectives

It is sometimes difficult for local elected representatives, subject to restrictive political timetables, to take long-term action. Yet this is an essential criterion for successful participation of any kind. Like skills in the host country language, a climate of trust requires time, and in its absence, the lack of shared references becomes a real obstacle to fruitful dialogue. Not all foreign residents necessarily have experience in participative democracy, and citizenship is primarily an abstract concept. Several examples, including that of Stuttgart, show clearly that consultative bodies gradually take shape over time: it originally started out with appointed members, then members were elected from candidate lists grouped together by nationality, and then from multi-ethnic lists, whose common feature was always a shared vision and a shared approach to the city. Ten years were required to achieve this result. Changes in political party do not necessarily entail reconsideration of the structures in place, but they may sometimes lead to years of effort being wasted. This is an argument frequently put forward by supporters of the right to vote, who claim that this is the only real way to ensure political participation for foreigners, since it is a permanent right.

Ensuring that this activity is a long-term project also means taking account of the personnel changes inherent in political or voluntary involvement. Transmitting skills or collective knowledge then becomes an integral part of the participative body’s work. From this perspective, regular but partial renewal of participative bodies is advisable, so that a change in chairmanship, or of members of the bureau if there is one, does not destabilise the structure as a whole.

Tangible results

Political recognition is sustained by symbols and demonstrated by action. The credibility of any participative body is also measured by its tangible achievements, by perceptible progress in everyday life, and in the fight against exclusion and discrimination.

Nevertheless, the involvement of foreign residents through participative bodies is not viewed as an adequate remedy to the democratic shortfall in our societies. For many people, the right to vote remains the key claim, and the only acceptable and tangible expression of the principle of equal rights.

The right to vote at local level

Frequently presented as the highest form of participation by foreigners in public life, in that both nationals and non-nationals are on an equal footing, the right to vote nevertheless remains the exception in European countries. Is it necessary to point out that, to date, only Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden grant this right to all their foreign residents?4 The majority of these countries refer to the principle of multiculturalism, unlike other States which emphasise republican integration and the inseparable links between citizenship and nationality.

Hence, for opponents of the right to vote, the fact of acquiring nationality, through the deliberate choice that it implies, is an essential precondition for granting full citizenship and its attendant political rights. Allowing nationals and non-nationals to enjoy the same rights would make it more likely that individuals would become isolated in their own communities, and would thus maintain foreigners in their foreign status and fail to facilitate their movement towards full integration, which would make them citizens in the same way as others.

Conversely, let us remind ourselves of some of the arguments usually put forward in favour of the right to vote.

The issue of equality

In a modern democracy, accepting that two, and now three, categories of citizens live alongside each other – those who participate fully, those (from an EU country) who participate fully and those who are excluded from any electoral consultation – is contrary to elementary democratic principles. This is a form of discrimination that can only make social cohesion more fragile5.

Setting an example

This arises at various levels. Many immigrants have come from countries that are not democratic. Some have fled for political reasons and have been rejected by their own countries, but the vast majority return or have contacts in the home country. If we wish democracy to progress in other countries or continents, we must also believe in its exemplary value and implement it as widely as possible. If democracy is a universal principle, we cannot validly put forward the principle of reciprocity and then oppose the right to vote for foreigners.

Closer to home, no European country has avoided the difficulties experienced by a section of its young people, difficulties which are sometimes expressed through violence. Young people who are immigrants themselves, or whose parents and grandparents were immigrants, have very direct experience of our societies’ problems. The demand for greater parental authority is frequently put forward by politicians as a solution to these problems, and “accountability” is on every politician’s lips. Allowing parents to exercise political responsibility would also be a strong signal. Like moral values, democratic values are handed down from generation to generation.


However, local elected representatives, who are most directly confronted with social problems, are not insensitive to political and electoral eventualities. The failure to take account of foreign populations’ interests in public policies can sometimes be explained by their lack of political clout. The right to vote and stand as candidates could only further the search for effective solutions to all forms of exclusion that affect population groups that are all too frequently marginalized.

Beyond the arguments for and against the right to vote, it is regrettable that the political approach to immigrants’ status has long been a largely negative and defensive one. There is no consensus among the European States on the entry and residence criteria for foreigners, or on access to nationality and political rights. The tragic events of autumn 2001 were required to restimulate the introduction of common policies were introduced to fight terrorism. However, nothing similar is yet being developed as regards European citizenship. This is to be regretted.

And yet the Maastricht Treaty opened up a new dimension in this area. By defining a European citizenship, based on the principle of reciprocity between the EU’s member States and on a clear differentiation between citizenship and nationality, it made possible a new and more coherent approach that takes account of the reality of our societies and of the immigrant populations who have settled in them on a permanent basis, and also of the free movement of persons on our continent, which has become irreversible. Thus, residence-based citizenship is inseparable from the process of European unity and from the growing aspirations of its citizens for an open society in which movement is unrestricted. Let us consider what this residence-based citizenship covers, and some of the arguments for its recognition.

Citizenship-based residence

Citizenship was formerly associated with nationality in the traditional concept of nation States. Foreigners have social and economic rights, but are generally deprived of political rights. However, these rights would be granted under residence-based citizenship, not on account of membership of the national community, but because of foreigners’ ability to play an active role and to participate in local public life. Such citizenship implies continuous residency of between three and five years (opinions are divided), as well as a clearly-expressed willingness to be included on the electoral roll.

Recognition of personal rights

In modern democratic societies, populations can move freely. Accepted and implemented in the economic field, the principle of free movement also applies to individuals; so long as entry and residence conditions are met, it seems fair and legitimate that an immigrant should enjoy his or her personal rights, based on the same principles as those enjoyed by nationals. Such an approach amounts to considering that political rights for foreigners, like the rights to life, health, education and freedom of thought, as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Human Rights Convention and the European Social Charter, are human rights, irrespective of the concept of nationality.

Residence-based citizenship and nationality

Rather than imposing naturalisation as a precondition for the full enjoyment of political rights, may we suggest that residence-based citizenship, which allows for rights and duties to be shared with nationals, promotes participation and increases the relevance of becoming part of a national community in which foreigners would be full “stakeholders”.

It should be remembered that the criteria for acquiring nationality vary considerably from one country to the next and that the administrative decision to refuse it is sometimes arbitrary and given without explanation. The decision to acquire nationality may itself be based on self-interest, such as access to jobs open only to nationals, and thus is no proof whatsoever of successful integration or even of willingness to participate, which would justify the granting of political rights. Conversely, it is totally comprehensible that after years of residence in a particular locality, one would wish to be involved in choosing the elected representatives who have a decisive influence on daily life, without however renouncing one’s original nationality.

Residence-based citizenship may open the way for full and voluntary integration; in this respect, some writers claim that naturalisation necessarily includes a symbolic and emotional dimension.

Would residence-based citizenship render ineffective all the forms of participation offered to immigrants, which would then become transitory and remedial solutions pending the right to vote? There is considerable evidence against such a view from those countries where the right to vote has been granted.

Participation, a new challenge for democracy

Political participation is not restricted to the right to vote. Faced with the growing distance between those who govern and those who are governed, a gulf that is of increasing concern for our democracies, and faced with a relatively general increase in protest votes and abstentions, it is appropriate to consider what reforms must be introduced to re-conquer public opinion. In particular, vulnerable and excluded groups are the most sceptical as regards politics’ ability to resolve their problems and promote a welfare model.

There is no natural collective aspiration inciting individual to take an interest in public life, within either foreign or native populations. Those who are culturally and socially disadvantaged experience even greater difficulty in expressing their expectations and needs. This is compounded by a considerable loss of influence on the part of intermediary bodies such as trade unions, political parties and movements in support of the family, which channelled social demands in the past.

Since the traditional system of elective representation is no longer capable of dealing with this radical change in how society functions, it has become essential to find methods that will enable citizens to obtain or regain their right and their duty to speak, consider and act.

The search for effective political action corresponds to the choice of participative democracy. As an element in the democratic process, consultation may contribute to this. This means widening the section of society that takes part in managing local affairs, and creating interest among as many people as possible in the issues that determine everyone’s living conditions.

Participative bodies for foreign residents fall into this category. Through its implied recognition of a section of the population with distinctive features and specific needs, its efforts to achieve tangible results with a direct impact on daily life, the understanding of decision-making processes that it gives the players concerned and the relationship of trust it promotes with political leaders, local democracy contributes to the inclusion of foreign residents in the political system.

Accordingly, participation is in no way opposed to enjoyment of the right to vote, quite the reverse. By giving consideration to foreign residents, who are invited, like other residents, to contribute to the proper functioning of their environment, district or town, it facilitates dialogue and the construction of a vibrant democracy.

Although there is a trend towards enshrining its principles in legislation, local democracy still remains an area for experimentation. Let us review some of its main features.

Consultation presupposes the existence of debate and discussion, and implies a clear political will for constructive dialogue with citizens. It should not be confused with joint decision-making, which is the task of political authorities, but is part of the decision-making process and an aid to it. Neighbourhood committees, residents’ councils, extra-municipal committees, public meetings, consultation charters, etc, are just some of the methods used in local participation. They are intended to allow citizens to play their full role at all stages of the deliberation process, so that decision-making is democratic in nature. Municipal life lends itself well to this process, since the sense of “belonging” influences residents’ willingness to take action to improve their immediate environment and quality of life, as well as to become involved further a field, in neighbourhood, town and urban projects developed with residents, which are enshrined in contracts and implemented through multi-year programmes.

Like youth committees, participative bodies for foreigners find a natural home within or alongside other participative structures, especially neighbourhood committees, and are a link in a wider chain. Immigrants are no longer necessarily seen as a separate category, a fact that facilitates the enjoyment of citizenship in one’s stairway, neighbourhood and municipality. Participation in the selection of elected representatives is then truly meaningful.

The Council of Europe’s Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level was opened for signature in 1992 to respond to the difficulties being encountered by most member States in integrating foreigners within the communities in which they lived. To date, six countries have ratified it and are implementing its provisions.

Unfortunately, a decade later, political participation by foreigners remains a subject for argument and political controversy. Immigrants and their children are frequently the victims of social exclusion. Highly diverse public policies seek to combat this phenomenon, and are often initiated and implemented at local level.

By emphasising residents’ own capacity to develop solutions to their problems and play an active part in their political and civic emancipation, participative bodies are among the measures that help maintain social cohesion. However, it must be acknowledged that they are still the exception throughout Europe. They are very rarely a legal obligation, and their establishment and functioning depend primarily on the discretion and good will of local elected representatives.

At the CLRAE’s instigation, the Strasbourg Conference in 1999 and the Stuttgart Hearing in 2001 provided an opportunity for fruitful dialogue and a common approach to the challenges, criteria and difficulties involved in setting up participative bodies. They also clearly demonstrated that the right to vote in local elections and recognition of residence-based citizenship remain priorities for many foreign residents and their spokespersons.

Although the provisions of the Council of Europe’s Convention remain valid, and the Strasbourg Appeal refers to them (“The participants underline the topicality and political relevance of the Convention … they call on the Council of Europe member States that have not already done so to sign and ratify this text and to put it into practice”), we suggest that there is a case for rephrasing the argument on the basis of the reference principle in European affairs, namely subsidiarity:

- Europe, a residence-based citizenship;
- the member States, the promotion of local democracy;
- local authorities, the establishment of participative bodies.

The Maastricht Treaty has created a European citizenship: let’s dare to move to the next step, which would grant this citizenship not only to the nationals of each of the EU’s member States, but to all legal residents on the territory of these States. Equal rights and, of course, the right to vote in local elections would be the natural result. This status could also be adopted by other States outside the European Union.

According to the Duhamel report, which was submitted to the European Parliament in October 2001, 70% of citizens questioned were in favour of a constitution for the European Union. Should this be simply a reformulation of existing treaties or the establishment of a new constitution for a European state? The path will be long and difficult, but the idea has been launched. The Convention on the future of Europe will draw up recommendations for June 2003 at an intergovernmental conference. It is up to Europe’s residents to make their voices heard.

Participation is a democratic challenge throughout Europe. Specific measures for immigrants, such as consultative councils and similar bodies could be developed with minimum risk of dispute and argument if they are integrated into a system for all residents, regardless of background.

Participative democracy requires flexibility and conviction. We believe that if the issue of the right to vote is settled and if national legislative frameworks establish the major principles of local democracy, then local elected representatives will show imagination and courage in working with foreign residents in fighting discrimination, in obtaining education for themselves and their children, and in ensuring social and residential prospects for residents who frequently have no access to choices that would enhance their lives.

One sensitive issue remains, that of the means used in disseminating these demands, and of presenting them to civil society and decision-makers. The CLRAE and the Council of Europe are working hard in this field, but this is still not enough.

In summing up the Stuttgart meeting, Ms Helene Lund, Vice-Chair of the Culture and Education Committee, emphasised the need, strongly felt by all participants, for co-ordination and for dissemination of information on the topic of political participation by foreigners. She also announced that a major meeting would be held on this issue in 2003, again in Stuttgart.

Following the Stuttgart hearing and the proposals for future activity put forward at this meeting, the draft resolution and recommendation relating to this report propose various options for future work and some initiatives that could be launched within the CLRAE and also within other bodies, or in co-operation with other sectors of the Council of Europe, so as to mobilise all the parties that could help advance debate, mentalities and practices throughout Europe.

We suggest in particular the establishment by the CLRAE of a network of cities which have consultative structures for foreign residents with a view to enabling them to exchange their experiences in this field, to pool their expertise on how to face the challenges their encounter, and to inform other European cities of the benefits of such structures. In addition, we also suggest that the Congress, in co-operation with other sectors of the Organisation concerned, compile good practices for the participation of foreign residents in local public life and for their integration and that it draws a compendium of guiding principles which will inspire all European cities in their efforts in this field.

Europe has emerged as the result of political will, but it also prospers through the work of pressure groups. Foreign residents may be far from enjoying the intellectual and institutional influence of financial and industrial lobbies, but it is nevertheless essential that this debate be carried out in public. I believe it is vital to find ways to sustain a flexible and non-bureaucratic structure, in a form to be defined (association, agency, network of towns) to continue the task of building a Europe that corresponds to its own democratic principles and of finally giving a voice (and a direction) to those without one.


Stuttgart (Germany), 14 December 2001

Hearing / Workshop on

“The participation of foreign residents in public life at local level - consultative bodies -” PROGRAMME


6 November 1999

“What participation by foreign residents in public life at local level?”

Conference organised by the Advisory Council on Foreigners
of the City of Strasbourg and the Congress of Local and
Regional Authorities of Europe of the Council of Europe

Council of Europe, Strasbourg, on 5 and 6 November 1999



1 The Rapporteurs express their thanks to Mr Alain KAUFF, General Rapporteur for the Hearing, former municipal councillor of the City of Strasbourg responsible for local democracy, France, for his substantial assistance in preparing this report.

2 Full proceedings of the Strasbourg Conference: Studies and Texts N°71

3 See Document CG (7) 5, report by Ms Helene LUND (Denmark)

4 See the explanatory memorandum to Ms Lund’s report CG (7)5 Part II, of 28 April 2000

5 The French collective “même sol, même droit, même voix” (“the same soil, the same right, the same voice”) clearly illustrates this demand for equality.