25e Session du Congrès des pouvoirs locaux et régionaux du Conseil de l’Europe
Strasbourg, 29-31 octobre 2013
Communication of Jean-Claude FRÉCON, President of the Chamber of Regions of the Congress of the Council of Europe
Allow me firstly to say how delighted I am to be here today to open the 25th session of the Congress of Local Authorities. We have a busy schedule over the next three days. In a few minutes, we are going to look at four reports which reflect the variety of what we do and the new direction taken by the Congress in recent years.
The first report is about monitoring local democracy in Ireland, while the second looks at the integration of migrants through local support for entrepreneurship. The third and fourth reports concern the observation of elections, first the city council elections in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and then the local elections in “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.
These reports are a reflection of our new Congress: in carrying out our reform, we have given priority to monitoring the implementation of the Charter, an instrument that is crucial for our democracies.
The second strand of our activities, election observation, is similar in nature to monitoring. While we do not have an international treaty in this area, there is such a thing as good practice. Our democracies need fair, transparent elections, so that people can choose their own destiny.
And lastly, we have our main political debate, raising, as we do in each session, an issue that is of particular relevance to local and regional authorities and ordinary citizens. This time the focus is on integrating foreign nationals through entrepreneurship, a novel approach that helps us to see foreigners in a more positive light and to better appreciate their contribution to society.
Before we get down to business, however, allow me to make a few general comments about a forthcoming event that is of major symbolic importance: the ratification of the Charter by the Republic of San Marino. Three years ago, during my first term in office, I set myself a goal which was to unite the great family of European local democracy around the Charter. Last Wednesday, the San Marino parliament ratified that Charter. Back in April 2012, I had travelled to San Marino to meet the foreign affairs minister and to initiate a dialogue on the benefits of the Charter for a small country, where an instrument of this kind can sometimes seem rather frightening and a little too big. Last week’s vote was the culmination of this process.
This is a major achievement for the Congress and an indication of the new role that the Congress can play within the Council of Europe. I am very proud of this achievement and I am well aware that, quite apart from my own personal contribution, it has come about thanks to the efforts of my predecessors. We have thus completed what our friends in the European Union would call the “enlargement” process. That brings us to the next phase, which is the “deepening”.
While all the member states of the Council of Europe are now covered by the Charter, it still remains for us, and this is what I meant when I spoke of having a “100% Charter across 100% of European territory”, to carry out the “deepening” work.
The Charter is by definition an “à la carte” instrument. Our task now is to encourage national governments, through political dialogue with our member states, to ratify all the provisions where they have not already done so. For some states, it will simply be a case of reservations ceasing to be applicable. For others, the dialogue will centre on the changes under way in their local democracy and necessary adjustments.
This is the way forward that we have mapped out. I cannot deny that it is going to be a very lengthy process but I am confident that, through our monitoring and post-monitoring activities and post-election observation recommendations, in short, through a healthy political dialogue with our governments, we will be able to set in motion this vital “deepening” phase. That will be my main task in the coming year and indeed the main task for my successors.