1197th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies
16 April 2014
Communication by Andreas Kiefer, Congress Secretary General
20 YEARS OF THE CONGRESS
The 26th Session of the Congress, from 25 to 27 March, was in the first place an occasion to celebrate 20 years of this assembly established by the Vienna Summit of Heads of State and Government. A special ceremony was held together with the partners of the Congress – as you know the Committee of the Regions of the European Union is also celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. But the Congress was also reminded that the Council of Europe had already begun to champion local and regional democracy and decentralisation almost 60 years ago. Congress members paid tribute to the French statesman Jacques Chaban-Delmas, the first President of the European Conference of Local Authorities, the predecessor of the Congress, and listened again to his inaugural speech of 1957 which gave a strong political vision of local and regional self-government on our continent.
I would like to especially thank Mme Anne Brasseur, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, whose address and open discussion in the session was much appreciated. The relations between the Congress and the Assembly have been deepening and showing good synergies, for example in election observation but also in several thematic activities.
GENERAL THEME: EMPOWERING YOUTH
In 2013 the Congress chose to address the different aspects of the crisis in Europe as a general theme of its sessions. As young people are especially affected by the crisis, in 2014 “youth” will be in the focus of both Congress sessions and other activities dealing with strategies and policies developed by local and regional authorities as key actors in including young people in society – by providing education, employment and access to other social rights, thus involving them in social and public life and in democracy starting from the grassroots.
The March session was dedicated to “Empowering youth: a shared responsibility for cities and regions”. Together with youth representatives, Congress members discussed
- the role and place of young people in building local and regional democracy,
- experiences with and discussions about giving them voting rights at the age of 16, and
- policies to empower Roma youth through participation.
This focus on young people will continue with conferences on youth participation in Strasbourg on 12 June and in Baku on 16 June, the latter in the framework of Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. In October, the Congress will take an unprecedented step of having young people participating together with their national delegations in the session, sitting next to the heads of each national delegation and taking the floor in the debates. A special programme will be envisaged for these young people during the October session, prepared in close co-operation with the Council of Europe’s Youth Department. I would like mention in particular the quality of this co-operation on youth issues. Finally, the Congress will contribute concretely to the World Forum for Democracy, which also chose to focus on young people this year.
MONITORING AND POST-MONITORING
The March session was marked by speeches of several ministers and exchanges of views with them – including Austria, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and ministers of different entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would like to thank the chairmanship and the Ambassadors of these countries for having organised these visits.
These meaningful exchanges of views mark new levels in the continuous development of political dialogue between member states and the Congress over the last years.
In this regard, also a recent exchange of views between the Congress Bureau and the Chair of the GR-DEM, Ambassador Ellen Berends, on the follow-up to Congress recommendations is another welcome step in building closer co-operation with the Committee of Ministers and national governments in order, for example, to actually implement the activities proposed in Congress recommendations. The Bureau is very grateful that this and the question of recurring issues in monitoring reports oin the ECLSG will be on the agenda of a future meeting of the GR-DEM and has nominated Mr. Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Minister-President of the German-Speaking Community of Belgium and Chair of the Governance Committee, to represent the Congress in the dialogue with you.
The growing number of invitations to observe local or regional elections is yet another sign of the relevance of the Congress’ work. The Congress observed local elections in the Netherlands on 19 March and received invitations to observe local elections in Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine.
The Congress Bureau welcomed the Turkish authorities’ invitation, received on 20 March, to observe local elections on 30 March, and regretted not having been able to accept it due to the deadlines being too tight for the correct organisation of this observation.
In Ukraine, the Congress will observe the partial municipal elections in 43 cities on 25 May 2014.
In Georgia, the Congress will be the only international organisation to observe the local elections in June – a situation which is becoming more and more frequent, when the Congress is acting as the only international observer.
Furthermore, we plan to observe local elections in Azerbaijan in December 2014, and we are grateful for the respective announcement by Mr. Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev, Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan.
SITUATION IN UKRAINE
The situation of Ukraine attracted special attention during the 26th Session. Following an urgent debate, the Congress adopted a Declaration stating that it does not accept the validity of the referendum in Crimea and therefore defends the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The day before, the Congress Bureau had reaffirmed its willingness to maintain a dialogue with Russia. It considered, however, that in the current situation, only Congress meetings on the political dialogue for resolving the crisis in the Crimea and the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine could be held in Russia.
RECOMMENDATION ON TURKEY
The session also adopted a resolution and a recommendation on the situation of local councillors in detention in Turkey. This debate was held following a second visit of the Congress delegation to meet with former Congress member Leyla Güven in a Diyarbakir prison last December. I would like to thank in this regard former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin for his cooperation in organising this visit.
The Congress stressed that dozens of mayors, deputy mayors and municipal councillors having been in remand detention in Turkey for years should be treated in the same way as all the members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly who were detained in similar circumstances and for the same reasons as Leyla Güven. This was a result of a recent ruling of the Turkish Constitutional Court, and Parliamentarians have recently been freed.
The Congress has been developing co-operation programmes for a number of member states. Two such programmes are currently being implemented in Albania and Armenia, and other projects are included in Council of Europe action plans for Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
In the same vein, the Congress has also launched, one year ago, the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, which offers a framework for dialogue, shared information and best practices at local and regional level. This, however, is an additional task where the Congress still needs funds beyond the ordinary budget to be able to continue this important work.
I would like to thank the Austrian Chairmanship for its close co-operation with the Congress. The Congress took an active part in a number of events organised in the framework of the Chairmanship – you will find a list in the written activity report.
The Congress is also actively involved in the preparation of Azerbaijan’s Chairmanship. Discussions have also been launched on the themes of the Belgian Chairmanship. I would like to thank the ambassadors of these countries for the good co-operation.
REFORM AND WORKING CONDITIONS
In conclusion, I would like to stress that the political relevance of the Congress for this Organisation has increased over the last years, and the Bureau is very grateful for the statements made in this respect by several delegations on the occasion of my previous presentations of the activity reports.
Bureau members and the heads of national delegations as well as the chairs of committees, however, note with concern that the growing potential of the Congress and its concrete delivery unfortunately does not correspond to the resources at its disposal. The Congress continues to operate in the innovative spirit of reform, modernising its working methods.
Despite these efforts, reforms and efficiency gains, the year 2014 shows the significant impact of the cuts and suppressions of posts over the last five years. Congress’ current resources remain insufficient to implement to the full its potential in monitoring and election observation, cooperation and thematic activities as well as other missions and tasks entrusted to it by this Committee of Ministers. Voluntary contributions and the implementation of parts of the Council of Europe action plans bring new opportunities. The statutory work, which is the basis for these additional operative activities, however, suffers from the limitations which the Congress Bureau presented to you in the budgetary process last year.
To address these difficulties, the secretariat will continue to rationalise while maintaining the required quality of our work. New calls for secondments and voluntary contributions will be published on the website, in particular for monitoring, co-operation activities and also for new activities not planned in the ordinary budget, as well as the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion. The Congress cannot take on new activities without additional resources and at the expense of its statutory work, which has already been strained by budgetary limitations. The exact job descriptions for these requested secondments will appear online before the summer break.
I first want to convince you of the importance and relevance of these activities for the Council of Europe, and I hope that, once you are convinced, you will respond positively to our appeal.