Association of Local Democracy Agencies – Ordinary General Assembly and Celebration of the 15th anniversary and related international events – 6-9 May 2015
Speech by Barbara Toce, Vice-President of the Congress (Italy, SOC)
Conference “Capitalisation and relaunch” - Panel 1: EU enlargement – the last 15 years achievements and the challenges ahead
Podgorica, Montenegro, 9 May 2015
Check on delivery
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to address this conference on behalf of the Congress of Local and regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. Once again I congratulate ALDA for its 15th anniversary. I wish to congratulate the current President Oriano Otočan on his dedication to the Association as well as the Secretary General, Antonella Valmorbida, and her team for her dynamic management of the Association. My congratulations also go to the individual local democracy agencies, to all those involved on the ground, which defend the values of the Council of Europe, and their partners.
So much has been achieved since the opening of the first local democracy agency in 1993 and the creation of ALDA in 1999. The aim was to support local democracy through partnerships between town and regions in Council of Europe member states and host cities. The first LDA was established by the Congress in Subotica, in Serbia, in a post war context in South-East Europe. The network of agencies is still expanding and will face new challenges with the opening of a local democracy agency in Dnepropetrovsk, in Ukraine, on 18 May. The establishment of this local democracy agency is very timely, given the particular importance of decentralisation and local democracy in Ukraine. I am pleased to know that ALDA also plans to extend its activities to Tunisia.
ALDA has developed both its structures and activities. It has become an essential partner of other European NGOs in the field. It is active in various programmes such as the Eastern Partnership “civil society platform” and subgroups. It carries out many European projects on different themes including LADDER, funded by the European Union, with its thematic and geographical dimensions. It has also projects in Belarus for the development of civil society at local level.
As you know, the Congress works with central authorities, local authorities and associations for the implementation of its recommendations on local and regional democracy within a post-monitoring process. It also carries out awareness-raising seminars for young local leaders and elected representatives on local democracy issues to spread out a democratic culture.
All these activities take place within Council of Europe Action Plans and Co-operation documents with member states and are a pillar of Congress activities.
In this context we have an active co-operation with ALDA. In Ukraine, ALDA appointed a number of young local leaders who came to Strasbourg for a study visit last year. A group of Ukrainian local leaders who participated in a regional seminar in Dnepropetrovsk also took part in an event organized by ALDA to discuss the activities of the future local democracy agency in this city.
Within the Council of Europe neighborhood policy we started co-operating with Morocco and Tunisia. Recently our Congress adopted a "Partner for local democracy" status intended for elected local authorities of neighboring non-member countries of the Council of Europe. This status will be granted at the joint request of the government of the requesting State and one or more local representatives of the associations of local authorities in the State. One of the conditions for granting this status will be holding regular, free and fair elections at territorial level. Morocco has already shown interest for it and we look forward to receiving their application to be the first country enjoying this status.
In Tunisia, the commitment of the authorities at all levels to implement the decentralisation processs will be decisive for the future of good governance and quality of democracy. The Congress has contributed together with the Venice Commission, to the drafting of the chapter of the new constitution on local authorities. We have also been developing contacts with a number of local authorities, including in Kairouan. Last April a partnership agreement was signed between the cities of Strasbourg, in France, and Kairouan under the patronage of the Congress.
ALDA and the Congress obviously share the same values and have been working for the same goal during the last fifteen years. I would like to stress again that the Congress remains a committed partner of ALDA. Now our respective activities can be linked more closely, especially in countries where we have common partners. I will give a few concrete examples.
We are considering ways and means to develop synergies in particular within the LADDER project – Local Authorities as Drivers for Development Education and Raising Awareness, a 3-year project, in which the Congress is an associate. One of the objectives is to raise public awareness of development issues and to promote education on development issues within the EU.
One of the areas of common interest is education for democratic citizenship and human rights education. The Council of Europe has been working for many years on this theme at the intergovernmental and local level. I wish to stress the importance of the human-rights based approach of development and of the promotion and respect of human rights at local level.
Even in times of financial crisis, it is important to invest in education for democratic culture. It is part of the task of local and regional authorities, who are closest to their citizens, to educate inhabitants on their democratic and human rights, and show them how to give effect to their rights as citizens.
Another area of common interest is the development of citizen participation at local level. A lack of citizen participation is causing a loss of people’s confidence in politicians and political parties. There is a crisis of legitimacy of political bodies elected through very low voter turnout. Corruption and lack of transparency remain serious impediments to good governance. Citizens’ disillusionment leads to a deeper crisis of values. People are questioning their democratic commitment, against a background of rising extremism and xenophobia. ALDA promotes best practices in this field, which is also the core mission of the European Local Democracy Week.
For those of you who may not know, the European Local Democracy Week is an annual pan-European event, launched by the Council of Europe in 2007, coordinated by the Congress. Its aim is to promote and foster democratic participation at local level, in particular, to raise citizens’ awareness of how local authorities operate, and inform them of the opportunities for taking part in decision-making at the grassroots level. The main targets are local and regional authorities, and their associations. I would like to encourage ALDA to continue promoting the week and its members to be part of this initiative by planning and organising participatory activities for citizens in the frame of the week.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the Congress, we are convinced that greater decentralisation and more democracy at the grassroots is still needed today. There are many opportunities to join forces in order to face the new challenges which are ahead of us to consolidate local self-government in Europe. I look forward to the exchanges we will have today on these important issues.