1225th meeting of the Committee of Ministers (15 April 2015)
Statement by Andreas Kiefer,
Secretary General of the Congress
Check against delivery
I would like to thank you for the good wishes and messages of congratulation I received after my re-election as Secretary General of the Congress. When elected for the first time, one is very happy of course. When presented and elected a second time, this is already a reaction to the work performed. I do appreciate this specific quality and I share this positive feedback with my colleagues in the Congress Secretariat.
Over the last five years the goal of our reform has been to establish the Congress as
- a political assembly addressing the pertinent questions for the residents in our villages, cities and regions and for our governments,
- a professional monitoring and election observation body,
- an efficient provider of operational projects in and with our member States in the follow-up to its resolutions and recommendations, and
- a proactive and reactive thematic actor of the Council of Europe working on the basis of the priorities of the Organisation.
The Committee of Ministers has politically supported this orientation and I am very grateful for this. At the beginning of this new mandate I would like to ensure this Committee that I am fully committed to contributing to the shaping and implementing of the Congress’ political and operational activities in this spirit.
And it is in this spirit that the Congress has sought to achieve concrete results and impact when working on the local and regional dimension of the pertinent questions of the organisation. For example: we are very pleased that one and a half years after introducing the new post-monitoring policy of the Congress, which I presented to you on 11 December 2013, three countries have engaged in this dialogue.
In Ukraine we prepared a roadmap for legislative measures which will be presented to the Ukrainian authorities in May 2015. The Congress is also very pleased to contribute to and participate in the work of the Constitutional Commission of the Ukrainian Parliament - in close co-operation with the Venice Commission.
The example of Ukraine is not the only one:
After a positive post-monitoring programme Portugal recently ratified the Additional Protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority as well as the Additional Protocol to the European Outline-Convention on transfrontier co-operation between territorial communities or authorities. In the months to come, the Congress rapporteurs will submit the roadmap for legislative reforms based on the Congress Recommendation to the Minister responsible in Lisbon.
The Congress is also engaged in a fruitful dialogue with the Georgian government on a roadmap for a reform programme and we appreciate the quality of this
co-operation very much [details in the written report].
The third phase after the monitoring report and the post-monitoring dialogue concerns co-operation activities.
On 23 March the Congress Bureau approved guidelines for the implementation of co-operation activities in Council of Europe member states. Our co-operation activities [are based on the monitoring and election observation reports as well as on the thematic reports prepared by the Committees and adopted by the Congress. They] are implemented in the framework of Council of Europe action plans in close co-operation and synergy with other parts of the Organisation.
These guidelines focus on the areas in which the Congress can add specific experience and know-how, such as the role and the responsibilities of local and regional politicians, corruption and ethics, citizen participation at local level, cross-border co-operation, the democratic quality of electoral campaigns at local and regional level and human rights at local level, to mention just a few. You will find these guidelines in the appendix to my written activity report. They are yet another step towards concrete results and ever more professional performance.
III. 28th Session, 24–26 March 2015
Our March session highlighted how the Congress reacts to the main challenges and needs of our member States, the preoccupations of our governments, of our local and regional authorities and our citizens. The Congress is not an academic forum, but a political body acting in a political environment. This is why we want to reflect this “Zeitgeist” and timeliness also in the agendas of the Congress sessions.
The session is a very good example of this: the general theme was "local responses to human rights’ challenges - migration, discrimination, social inclusion”.
I would particularly like to mention the debate on managing the flow of migration by local and regional authorities. We had the opportunity to listen to three mayors who are in the front line and face extremely difficult situations. They are the mayors of Calais in France, Siirt in Turkey and Lampedusa in Italy, where last weekend another humanitarian catastrophe happened and more than 400 migrants lost their lives. And this flow will continue.
I would also like to mention the debate on cities against terrorism in the Chamber of Local Authorities, where we listened to the mayor of Kobane, who described the situation in his town after its occupation by the Islamic State, as well as the battle for its liberation.
Same thing for the urgent debate on the fight against terrorism. As you know, after the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February 2015, the Secretary General asked the different entities of the Council of Europe to present concrete proposals for activities in order to develop a comprehensive Action Plan of our Organisation.
The Congress has been working for a long time on these issues. We therefore quickly reacted to this request, by preparing a strategy which identifies the work already done and which proposes new activities, organised around three pillars, to be implemented in the short, medium and long term. Based on this strategy, the Session adopted a Resolution presented by the Congress thematic rapporteur Leen Verbeek (this Resolution can be found in the appendix to the Activity Report).
In this context, you have also heard our rapporteur during the thematic debate held by the Committee of Ministers on 19 March.
Another example of timely discussions was the debate on Jewish cemeteries and the responsibility of local authorities. Following the terrible damage done to the Jewish cemetery just a few kilometres outside Strasbourg, in Sarre-Union, this debate gave us an opportunity to examine the role of local authorities in protecting our cultural identity, part of which are these cemeteries.
I would also like to refer to the debate on the regional dimension of the process of decentralisation in Ukraine, with the participation of Minister Nehoda and the President of the Venice Commission, Mr Buquicchio.
One more topical discussion during the session concerned the United Kingdom and the prospects for devolution. In addition, in the Chamber of Regions we had the possibility to debate about the future of Scotland, following the September 2014 referendum.
Beyond all this, the members adopted three monitoring reports on Greece, Norway and Poland.
I would like to thank in particular the governments of Germany, Belgium, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and Ukraine for having participated so actively in our session via their representatives, Ministers or Secretaries of State. I would also like to thank the ambassadors for their support in organising these visits.
IV. The necessary means
I have just presented to you the political direction and some of the results of our work. You will not be surprised to hear that the preparation and implementation of these political and operational activities require resources – human and financial resources. In the March session the Congress adopted a recommendation on the financial resources for the next biennium 2016-2017. Members acknowledged the contributions of the Congress to the consolidation of the Council of Europe budget but expressed their grave concern that further constraints would seriously hamper the Congress capability to act.
I would like to draw your attention to the respective Recommendation and explanatory memorandum which outline the needs of the Congress to perform the activities that I just described. When you come to discuss the budget, as you will do soon, you know what the Congress is about and I trust that you will take into consideration the requirements to perform and to deliver the expected results.