2nd Annual Meeting of CORLEAP (Conference of Local and Regional Authorities for the Eastern Partnership)

(Chisinau, Moldova, 17 September 2012)

Speech by Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Council of Europe

General framework

The Congress welcomes the work carried on so far by CORLEAP and wishes to support its move to its operational phase.

We share the analysis produced by the Aston Centre presented to the Conference. In particular, we agree on the fact that governmental autonomy and financial capacities of local and regional administrations are too limited. Long-term plans are needed and regional governments should head their implementation. It is of course important to disseminate information on financial assistance mechanisms available from EU programmes, both for local and regional democracy and the development of infrastructures.

However, we believe that the regional governments should represent true democratic regional bodies and be founded on citizens’ participation and control. This implies that assistance has to go towards territorial reforms and local and regional democracy promotion projects - in particular on devolution and decentralization of fiscal competences.

We believe that support should be given to the improvement of the skills of local and regional government politicians and civil servants, in order to allow them to improve the performance of local and regional administrations.

Efficient and democratic multi-level governance mechanisms are needed. The operational phase of CORLEAP should include initiatives and targeted projects for strengthening good governance within local and regional administrations, enforce the rule of law and increase citizen participation in political issues. This is the area where the Congress of the Council of Europe can concretely contribute with its follow-up to monitoring visits and its multi-annual action plans for many of the relevant countries.

We have to develop co-operation between local and regional authorities, improve the confidence and trust of citizens in local elected politicians and foster greater transparency of the policies run at local and regional level.

Congress’ views and priorities

The Congress is now pursuing its activities for improving the institutional and legislative framework for local democracy in the EaP countries (in accordance with the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government) and for developing systems of decentralised governance. We believe that there is a need to establish efficient local government systems and to provide the citizens with more effective services. 

We act on the implementation of human rights, on citizen participation, the ethics of local and regional elected representatives and on the improvement of transparency in decision-making. [The initiatives taken with the CoR on the fight against corruption i.e. the Messina Conference, the survey on promoting transparency and ethical values and the experts meeting on corruption].  We seek to establish clear separations between economic and political tasks at local level, avoid conflicts of interest, to take care of the financing of political parties. In a few words, support the enforcement of law at local and regional level.

We believe it’s also necessary to improve the leadership capacities of local elected representatives and to empower local leaders to engage in constructive dialogue with central authorities and with citizens. [We are starting a programme in this direction in Albania]

We think that partnerships should contribute to fill the gap which persists between the ruling elites (political and economic) and the rest of society, there being for instance a widespread public discontent with the management of public resources.  We shall focus on the dissemination good practices and suggest possible solutions to counteract shadow economies, bad administration and corruption.

The current economic crisis has shown how important it is to acquire stable and enforced rules before any step forward towards market integration.

Congress’ concrete actions/initiatives

The Council of Europe as such has launched action plans for Ukraine and Armenia and other plans will follow for Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova.

Within the action plan for Ukraine (developed with the support of the European Union) the Congress will provide policy guidance, legal assistance and technical expertise to the Ukrainian authorities. Its purpose is to contribute to the improvement of an institutional and a legislative framework for local democracy, and to develop a system of decentralised governance which should be consistent with the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

In Armenia, the Congress will seek to contribute towards building confidence and trust in local elected representatives by fostering their engagement on the transparency of the decision-making processes and on the promotion of human rights. The Congress also seeks to promote a leadership culture of local elected representatives which should be fed by constructive interactions with the central authorities and with the citizens.

Several other targeted projects are underway, or have been proposed by the Council of Europe, in co-operation with the European Union, in: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus. These projects are centred on the strengthening the rule of law, democracy and human rights.

The motivation justifying these priorities is the perception that the efforts for boosting economic growth have to be preceded by truly democratic and transparent governance.  

The Congress and the Committee of the Regions already worked together on the role and responsibilities of local elected representatives, and on counteracting corruption in local and regional administrations. It is a field of action where local and regional authorities of the Eastern Partnership countries should benefit from European support.

We believe that, in this respect, the synergies between the Council of Europe and the European Union should be supported and increased.