Municipalities and regions in the Council of Europe: local and regional democracy in action after 1957
By Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
The creation of the Council of Europe, on the fifth of May 1949, by the Treaty of London, launched the unification process of the States and triggered, in parallel, a vast decentralization movement in Europe. This movement would be a counterweight for a concentration of competences at a European level, by reinforcing the local and regional dimension of national and European politics. It assisted European governance with a level of local governance, closer to the citizens, and ensured that both levels were complimentary to each other and would help cave a European unification process founded on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
1.1 Municipalities and cities as pioneers
During the 1950s, a group of mayors appointed by the Council of European Municipalities, which had founded fifty German and French mayors in Geneva, in 1951, and which would become the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) – began advocating for the instauration of an efficient local autonomy and the transfer of decisions concerning public affairs to a level closer to the citizens: The idea of the principal of subsidiarity also began to cave its path, becoming materialized in the European Charter of Local Self-Government (1985) and in the Treaty of Maastricht (1992), in regards to the European Union.
The ideas, the proposals and the strength of conviction of the pioneers, such as Jacques Chaban-Delmas, allowed us to overcome every obstacle through the creation of the European Conference of Regional Authorities, the organ predecessor to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in its current form. The Conference held its first session on the 12th of January 1957 in Strasbourg, the year of the signature of the Treaty of Rome –on the 23rd of March 1957- marking the birth of the European Community. The European Conference of Local Authorities was held by the “Special Commission of Communal and Regional Affairs” of the ancient “Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe”, predecessor of the current Parliamentary Assembly. The Special Commission was created after 1952 and was established with the pretext of a unified Europe on every level. During its inauguration speech, Jacques Chaban-Delmas declared that “In this regard, it is not possible to find enthusiasts as plentiful and efficient as our local administrators. Whether they be in the cities, towns, communities, the countryside or in all of these collectivities that extending to be mayors, councilors and, generally speaking, all the holders of a mandate that constitute our European states, a gigantic set of several millions of beings whose ttwo main characteristics are, firstly, the devotement to their citizens and following, the trust their predecessors have bestowed them with”.
Between 1957 and 1975, the first challenge was to assure the representation of communities at the heart of the institutions of the Council of Europe and the European community and allow them to participate in the elaboration of the future regional politics. This period was equally marked by the acceleration of the regionalization process and the apparition of trans-frontier and inter-regional cooperation.
1.2. Trans-frontier co-operation as the motor of integration and regionalisation
In 1972, the Council of Europe organized a conference in Strasbourg on trans-frontier and interregional co-operation in which the definition of frontier regions was traced. The member states came to an agreement on the fundamental modalities of cooperation across the national frontiers, which gave place to in 1980 to the Convention-Cadre of Madrid, in regard to where it was signed in May 1980, and came into force the 22nd of December 1981. In April 2014, it was ratified by 38 of the 47 states of the Council of Europe and signed, but not ratified, by two others. Three additional protocols broadened the field of application of this instrument. In its base at the Convention-Cadre of Madrid, Austria concluded on a bilateral agreement with Italy, in 1995, and with Slovakia, in 2004. Even though there was a ten year interval, both agreements had a similar structure: in both cases, the parties committed to Article 1, in order to reinforce trans-frontier co-operation between both states.
Article 2 highlights documents designing the collective territories covered in the agreement. For Italy these are the regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, the Trentino-Alto Adige and Venice, the provinces of Trento and Bolzano, thus the communities of a 25km region along the frontier. For Austria, these are all the Bundesländer, municipalities, villages and groups of municipalities. In terms of the agreement with Solvania, in both states, all the regions, and in occurrence, all the Bundesländer, communities and groups of communities could take part in the co-operation.
In both cases, it is Article 4 that regulates the domains of cooperation. They only differ slightly and contain several common points: health, education, culture, sport, agriculture, social protection, environmental protection and waste elimination.
Another common ground on both accounts is that they specify that the stake-holding parties have the faculty to sign other treaties or conventions and are not limited to the agreement in question.
In 1993, Italy also signed a trans-frontier cooperation agreement with France. Similar to the agreements mentioned above it, nonetheless, covers supplementary domains such as tourism, transport and economic development.
In 2006, putting into operation its regional policy, the European Union implemented a juridical instrument: the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (hereafter the EGTC). Both juridical instruments were meant to be complimentary, but the EGTC of the EU was the largely recognized and applied instrument. The Committee of the Regions (CoR) of the EU has a registry of groupings and their activities in its website; by the end of 2013, it identified a total of 45 EGTC in place and 15 others in preparation. The platform of these EGTCs was put into operation on the 26th of January 2011, by decision of the Bureau of the CoR, under the presidency of Herwig van Staa, in his quality as a political coordinator of the CoR,
1.3. The new impulsion endowed by the regions and the Bundesländer
The importance highly bestowed to the regional concerns and problems and the reinforcement of the regional dimension in diverse Member States had led to an enlargement of its activities and of the composition of the Conference of Local Authorities. It had proven necessary to integrate regional authorities to equitably cover the regional level and grant its representatives a voice at the heart of the Conference. This one changed its name, in 1975, to become the Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, covering all the types of collectives on a sub-national level. At the same time, the Council of European Municipalities became the “Council of European Municipalities and Regions”to take into account the great importance of decentralization and regionalization in many of the European countries.
In light of this evolution, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe organized, from the 30th of January to the 1st of February 1978, in Bordeaux, France, a Conference on the issue of the regionalization of Europe, leading to the adoption, in its majority, of the Declaration of Bordeaux. The decisions were based on the regional dimension of the construction of a unified Europe on the angle of the regionalization and the economic development, the efficiency and the proximity and the citizen participation. The regionalization as an expression of cultural and national identity was an issue of great importance in the debates; numerous examples were cited and examined, notably the separation of the district of Berne from its francophone part and the creation of the new district of Jura just like, in 1978, was the case of the Belgian regions and communities, the regions of Sicily, of the Aoste Valley and the Trentino Alto-Adige doted of a special status in Italy and the legislations put into practice the 29th of September 1977 by the political and administrative structures of Catalonia or the relative structures to the autonomy of the Basque Country in 1977. Other examples for the still current debate on identity, the proposals of the White Paper of the British Government released in 1975 under the title “Changing democracy. Devolution to Scotland and Walest” aimed to delegate legislative competences to Scotland.
Other conferences, in particular the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Spatial/Regional Planning (CEMAT), clearly reflected that Member States had different conceptions on the role of States, regions and communities in regional politics. The Congress and its predecessors, that took an active part in the debate, have adopted numerous resolutions and recommendations on the subject since 1958. Certain states opted for a centralized approach towards the distribution of territory, whereas others, notably the federated States did not consider the regions and communities as simple objects of a management imposed by a superior level, but as active subjects doted of their own responsibility.
Since then, the regionalization of Europe has continued to develop diversely. However, in several countries it has not yet been achieved. The Congress and its Chamber of Regions are actively concerned about this factor. During its 25th session, the 30th of October 2013, the Congress hereby adopted a report established by Bruno Marziano, member of the Regional Parliament of Sicily, on the role of regions with a particular status, which presents different possibilities on the theme of regionalization and the cohesion of States. This report was preceded by a Conference held the 1st of June 2012 in Innsbruck, by initiative of Herwig van Staa, on the theme: “Regions have legislative powers in the Council of Europe and the European Union – Challenges and Strategic Objectives”.
1.4 Subsidiarity in the Council of Europe and in the European Union
The development of local democracy and the recognition of its increasing role in the European political spectrum by the Member States led to the adoption of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, in 1985, as a treaty of the Council of Europe. The charter codifies the principle upon which effective local autonomy is an essential condition of democracy and announces other principles covering the relationships between local authorities and central governments. The Charter gives the principle of subsidiarity this definition: “Public responsibilities shall generally be exercised, in preference, by those authorities which are closest to the citizen. Allocation of responsibility to another authority should weigh up the extent and nature of the task and requirements of efficiency and economy”. (Article 4, paragraph 3).
The principle of subsidiarity was instituted in the European Union in 1992 by the Maastricht Treaty and constituted after the coming into force, on the 1st of December 2009, of the Treaty of Lisbon the essential fundament of subsidiarity control which is exercised, amongst others, by the Committee of the Regions and the National Parliaments. The treaty on the European Union recognizes the principle of subsidiarity in its fifth Article, paragraph three, thus phrasing: “Under the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States, either at central level or at regional and local level, but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level.
The institutions of the Union shall apply the principle of subsidiarity as laid down in the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. National Parliaments ensure compliance with the principle of subsidiarity in accordance with the procedure set out in that Protocol.”.
Another particularly important point is the engagement of the European Union towards respecting the national identity of its Member States, such as announces Article 4, paragraph 2 of the Treaty, which states that “The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government”.
The European Charter of Local Self-Government was ratified during the interval by the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe, resulting in diverse obligations where respect is controlled by a monitoring device of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. In name of these obligations also figures the legal anchorage of the autonomy of communities, the execution of tasks on the level closer to the citizens in every possible measure, the recognition of a domain of personal intervention in communities, the obligation to consult them, the free exercise of local elective mandates, a sufficient financial endowment, the right to the creation of community groups and legal measures to defend the exercise of autonomic competences, etc..
1.5 Institutional anchoring et political weight within the Council of Europe and the European Union
The creation by the Summit of the Council of Europe, in Vienna in 1993, of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe from the old “Conference of Local and Regional Authorities” of 1957 launched a new movement of local autonomy. The Congress held its first session from the 31st of May to the 3rd of June 1994 in Strasbourg.
Two months and a half in advance, the Committee of the Regions of the European Union was held on the 9th and 10th of March 1994, set up by Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which was starting up its activities. It came after the Consultative Council of Regional and Local Collectives, a consultative occasion set up by the European Commission in light of the decision made on the 24th of June 1988, in order to examine the questions relative to the development of regional economy. The Consultative Council was dissolved on the 21st of April 1994.
While the Congress is composed by a Chamber of Local Authorities and a Chamber of Regions, the CoR has a single chamber. Since 1998, German Landers have requested, within the Conference of Minister Presidents and the Bundesrat, a CoR composed exclusively by representatives of regions, the body status of the European Community with the right to act judicially in the affairs of their concern. In its position statement of the 21st of October 1990, the Commission proposed to set up a regional organ, proposition which was welcomed and approved by the European Council of Rome, between the 27th and 28th of October 1990 and by the European Parliament, which completed it by integrating also municipalities.
1.6. Reforms conducted in young democracies
The fall of the Wall of Berlin in 1989 and the collapse of the communist regimes in East and South-East Europe opened a new chapter in the European integration process by offering a historical opportunity for democracy on a local and regional level. After the disappearance of ancient divides, more and more collectives began to conclude agreements on cooperation; and such trans-frontier cooperation called for the attention of states on the local and regional dimensions on political, economic and social angles. In 1993, in the Vienna Summit of the Council of Europe, the Heads of State and governments made the historical decision to open the doors of the Council of European to the country of the ancient Soviet bloc. This was the beginning of the expansion towards central Europe, Oriental Europe and South-Eastern Europe.
The Vienna Summitt equally bestowed enlargement tasks to the “new” Congress. This was for this latter the occasion to offer its aid to the future new Member States in the reformation of local and regional autonomy, regarding the organization on compentencies, regionalization and the participation of citizens..
That being said, following the breakdown of regimes emerged new problems. The Balkan war drove the Congress to launch a new programme: the creation of the Local Democracy Agencies (LDAs) in South-Eastern Europe. This contributed to reinforcing democracy in this sector and to construct and consolidate the confidence between the ethnic communities, under the measures named “The Instauration of Confidence”. The Congress supported and strongly encouraged the establishment of the “Association of Local Democracy Agencies” (ALDA) in 1999. In the first decade of the 21st century, the program was extended to the South-Caucasus; in September 2006, the twelfth LDA arose in Kutaisi, Georgia.
The grand enlargement of the EU with ten new Member States in 2004 and the development of the Neighborhood Policy of the EU gave the cooperation with the Committee of the Regions of the EU notary importance. The link between the Congress and the CoR relied upon the drawing of a narrow relationship which was issued through numerous assignments of Full Members on core functions of the Committees and specialized Commissions. In April 2005 the Congress and the Committee of the Regions drew an agreement on Cooperation, foreseeing the tightening of cooperation “to favour the progress of local and regional democracy, decentralization and local self-government in Europe, and to guarantee the respect of instituted local and regional competences by the European national authorities”. This cooperation agreement was confirmed and expanded in 2009. Thus the Congress participates in observer quality in the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP), set up by the Committee of the Regions upon the request of the European Commission. The members of the Conference of Local and Regional Collectives for the Oriental Partnership –three per country- of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine are all, but one, members of the Congress. The sixth country of the Oriental Partnership of the EU, Belarus, is not a member of the Council of Europe.
The period which followed the Vienna Summit was marked by the elaboration of new judiciary instruments and political declarations, having direct consequences on the territorial collectives, like the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Affairs on a Local level, the European Charter of Regional Minority Languages, the European Urban Charter, the European Charter on Youth Participation in Local and Regional Life and the European Landscape Convention, amongst others.
1.7. Municipalities as the base of a democratic Europe
2005 marked another important period on the way towards European integration. A year after the great enlargement of the EU, the European Heads of State and Government met in May in Warsaw for the Council of Europe Summit, a Summit of pan-European unity which assembled, for the first time in history, 46 democracies under the same ceiling, meaning nearly the totality of the European Continent with the exception of Belarus. In the resolutions and the Action Plan they adopted, the Heads of Government and State supported the increasing role of local and regional democracy for the future development of the European democracy, and decided upon a common agreement to reinforce the role of the Congress in the implementation process of its mission.
Its force and dynamics effectively made local and regional democracy the symbol of the European democratic system with respect to numerous other regions of the world. Founded upon a large autonomy in matter of political decision and financing, the democratic autonomy of municipalities has been conceived as a counterweight for the concentration power at the hands of the few on a central level and a de-concentration of pure condition, which increasingly is strictly framed, of the State Duties. Furthermore, the local autonomy ensures the legitimacy of the public administration by the rights of individuals to self-regulate the affairs that concern them at municipal, city or regional level. The Local and regional autonomy realizes democracy at the closest level to the citizens and also sets the bases of solid democratic systems in the Member States.
Local and regional democracy also allows to better take into account the needs and concerns of citizens. Today, in light of globalization and diversity, in a period of economic and financial crisis, national governments cannot face the complexity of problems alone. Thereby it is indispensable for an approximation between states, notably in the European Union, to attempt to resolve the great conflicts together. The transfer of competences and tasks verse the cities and regions which does not require decisions on a national level multiplies the possibilities of feedback and leads to more resourcefulness in the area of solutions to put into action and measures better adapted to particular circumstances. Empowering citizens instills in them a sentiment of belonging; municipalities cease to be reduced to the role of service providers for water, sewage, pipelines, transport, schools and parks for children, in order to become real political actors doted of decision-making powers in certain domains. Therefore, the territorial collectives will also be effective and indispensable actors to defend their interests in the development of national and European policies and will usefully contribute to the knowledge of the terrain.
The figures speak for themselves. Today, 65% of public investments and more than 30% of public expenses are made by local and regional collectives. They ensure 60% of public expenses for educations, between two thirds and three quarters of public expenses in the cultural domain, and more than 30% of expenses in the health domain.
1.8. The chance that must be taken
Since more than sixty years ago,, the Congress and before it, the “Conference of Local Authorities”, are the motor of this decentralization of tasks and competences and thus the motor of a wider democratization of Europe. The Congress represents more than two hundred thousand local and regional collectives; it is by the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, the thirds pillar of the Council of Europe.
We must qualify as historical the decision that the Heads of Government and State made, in the Summit in 1993, to bestow their confidence in the Congress, henceforth in their local and municipal elected representatives, and to give them control in the implementation of the European Charter of Self-Government and the observation of local and regional elections. This must be understood in the context of political pressures of the powerful German Landers and Belgian regions and communities, as well as the action of no less influential Presidents of the The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and the Assembly of European Regions (AER) during the negotiations on the Maastricht Treaty without which the creation of the Committee of the Regions and subsequently, of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, would have not been possible. One must not forget either that the talks on the Unification of Europe within the EU and the Council of Europe were conditioned by the fall of the Berlin Wall and its consequences upon the whole continent and by the necessity and the will to integrate every political level democratically, with the aim of realizing a union that was supported by the citizens.
In retrospect, it must be clarified that after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the Council of Europe Summit in Vienna in 1993, there has hardly been a comparable occasion to “seize the opportunity” for the institutional anchorage of associations of local and regional collectives and their political representatives. In the Constitutional Treaty which was signed in Rome on the 29th of October 2004, but never came into force, were stated the realization of numerous core demands from the local and regional collectives and their European confederations, demands beside those mentioned in the Treaty of Lisbon. The Committee of the Regions as a whole remained majorly uncharged. The results obtained together by the European associations of territorial collectives and the Committee of the Regions in the wake of the constitutional process of the EU, in the instance after the coming into force of the Treaty of Lisbon the 1st of December 2009, addressed on core issues. The measures against the violation of the principle of subsidiarity and the right for the Committee of the Regions to bring before the Court of Justice in case of violation of the right of obligatory consultation barely modified the position of the CoR in the institutional body.
2. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe is the assembly of local electives and serves in its core as a platform for the cooperation of territorial collectives. It represents more than two hundred thousand autonomous local and regional collectives in place in the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe. With its 318 full Members and an equal number of substitutes, the Congress accounts for the same amount of members as the Parliamentary Assembly in its national delegations. Its members, designated by the proposition of the Member States for a mandate of four years after the consultation of confederations and local and regional collectives and confirmation by the plenary of the Congress take part in two plenary sessions per year in Strasbourg and apply resolutions in local and regional collectives and their confederations, as well as the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
The mandate of the Congress is based on the Statuary Resolution and the Congress Charter, adopted in 1994 by the representatives of the Member States and further developed in the year 2000, 2007 and 2011. The last modification was amended in both texts the 19th of January 2011 by the Committee of Ministers on the proposition of the Congress to confirm the reform of the Congress and include it in the law. This, amongst other things, reinforces the mandate of members. Until this point, the national governments had the faculty to modify all or part of the composition of their delegation after the elections during the course of the two years that the mandate of members lasts. Since the modification ratified in 2011, the mandate of a Member of the Congress during the duration is henceforth four years, but may be ceased in the case of a loss of mandate, demission or death, but not by revocation of the national government.
Ten years after its creation, the Heads of State and Government of the Member States of the Council of Europe who met at the Warsaw summit the 16th and 17th of May 2005 declared themselves in favour of a reinforcement of the Congress and decided by common agreement to pursue, in partnership with the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress, the inter-governmental cooperation in matters of democracy and good governance in every level. In terms of the Action Plan, “The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities should continue to promote local democracy and decentralization”.
The Congress is composed by a Chamber of Local Authorities and a Chamber of Regions which each elect at their nucleus a President, as well as seven Vice-Presidents for a two year mandate. The plenary session of the Congress elects its Presidents for a two year mandate alternatively amongst the members of the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions.
After 1994, the Congress saw the succeeding of the following Presidents : Alexander Tchernoff, Holland (1994 – 1996), Claude Haegi, Switzerland (1996-1998), Alain Chenard, France (1998-2000), Llibert Cuatrecasas, Spain (2000-2002), Herwig van Staa, Austria (2002-2004), Giovanni di Stasi, Italy (2004-2006), Halvdan Skard, Norway (2006‑2008), Yavuz Mildon, Turkey (2008), Ian Micaleff, Malte – ad interim (2009-2010), Keith Whitmore, United Kingdom (2010-2012) et Herwig van Staa, Austria (2012-2014).
No member state can have more than one representative in the Bureau of each chamber. The following practice is established: the political groups present the candidature lists capable of achieving a majority and always include a representative of the five biggest contributing states –Germany, France, United Kingdom, the Russian Federation and Italy. This five states take equal part in the financing and contribute around 57% in the ordinary budget of the Council of Europe.
The Congress also elects a Secretary General for a five year mandate.
Following the technical plan, there are three Committees that prepare the plenary sessions. The Monitoring Committee is in charge of controlling the respecting of the obligations and commitments issued by the signing States of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and elaborates recommendations for governments from the follow-up reports. The Governance Committee is in charge of institutional matters, public finances, trans-frontier and inter-regional cooperation, e-democracy and internal cooperation on all government levels. The Current Affairs Committee is in charge of areas such as social cohesion, education, culture, inter-cultural dialogue, equal treatment and sustainable development.
2.1. The Tasks of the Congress
The Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly consult the Congress about all the affairs that concern local and regional collectives,
In the terms of Article 2, paragraph 2, lines a,b,c,d,e of the Statutory Resolution, the Congress […] comprehends […] the following activities as an objective:
• To submit proposals to the Committee of Ministers with the aim of promoting local and regional democracy
• To promote cooperation, including trans-frontier cooperation, between local and regional collectives
• To maintain contacts with international organizations in the domain of its competences, in the framework of general politics and external relations of the Council of Europe
• To work in close cooperation, on one hand, with national democratic associations, local and regional collectives and, on the other hand, with European organisations that represent local and regional authorities, notably with the Committee of the Regions of the European Union.
In Article 2, paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Charter of the Congress, the Committee of Ministers further instructed the Congress to carry out operational activities and to follow-up in the domain of the Charter of Local Self-Government and for the local and regional elections:
The Congress regularly prepares reports –country by country- on the situation of local and regional democracy in every Member State, as well as in the Candidate States to the adhesion to the Council of Europe and particularly ensures the effective coming into action of the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government,
The Congress also prepares reports and recommendations following the observation of local and/or regional elections.
In response to the Congress on the 21th of October 2011, the Committee of Ministers confirmed their institutional position and their disposition to enlarge and deepen the political dialogue with the Congress:
3. The Committee signals that it regularly holds exchanges of view with the president of the Congress, as well as with the Secretary General. These exchanges of viewpoints permit it to keep itself informed of the preparation and the results of Congress sessions and to follow the evolution of its work. Furthermore, the members and representatives of the Congress contribute directly to the inter-governmental activities of the Council of Europe though the participation in Conferences of Specialized Ministers in the quality of members or observers nearby the different organs or committees relevant to the Committee of Ministers, such as its report groups and committees of directors, like the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, European Committee on Local Democracy, the European Committee on Migration and the Steering Committee of Equality between Women and Men. Also, they are invited to occasionally participate in the meetings of the Delegation of Ministers on the level of report groups. Thus, the President of the Congress himself has participated in the meeting of the group of Reporters of the Democracy which was held on the 13th of January 2011 and the President of the Monitoring Committee of the Congress participated in the meeting of the Report Group on Human Rights which took place on the 17th of March 2011. Inversely, the presidency of the Committee of Ministers participates in the Congress sessions.
The monitoring of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the observation of elections and the following consequently constitute the essential tasks and activities of the Congress. In the country-by-country reports, the situation of local and regional democracy in the Member States and the Candidate States, the Congress analyzes the legal and political structure and issues proposals to further develop them. In both casesm the reports and recommendations are presented to the Committee of Ministers, who themselves present these reports to the national governments, the General Directorate of Human Rights and Rule of Law, the General Directorate of Democracy and the General Directorate of Programs concerned. The recommendations of the Congress constitute one of the bases for the elaboration of Action Plans of the Council for and with their Member States. These reports and recommendations are equally communicated to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
2.2. Synergies with the Partners
For the putting into practice of certain recommendations, the Secretary General of the Congress put into action, in 2010, a Unity for the cooperation activities with the Member States and the operatory General Directorates of the Council of Europe. This, in order to guarantee that the recommendations of the Congress are taken into account in the Action Plans of the Council of Europe by the States in concern and that they are followed by concrete measures. The Bureau of the Congress is regularly informed of these cooperation activities and, since the plenary session of March 2013, the three Commissions receive all the latest activity reports until the date. This improvement of the cooperation of the Congress and the other actors of the Organization is one of the results of the reforms of the Congress and the Council of Europe which the Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland initiated in 2010; it permits, since 2012, an effective operational follow-up of the political work of the Congress. The Action Plans are prepared by the different organs of the Council of Europe including the Secretariat of the Congress, coordinated by the General Directorate of programmes and submitted by decision to the Committee of Ministers.
Other essential cooperation partners of the Congress: the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council fo Europe, the Conference of INGOs and the different inter-governmental work structures, such as, the Reporters Group of the Committee of Ministers and the Thematic Directors’ Committee composed by high public officers, such as national and regional Ministers of the Member States.
Particularly the regions doted of legislative powers participate that in these instances, conform the distribution of internal competences throughout the diverse national delegations.
In Austria, the Liaison Office of the Bundesländer has a registry of common representatives of the Länder, named by these in the Committes of the European Union, the Council of Europe and other national and international organizations. The Conference of Administrative Directions of the Länder (Landesamtsdirektorenkonferenz) adopted, for the designation of the common representatives of the Länder, its financial models and procedure of opinion formulations and the obligation of establishing reports; its directive lines that issued its evidences.
The Commissioner of Human Rights, firstly Alvaro Gil-Robles and Thomas Hammarberg and since 2012, Nils Muižnieks, visits the Member States to analyze the Human Rights Situation. It presents its reports to the Committee of Ministers, equally informing the Congress and the Parliamentary Assembly and regularly publishes feedback and viewpoints. The Commissioner is equally endowed to intervene in the procedures of the European Court of Human Rights. It maintains close cooperation with the Congress, having been given the numerous responsibilities relative to Human Rights conferred to local collectives, such as the authorization of gatherings and manifestations –such as the Gay Pride parades- or the administration of socio-medical establishments and care units in retirement homes.
It must be noted that outside the structures of the Council of Europe there is the existence of cooperation agreements with the Committee of the Regions of the EU, just as a close cooperation with the European Associations of Territorial Collectives doted of an official Observer Status. In name of the above, notably figure the Assembly of European Regions, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions of Europe, the Association of European Frontier Regions, the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies, the Conference of Presidents of Regions with Legislative Powers, amongst other more modest associations, of which some only function on a regional level.
2.3 Partners of the Member States
The national associations of communities, cities, districts, provinces and regions play a key-role in the nomination of the Members of the Congress; they are consulted by the national governments before the proposed nominations are approved. The Congress subsequently verifies if the criteria of the nomination is satisfying and if a delegation can be accepted. In the number of these criteria it figures, amongst other things, the political representation –according to the election results- and the geographical representation, as well as the taking into account of at least a third of the under-represented sex in the delegation by the title-holders and their replacements. Before the debut of a new mandate of the Congress, the national associations are invited to a conference to establish the political priorities of the following years.
It happens that the members of federations and local collectives support their national delegation ensuring the Secretariat of such. Since the reform of the Congress, they have been more implicated in the post-monitoring activities of the Congress in their countries, to ensure the effective coming into action of the recommendations of the Congress, These last years they have also played an increasing role in the dialogue with their national delegations in front of the Parliamentary Assembly and with the members of the Committees of Inter-Governmental Directors.
This was particularly important following the discussion of the report of the Parliamentary Assembly on the reformation of the Council of Europe, in which the reporter had proposed, amongst other things, to not continue financing the travel costs of the Congress Members with the budget of the Council of Europe. This fundamentally put into question the capacity of the Congress to perform its tasks, having been given no other way of funding and that, furthermore, the regions and communities of origin of the members could not take charge of the general expenses of a member of the delegation is required to fill out the specific criteria of political and geographical representatively. The national Ministers responsible of the local collectives have not proposed to us a replacement solution. A series of developments and an offensive information campaign from the Heads of the Delegation of the Congress close to the Parliamentary Assembly as well as the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Ambassadors in Strasbourg finally allowed to withdraw the proposal at the Level of the Committee of Ministers. The budget of the Congress continues to be supported by the contributions of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the concerned States.
Certain National Delegations organize annual meetings with the members of the Committee of the Regions of their country, others confer regularly with the members of the Parliamentary Assembly. In many countries, they also establish a close contact with the Minister responsible of local collectives, both on a political level, as well as with the administrative services. These contacts particularly permit to acquire the adhesion to the Recommendations of the Congress via the national circuits, the Committee of Ministers often instructing the High Officials of the Directors’ Committees to prepare the responses to such recommendations. Many Committees of Directors account in the ranks of representatives of regions of Federated Member States, as well as the National Delegation. This is notably the case of the European Committee on Democracy and Governance in whose work representatives of regional collectives, members of the Belgian, German, Austrian and Swiss delegation take part.
3. The reform of the Congress
3.1 Concentration on the priorities
From the year 2008 to the year 2010, the Congress was the first organ of the Council of Europe to engage by its own initiative in a process of reform, with the aim of improving the results and the impact of its work and the modernization of its work methods. In the framework if its mandate and its tasks which it assigns in the Statute of the Committee of Ministers, the Congress defined its new orientations and concentrated its activities on the core values of the Council of Europe, which are democracy, human rights and the rule of law; this, on the angle of the local and regional dimension. It also decided to exclude the works undertaken in domains that not fall within the exclusive powers of the Council of Europe, such as environmental protection. This change was firstly be reflected in the fixation of priorities for 2011-2012 and was confirmed thereafter in the 2013-2016 priorities. The Congress is operating a reform of its structure and the missions of its commissions and in parallel and the Secretary General has undertaken the reorganization of the Secretariat with fourty collaborators.
The thematic field of the activities of the Congres has been centered upon the essential aspects of the works of the Council of Europe in which the Congress can proportion an original contribution: promoting local and regional democracy, monitoring of the European Charter of Self-Government and the observation of local and regional elections. To this, it can also be added the tasks announced in the mandates of the three Commissions and in the Statute of the two Chambers. Since the coming into action of the reform, a particular importance has been given to the realization of the decisions and the recommendations of the Congress towards the Member States; the role of reporters has hereby been reinforced. See also point 3.3.
3.2. Institutional cooperation
In the framework of its reform program, the Congress has reinforced its relations and the cooperation with the other Committees of the Council of Europe, expanded its cooperation and assistance activities towards the Member States and reoriented its activities towards the axis defined by the Committee of Ministers, as is reflected in the biennial budget. On behalf of these activities notably figures the contributions to the report titled “Living Together In the 21st Centrury Europe”, presented in May 2011 by a group of “eminent personalities” presided by Joschka Fischer, the launching of the “European Alliance of Cities and Regions for the Roma Inclusion” in March 2013 and the support of the Council of Europe’s campaign against the sexual exploitation of children in the “Pact of Cities and Regions Against Sexual Violence Towards Children”.
These activities also cover the repercussions of the Local Migration and Integration Plan, the Inter-Religious Dialogue, the participation of foreigners in public affairs and the political ethic, in particular, the prevention and the fight against corruption on a local and regional level. Another significant activity domain of the Congress is the promotion of trans-frontier and inter-regional cooperation, which is put into action in collaboration with the governments of the Member States and the Association of European Border Regions.
One of the innovative measures of the reform is the participation in the elaboration and and the coming into action of work programmes of the States successively assuing the presidency of the Committee of Ministers during six months. In its website, the Congress dedicates special pages to its contributions to presidency programmes. It should feel free to congratulate itself for the fact that in two occasions, three presidencies have drawn agreements to make local and regional democracy one of the key elements of their successive priority programmes. This was firstly done by, from May to November 2012, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Albania, and then, from November 2012 to May 2014, by Andorra, Armenia and Austria.
The reform gave the Congress a clearer profile at the heart of the Council of Europe and made it a strong partner. Thus, The Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for local and regional authorities met on the 3rd and 4th of November 2011 in Kiev (Kyiv), and decided to cooperate more closely with the Congress and the Parliamentary Assembly in the domains of common interest. These proposals were elaborated by Manuel Chaves, then Spanish Minister of Territorial Politics and Public Administration, closely working with the Congress to encompass the following themes:
• The repercussions of the economic crisis on localauthorities;
• The reinforcement of citizen participation at local and regional level ;
• The introduction of the concept of multi-level governance in the Council of Europe;
• The local and regional dimension of human rights;
• The overcoming of obstacles in trans-frontier cooperation.
The discrepancy of opinion between the Member States affected the hierarchical structuring of priorities and the distribution of activities between the Congress and the representatives of national governments to prevent eventual overlapping, led to a long discussion within the Committee of Ministers, in charge of the follow-up of the proposals of the Specialised Ministerial Conferences. Consequently, some of these proposals were not selected as inter-governmental tasks in the relevant Steering Committee, the new European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG). The Congress, for its part, will pursue the activities in this domain in cooperation with the new governmental structures put into place in 2014 and with the Parliamentary Assembly.
It should also be noted that the Parliamentary Assembly reduced its activities in the field of local and regional democracy. It abolished the subcommittee, of the Commission for Social Cohesion and appointed a thematic rapporteur on local and regional democracy instead. Thus were established the foundations of a new reinforcement of the position of the Congress at the heart of the Council of Europe and of a close cooperation between the rapporteurs of the Congress and their counterparts of the Parliamentary Assembly on the related thematic fields. It includes issues such as the governance of big urban areas, the fight against the sexual exploitation of children and the consequences of the economic crisis, amongst other things. During the 25th Plenary Session of the Congress, on the 29th of October 2013, Herwig van Staa and Jean-Claude Mignon, respectively President of the Congress and President the Parliamentary Assembly, made a joint Declaration in this regard, in which they invited the Member States to reinforce their cooperation at all levels of governance in order to spur economic recovery.
3.3. A new role for the rapporteurs
The reform has proposed to bring political, thematic, structural and organisational changes in the Congress. The members would opt towards a more political, specific and tangible wording of their resolutions and recommendations, with the objective that they can be put into force jointly with their addressees; and to accentuate the follow-up of adopted reports, resolutions and recommendations. The follow-up was expressly considered as a new task to assign the rapporteurs with. Until then, they had considered their tasks ended with the adoption of the texts in the plenary sessions. Henceforth, with the adoption of new approaches and practices, the adoption of a report would mark the beginning of a new –important- era of political work which would also present new challenges for the rapporteurs. The thematic reports and the recommendations are sometimes presented to partner organizations, such as the Committee of the Regions or the Assembly of European Regions which the Congress turns to for political support.
The follow-up reports and the results of the observation of elections held in the States parties to the Neighborhood Policy of the EU, to the Oriental Partnership or in the Candidate States are presented and examined in the Committee of the Regions, where the rapporteurs can intervene in their mother-tongue. Furthermore, these reports are increasingly analyzed in the working bodies of the Committee of Ministers and in the Steering Committees, where the linguistic frameworks of the Council of Europe apply. It is hence necessary to be fluent in the official languages of the Council of Europe, namely English or French, to be able to express oneself with clarity and defend the positions of the Congress – that are sometimes contrary to the views of national governments – and present convincing arguments.
3.4. Three new Committees
The reform was materialized by the creation of three new Committees, replacing the previous four Committees, taking into account the priorities set.
The “the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the European Charter of Local Self-Government” (Monitoring Committee) choses within the framework of its work programme which states to visit and establishes reports on the situation of local and regional democracy. Each member state is the subject of monitoring every four to six years. The Committee can also organize fact-finding missions to examine cases of particular concern, or to verify compliance with specific provisions of the Charter. The monitoring report is presented, after discussion in the Committee, to the Plenary Assembly for examination and adoption. It is communicated to the Committee of Ministers which hereby forwards the recommendations for information to the Member State, and to be taken into account. The Monitoring Committee then agrees on the follow-up procedure to engage and on the practical measures to be taken in order to implement the recommendations addressed to the member States.
The Current Affairs Committee examines the local and regional dimension of political challenges to overcome in European Societies, and formulates concrete proposals for that purpose. The topics of concern include social cohesion, inter-cultural dialogue, culture and youth, as well as children’s rights, the situation of minority groups and the fight against the discrimination of certain groups of the population. The Committee also organise debates on current affairs for the plenary sessions of the Congress.
The Governance Committee studies the juridical and political aspects of good governance and formulates proposals for the elaboration of juridical instruments and recommendations of the Council of Europe in the field of local and regional democracy. It focused on reviewing relations between the different levels of government, as well as on the consultation procedures of local and regional authorities and on the issues regarding governance. It deals with the fundamental question of appropriate and ethical financing of local and regional authorities, and addresses other issues, such as the participation of citizens, trans-frontier and inter-regional cooperation and the various development that influence the future of democracy such as e-democracy. The President of the Committee, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, has been appointed thematic rapporteur of the Congress on the relations with the governments, with the objective of strengthening the dialogue on subjects of mutual interest.
The Committee prepares in advance the stances to be adopted by the Congress ; they are examined during the sessions of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for local and regional authorities, which used to meet every two or three years. During the last session, on the 3rd and 4th of Novenver 2011 in Kyiv, the national delegations of Austria (Josef Martinz, Kärnten), and of Belgium (Karl-Heinz Lambertz, German-speaking community) were led by the regional representatives; the delegations of Germany and Ukraine also included representatives of regions. The delegation of the Congress consisted of President Keith Whitmore, the President of the Chamber of Local Authorities, Jean-Claude Frécon and the President of the Monitoring Committee, Lars O. Molin.
The Congress has redefined its actions to ensure in-depth study and the implementation of the new orientation, in addition to its usual statutory activities and the reinforcement of the monitoring activities; this, with less human and financial resources. In the Secretariat, tasks had to be cancelled and procedures have been simplified for the implementation of the new priorities.
That being said, in light of the current savings and the reduction of the share of the total budget of the Council of Europe allocated to the Congress, going from 2,90% in 2010 to 2,65% in 2015, the work programme of the Monitoring Committee has been scaled down. Instead of the twelve to fifteen planned monitoring reports, an average of eight reports could be produced every year, in order to meet the required quality standards. The General Secretariat of the Congress informed the Committee of Ministers of the detrimental consequences of these cost saving measures at the biannual talks on activity reports. We must hope that the following biennial budget for 2016/2017 will allow remedying these difficulties.
3.5. Human Rights in local and regional authorities
The priorities set for 2013-2016, adopted in October 2012, are the basis for the work of the two Chambers and the Committees. They strive to guarantee an effective, concrete and quick response of the Congress to the needs expressed by the local and regional authorities, as well as assuring a rigorous follow-up of its activities.
In addition to monitoring, the observation of elections and aforementioned thematic activities, the Congress includes for the first time the local and regional dimension of Human Rights in its work programme. The aim is not to monitor the implementation of Human Rights in the member States, but to gather and disseminate good practices and measures of local and regional authorities in this field. In its activities on the local and regional dimension of of human rights, the Congress works closely with the Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the Committee of the Regions; it also supports the incredibly effective work of networks, such as the Cities of Human Rights in Europe. During the 26th plenary session, in March 2014, the Congress devoted itself to the examination of Human Rights questions, in plenary and in the Chamber of Regions. In addition to a statement by the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, the juris consult of the European Court of Human Rights, Lawrence Early, highlighted in an exposé , the local dimension of the ECHR case law and the various responsibilities of municipalities; he mentioned that there was no right recognized by the European Convention of Human Rights for sub-national authorities and for their political representatives to go to court, , in particular for arbitrary dissolution of an ordinary representative body or of the local or regional authorities themselves.
For Lawrence Early, speaking from the Court’s view and according to an analysis of its case law, the following principles must be taken into account for regional legislation and for the application of law by local and regional authorities:
-respect for human dignity during arrests and in prisons in case of detention, but also in psychiatric hospital and health care facilities;
-detailed regulation of the use of service weapons by the police forces of municipalities or Lander;
-compliance with the principle of proportionality in the case of deprivation of liberty;
-clear and precise legal basis for guardianship and tutorship regimes;
- Compliance with the principle of proportionality for the acceptance or rejection of applications for demonstrations and meetings;
-expropriations solely on grounds of public utility, with clear and precise legal basis, verifications procedures that are clear, precise, comprehensible and compensated by a corresponding amount to the surfaces expropriated;
-appeal against the decisions of municipalities, cities and regions or Länder concerning the individual rights stated in the European Convention of Human Rights.
In the exercise of their public authority, that is to say the “imperium”, local and regional representatives must take into account and apply the same criteria as national authorities, even if the latter are accountable to the Council of Europe for ensuring full compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights. The criteria are as follows: respect for human dignity, non-discrimination, legal compliance, proportionality, legitimacy of the object of administrative acts and access to an appeal procedure for the affected citizens.
The jurisconsult has also described a case(Sukran Aydin and others v. Turkey, n° 49197/06 and others)in which the Court had to examine the conviction of candidates for national and local elections who had been convicted for using the Kurdish language in their electoral campaign,
In its judgment, the Court made a reference to point 5.d of Recommendation 273 (2009) of the Congress on the situation of local democracy in Turkey.
Lars O. Molin’s report of on the role of territorial authorities in of the implementation of human rights, adopted on 17 March 2010, led to the adoption of a resolution and a recommendation and was extended in Resolution 334 of 20 October 2011, entitled “Developing indicators to raise awareness of human rights at local and regional level”.. Here, the Congress has decided, amongst other decision, to use appropriate data collection methods in order to analyze the situation of human rights at local and regional level and to map out the problems the local and regional authorities face in their everyday activities. On this basis, action plans will be elaborated to raise the territorial authorities’ awareness on human rights, in particular through training programmes and exchange of good practices between local and regional representatives. These action plans should be integrated in the national planning processes. The most recent report on the good practices for the implementation of human rights at local and regional level in the member States of the Council of Europe and in other States provides concrete examples on the matter; it should serve as a starting point, amongst others, for the design of handbooks for local and regional elected officials and administrative staff of the local authorities, which will be published in cooperation with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights
3.6 Transversal topics and fundamental principles
In addition to the country-by-country monitoring reports, the Congress examines the basic principles of the functioning of local and regional democracy,
Over the past few years, the members of the Congress have adopted a number of reports, recommendations and resolutions presented by the Governance Committee during the plenary sessions on the following themes: integration of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in the internal law of the Member States, the rights of citizens and ombudsmen institutions at local and regional level, consultation mechanisms between the different levels, the role of intermediary territorial authorities (between the municipalities and the regions), such as the Belgian, Spanish, Italian provinces and the German districts, etc., and the regions and territories with special status.
The work programme for 2012-2016 provides for the elaboration of reports on the eligibility criteria to run in a local or regional elections, on the conditions to be fulfilled for the exercise of a local or regional elective mandate, on inter-regional cooperation, governance structures in large urban areas, the trends in regionalisation in Europe, the concept of “sufficient financial endowment” of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and its implementation in the member States, as well as for the challenges to overcome and the opportunities to seize for local democracy regarding new media and e-democracy and possibilities and shortcomings of Open data applications for municipalities.
The Current Affairs Committee has presented, almost others, the following reports: The situation of Roma in Europe: a challenge for local and regional authorities, Empowering Roma youth through participation: effective policy design at local and regional levels, Education for democratic citizenship: tools for cities, Youth and Democracy: the changing face of youth political engagement Regional legislation and action to combat sexual exploitation and abuse of children, Migrants’ access to regional labour markets , Integration through self-employment: promoting migrant entrepreneurship in European municipalities, Local and regional authorities’ responses to the economic crisis and The changes underway in the Arab countries – opportunities for local and regional democracy.
From here on to the end of the mandate in October 2016, the activities focus on the following topics: the political participation of women at local and regional level, promoting diversity through inter-cultural trainings, the improvement the involvement of disabled people in local public life, the role of the regional media as an instrument for participatory democracy, LGBT’s rights at local and regional level, the partnership with civil society to foster active citizenship, bringing down barriers to youth participation in participatory, representative and direct democracies, as well as the gender-specific aspects of the consequences of the economic crisis.
4. Future prospects
The future of the Congress, as its past and present, is inextricably linked to the development of local and regional democracy in Europe and of European democracy as a whole. The Congress was founded in 1957 as the “European Conference of Local Authorities” to give a voice to territorial authorities in the European construction and to give the Council of Europe a local and regional dimension with democratic legitimacy.
Over the past six decades, the Congress kept on supporting the dramatic advances of local and regional democracy, becoming the symbol of European democracy as a whole. It also grew as the territorial dimension of Europe developed; establishing itself as an essential body through its political, practical and administrative expertise in the monitoring of European local democracy and the observation of elections in the member States. Today, just like in the past, it contributes to improving governance of local and regional authorities and the reinforcement of the role of confederations and territorial authorities in developing of national policies through its practical recommendations it also serves as a platform for cooperation –and as a tribune for the exchange of experiences- between local and regional elected official throughout the whole of Europe.
The new possibilities and procedures that permitted to improve citizen participation in democracy are some of the promising developments in which the Congress has contributed.. Today, in a crisis of trust towards democratic institutions, the Congress participates in the debate about the future of the European democratic model, in which the citizens play a key role and which relies upon the indivisible values and the rights of which the Council of Europe demands and controls the application of and which it furthermore provides the juridical guarantees in the framework of human rights.
Nonetheless, the Congress’ biggest success is the fact of being recognized as a partner by governments and national parliaments in the new gestation system of “multi-level-governance”. Founded both on exclusive and shared competences as on the tasks and roles clearly defined by all of the stake-holding parties, this system must presently be put into place. The mutual respect of the spheres of action and responsibilities of the diverse partners must permit it to carry out the new model of participative democracy which takes place today in Europe and which completes traditional representative democracy throughout elements stemming from direct and participative democracy.
4.2. Trust crisis, economic crisis, financial crisis: the challenges to fear
One can’t ignore the fact that today decentralization and local and regional democracy are at a crossroad. Decentralization and local democracy are put into question, just as the model of the European social democratic state; a phenomenon that the economic crisis does nothing but deepen. Governments are tempted, on one hand, to strengthen the economic arguments for the re-centralization and withdraw competencies to local authorities and, on the other, to transfer supplementary tasks to the territorial collectives without giving them the corresponding financial resources. This leads to a paralyzing of the collectivities’ budgets and a drastic restriction of their freedom of action. The states restrict both the tax rate and the fiscal pressure; hence the local collectives have less possibilities of financing their expenses through their own fiscal methods; moreover, imposed economies are detrimental to the decisions in terms of concrete and structural costs. Furthermore, in almost all European states, corruption and lack of transparency heavily impede good governance and undermine public confidence in the public administration in every level. In this regard, the Congress has elaborated a code of conduct for the local electives. It has also recently organized, the 8th and the 9th of May in Innsbruck, an international conference on the Fight Against Corruption on all Levels and measures of prevention and suppression.
It appears from the monitoring reports of the Congress –established henceforth at regular intervals- on the situation of local self-government in the member States that certain problems recur in several States. It hereby highlights the following: the attribution of insufficient competencies to local collectives which does not allow them to fulfill their task optimally, lack of clarity regarding the division of competences, lack of financial resources and disproportional distribution of financial charges which weight upon local authorities, lack of consultation with national governments, and sometimes regional governments, and the local authorities and their confederations, and excessive surveillance by the superior levels. Reports also states that further problems appeared during investigations implemented by the court on decisions made by the supervising authorities, inefficient coordination mechanisms between various central authorities in relation to the local authorities and a lack of participation and association of citizens in public affairs.
These inefficiencies must be considered within the context of a crisis of citizen trust towards public authorities and democratic institutions, which has led to the hijacking of decisive democratic processes, such as the elections. Furthermore, the cultural diversity in Europe is increasing and the integration of immigrants requires the construction of an inclusive and inter-cultural society whose objective is the modification of obsolete conceptions on others and to demonstrate the clear advantages of diversity throughout the path of inter-cultural education and the introduction of appropriate measures for the citizens in concern.
4.3 Putting into practice the innovation and creativity of territorial collectives (local authorities?)
Local and regional authorities are in the front line to overcome these challenges; the future of the Congress relies on its capacity to propose bases of solutions. In order that these efforts may be successful, they must be able to support themselves on a solid and durable decentralized democratic culture. It is important to convince national governments that it is dangerous to go back to democracy and participation and to try to realize short term economic policies in the name of efficiency gains. This lacks future vision. We must place democracy, the right to vote and the right to participate, at the heart of governance, meaning giving citizens a central role in the conduct of public affairs by the national, regional and local authorities.
The Congress can contribute to the development of better administration and governance models in collectivities, to the exploitation of the resources of new information technologies and the possibilities that e-democracy offers, as well as the organization of debates with the citizens to promote direct democracy and reinforce participation. Faced with this new environment, the Congress cannot limit itself to defining new criteria and new rules. It must task itself with their putting into practice so that tangible results may be produced on all governance levels and serve above all –on a local level- citizen interests.
This is the reason by which the Congress has decided to complete its tasks, those of a consultative political organ, and its monitoring activities with operational activities as well and has opted for a change of orientation in four plans, to take into account:
Firstly, concentration on essential activities and the improvement of procedures and the effectiveness of the monitoring of the European Charter and the observation of elections;
Secondly, instauration of a post-monitoring and post-observation dialogue with the national governments in order to help propel the concrete coming into action of recommendations;
Thirdly, coming into force of cooperation activities founded on the conclusions of the monitoring and post-monitoring dialogue with a constructive base searching to create synergies between the governmental sector of the Council of Europe;
Fourthly, implementation of Council of Europe policies with a strong local and regional dimension, such as the creation of the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, the Pact of Towns and Regions to Stop Sexual Violence towards children, in the framework of the “One in Five” Campaign of the Council of Europe or the promotion of youth participation in local and regional politics.
C’est la raison pour laquelle le Congrès a décidé de compléter ses tâches d’organe politique consultatif et ses activités de monitoring par des activités opérationnelles et opté pour un changement d’orientation sur quatre plans, à savoir :
In order to gain efficiency, the Congress foresaw the creation of a “virtuous circle” –of monitoring of the Charter and election observation, via a political post-monitoring dialogue and concrete cooperation activities- which permits to transmit the monitoring and election observation conclusions to the member States with practical improvements.
Despite multiple current crises, the future of local and regional democracy, the future of the Congress, appears positive. We are observing new participative models, new partnerships, and new means of dialogue, participation and consultation. New information technologies offer us possibilities, afore unfathomable, of directly including the citizens in the local and regional political processes. Never before has the importance of local collectives as places of coexistence and shared responsibility been as recognized as today. It is a historical chance to engage in a concrete dialogue with the national governments on the topic of local and regional democracy. In this regard, the six last countries that held presidency in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe made the reinforcement of local and regional democracy one of the priorities of their activity programme. This is for us a sign that could not be clearer.
Local and regional democracy remains the base of every democratic system. The construction of a democratic government from the bottom to the top has always been core activity of the Congress. The challenge to overcome in the future will be preparing our local and regional collectives for a more peaceful coexistence, giving path to new creativity stemming from plural and complimentary identities. It is a challenge the Congress is ready to overcome.
Herwig van Staa, Président of the Congress from 2002 to 2004 and from 2012 et 2014
Since the Congress exists, Herwig van Staa is the only person who has been elected twice to the Presicency : in 2002, as a member of the Chamber of Local Authorities, and in 2012, as a member of the Chamber of Regions.
Emiment political actor on a European local and regional level, vibrantly active in the associations of local electives of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and in the European People’s Party (EPP), Herwig van Staa became a member of the Congress in 1995 in his quality of Mayor of Innsbruck (1994-2002) and has continued his career without interruption. A member of the Austrian delegation, he was named by the Congress for a mandate of four years from October 2012 to October 2016.
In july 1996, he was elected Vice-President of the Chamber of local authorities, then, President in two occasions, in 1998 and in 2000. In May 2012, he was elected President of the Congress for two years in his quality of a Local Elective,
From May 2004 to May 2006, he was part of the Bureau in his quality of former President of the Congress. Throughout the following years, he was successively elected Vice-President of the Congress (may 2006), President of the Institutional Commission of the Chamber of Regions (May 2008) –in his quality of Head of the regional government of Tyrol and alternatively as the President of the Landtag of Tyrol-, and President of the Chamber of regions (October 2010). In October 2012, he was elected for the second time as President of the Congress for two years,
In the framework of the different obligations which he exercised at the Congress, Herwig van Staa thoroughly conducted priority exams of the territorial collectives, for example, the protection and the promotion of regional democracy. The creation of a constraning juridical instrument in the framework of the European Charter of Local Self-Government for the regional level remains one of his great political objectives; this is not yet a realizable objective today, given the reluctance of the member States to adopt new juridical instruments doted of monitoring mechanism. In first instance, it was a “framework of reference for regional democracy” which saw the light of day at the instigation of the Congress. The common fundamental principles which he proclaims in the area of regional democracy are those held in the Charter’s interpretation of autonomy, cohesion, decentralization and responsibility, which has been adopted by the Conference of Ministers Responsible for Local and Regional Government of the Council of Europe in 2009. Although not legally binding and not equipped with a monitoring mechanism, the Charter serves as a reference for the member States as a collection of models for regional organization to consult when considering structural reforms. With the agreement of the Committee of Ministers, the Congress equally refers to the Charter as a reference for its monitoring visits. As President of the Congress, Herwig van Staa Surveyed turnaround possibilities for the member states and tried to convince them to elaborate a new juridical instrument.
Herwig Van Staa has given a great boost to the exchange of experiences between territorial collectives across the borders of States, but also beyond those of the Committee of the Regions and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. He has overcome bridges between cities and regions of the member States and non-members of the EU, and he furthermore continues to overcome them today. He is a firm believer in a multi-level governance, a pioneer an experimented practitioner of inter-regional and trans-frontier cooperation. This equally applies to the numerous high-level international conferences which he organized on these matters in Innsbruck.
From 1995 to 2012, he was a reporter of the Congress on a Series of themes, such as the verification of criteria to follow through by the members of national delegations or the situation of local and regional democracy in Turkey. He was the President of the EPP group during many years and the head of the Austrian delegation in the Congress. He represents the Republic of Austria in numerous Conferences of Ministers Responsible of Local and Regional Government, in the quality of representative of the competent Federal Minister as well as a common representative of the Lander.
Throughout the course of his second presidency of the Congress from 2012 to 2012, he guaranteed the political direction of the coming into force of new political priorities in light of the reforms of the Congress and devoted himself to the ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Under his presidency, the Congress was able to announce in conjunction with the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe that following the ratifications by Andorra, Monaco and finally in October 2013, Saint-Marin, the European Charter is hereby applicable in the 47 member States. This in important period -25 years after the coming into force of the Charter and 20 years after the Creation of the Congress by the Vienna Summit- which is a major step for the political actions of the Congress and its Presidents.
As President of the Congress, he devotes himself to promoting the monitoring and election-observation activities. They are increasingly carried out at more regular intervals and under new competences for a concrete post-monitoring work concerning recommendation. The monitoring reports occupy an important position within the adopted text of the Plenary Sessions, going from an 8% to a 32% of the material from 2008 to 2013.
Herwig van Staa is equally devoted to improving the dialogue with the representatives of the member States and established periodical meetings with the permanent representatives in Strasbourg. For him, the relations between the Congress and its instutional partners, in the Council of Europe –Committee of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly and Commissioner of Human Rights, as much as outside the community, has great importance,
Outside Herwig van Staa equally works to reinforce cooperation between the Congress and its partners. The results he has obtained are proportional to his efforts. In this regard, he has been able to count on the support of other organizations and European networks of which he is member since the years in which he exercised different directive functions: Vice-Presidency of the Committee of the Regions of the EU since February 2004, Presidency of the European Conference of Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE) in 2008 and 2009, working colleague of the Alpine Communities. He equally supports the activities of the Council of Communities and Regions of Europe (CCRE), the national ridge tile organization of territorial collectives, notably by the organization the 26 November 2013 in Strasbourg of a joint conference on the state of the local autonomy in Europe, under the title “1953-1988-2013: Decentralisation at a crossroads”, sixty years after the Charter of Versailles of the CCRE and 25 years after the coming into force of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
These years of engagement crowned by success have been congratulated by an international jury composed by representatives of the Congress, the Committee of the Regions, the Assembly of European Regions, the Council of Communities and Regions of Europe, and the land of Tyrol and its capital Innsbruck, creators of the Emperor Maximilian Prize awarded to Herwig van Staa. The speech pronounced during the award ceremony in the Hodburg, in in Innsbruck the 8th of May 2014, paid a well-deserved tribute to the recipient.
In this context, many foreign guests noted that the international commitment of a leading politician and the frequent absences arising never fail to be overcome by the opposition or “friends of the party” for politicized purposes. In his speech, during the ceremony, the Mayor of Innsbruck, Christine Oppitz-Plörer and the deputy leader of the government of the Land of Tyrol, Josef Geisler, considered that one cannot prevent political actors from working towards a higher and unquestionable goal they have set themselves, namely, to give a concrete expression to the political concept of internationality of the states and cities, a concept that transcends across the rifts of parties. In relation to this idea, this is also why the Emperor Maximilian Prize has been created, in honour of Alois Lugger, former Mayor of Innsbruck and President of the European Conference of Local Authorities of the Council of Europe from 1968 to 1970, for his contribution to the communal and regional politics of Europe.
This conception of politics and their dynamics that came to life in his city of Innsbruck and in his Land of Tyrol, his fine and penetrating vision into the role of local and regional collectives in the European unification process, beyond the frontiers of the EU, integrating essential actors, such as Turkey and the Russian Federation, his direction of contacts and ability to manage conflict, his force of conviction, his brilliant memory, everything stemming from an inextinguishable energy, these are the components of a fruitful career, of a European trajectory unique in its genre, in honorary political positions whose effects will benefit lastingly to the big European family of local and regional collectives.