23rd Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

16 October 2012

Statement by Herwig Van Staa, newly elected Congress President (Austria, EPP/CD)

Dear fellow members of the Congress,

Dear colleagues,

Dear friends,

It is a great honour for me to have been elected President of our Congress, and I wish to thank all of you for this vote of confidence and the trust you have placed in me to lead this assembly for the next two years.

I see it as a recognition of my efforts as President of the Chamber of Regions but also of my experience in Austria, combining both local governance as Mayor of Innsbruck and regional administration as Governor, and now as President of the regional parliament of Tyrol. I am confident that by drawing from this experience, I will be able to address to the full extent the concerns of both local and regional dimensions of our Congress during my presidency.

I would like to thank in particular the outgoing President, Mr Keith WHITMORE, for his tremendous work in steering this institution through the challenging political and structural reform, which has brought about the new, reinvigorated Congress we have today. Over the past years, the Congress has made great progress in its mission as the guardian of local and regional democracy in Europe and the voice of our towns, cities and regions. Through more targeted action, through better monitoring of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, through stronger dialogue with national governments and closer partnerships across the continent, the Congress has significantly reinforced its unique role and position in the European political architecture.

However, as they say, man’s work is never done, and I see as my main responsibility today to seize this momentum and to boost this forward movement even further. We may have changed horses in midstream but we must not relent and slow down, quite the opposite: through the reform, there is a vast field of new opportunities opened to us today, enabling us to accelerate!

Today, national governments increasingly recognise local and regional authorities as major stakeholders and actors in responding to the challenges faced by our societies in almost all political, economic and social areas. The current economic crisis itself, with its harsh impact on our municipalities and regions and thus on our citizens, has placed our role in both staving off the social disaster and in launching the economic revival in the spotlight. But most importantly, the crisis has brought to the fore the need for joint, coherent action of all tiers of government, and this is an opportunity that cannot be missed.

Dear colleagues,

The new Congress now has a four-year mandate, and this afternoon, we will adopt new priorities for these four years, which aim to seize these new opportunities in order to:

Raise the quality of local and regional democracy and human rights in Europe;

Help local and regional authorities to rise to the new challenges resulting from the economic and financial crisis; and

Develop cooperation and partnerships.

We will be strengthening further our monitoring activities and observation of local and regional elections, and we will improve the follow-up to our recommendations through post-monitoring co-operation programmes with both national and territorial authorities. We will boost our action to promote human rights and foster citizen participation at local and regional level. We will be responding to threats to local and regional budgets, and contributing to discussion of territorial reforms affecting local and regional authorities. We will be proposing measures to improve the governance and social inclusion in our communities, and to strengthen the commitment of elected representatives to ethical conduct and the fight against corruption at local and regional level.

To help us achieve these objectives, we will be developing targeted co-operation in areas of common interest with our partners both within and outside the Council of Europe, and in particular with the European Union, and we will be paying special attention to co-operation for local and regional democracy in Europe’s neighbouring countries.

Finally, we will continue to advance inter-territorial and cross-border co-operation between municipalities and regions, and contribute to the development of its various forms.

This is a challenging task for all of us, and I see my role as President to lead the Congress in the implementation of these priorities, for the increased benefit of our citizens, of democratic governance, of national and European policy-making. It is a great responsibility but also a great pride for me to be President at this crucial moment, and I am grateful to you for giving me this opportunity.

I am deeply convinced that together, we will rise to this challenge.

Thank you.