Moscow, 18 October 2006

Speech by Giovanni Di Stasi, Past President of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, At the European Forum on the Future of Democracy

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear friends,

It is a pleasure for me to open this workshop in the framework of the 2nd Forum on the Future of Democracy, organised under the Russian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. I am especially pleased to do so because I also had the honour to address the launching meeting of the Forum, held in Warsaw in November last year, in my capacity as President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

Before I give the floor to our distinguished workshop rapporteur, I would like to say a few words.

As you all know, the Forum was created by the decision of the Warsaw Summit of Council of Europe Heads of State and Government, in recognition of the fact that democracy is a constant process, and our democratic principles and institutions need to be adjusted to respond to today’s realities, challenges and people’s evolving needs. The first meeting was devoted to citizens’ participation in democratic processes; this meeting is dealing with the role of political parties in the fabric of democratic societies. More specifically, our today’s workshop is dedicated to the role of political parties in building and strengthening democratic institutions.

It is clear that the efficient functioning of democratic institutions and of democracy in general depends on people’s trust in individual politicians and political parties as such.
I would add that this trust begins at the local and regional level, the level closest to the citizen. This is why the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities which I represent as its Past President has been paying close attention to the conduct of political parties.

In 1999, the Congress adopted the European Code of conduct for local and regional elected representatives, aimed at defining ethical obligations of public officials to clarify their role and duties and reaffirm the importance of those duties. The initiative to draft such a code came from our conviction that a relationship of trust between local and regional politicians and citizens is indispensable for elected representatives to be able to perform their role effectively.

The Code covers a wide range of issues, dealing, for example, with rules governing election campaigns, exercise of discretionary powers, conflict of interests, observation of budgetary and financial discipline, means of supervision, and relations with the public, local government staff and the media. It provides for bans on favouring, on exercising authority to one’s own advantage, on corruption and on securing certain appointments, among others.

We believe that applying these rules of conduct will ensure respect of ethical imperatives among politicians and political parties without which, as I have already said, the effective functioning of democratic institutions would be in jeopardy.

I would also like to mention another Congress text dealing with political parties. In 2000, the Congress adopted a resolution and a recommendation on the financial transparency of political parties and their democratic functioning at regional level, which called on national governments to ensure that their respective laws include adequate provision for transparency in the financing of political parties and appropriate supervisory measures. The Congress also recommended a number of measures to regional authorities, aimed at promoting transparency in the financing of political groupings at regional level as well as regional elections.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The instruments which I have mentioned were adopted in the spirit of our strong belief that building and strengthening democratic institutions can only be possible if we have politicians and political parties which are honest, ethical, non-corrupt, reflecting citizens’ opinions and serving their interests.

In conclusion, I would like to quote Germany’s Basic Law, the German Constitution, which specifically stresses that political parties, founded in a free manner and functioning in accordance with democratic principles, contribute to the building of people’s political will – and therefore, I would add, to building and strengthening of democratic institutions, which is the theme of our workshop today.

And with this, I would like to give the floor to our workshop rapporteur, Ms Ingrid van Biezen, from the University of Birmingham of the United Kingdom.

Ms van Biezen, the floor is yours.