1215th meeting of the Committee of Ministers
Wednesday, 10 December 2014
Statement by Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress
Deputy Secretary General,
In his exchange of views on 22 October 2014, the President of the Congress, Mr Frécon, informed this Committee about the highlights of the October session, the activities of the Congress with regard to Ukraine, the newly adopted “Partner for local democracy” status for local and regional authorities in countries of the CoE neighbourhood policy, our work with youth and also the need for a sufficiently endowed secretariat and the means to achieve the expected results in our statutory and co-operation activities.
To complement this, I would like to highlight some of the activities mentioned in the activity report and give you some advance information on the next Session, which will take place from 24 to 26 March 2015.
Co-operation with the intergovernmental sector
The Congress Bureau was very pleased with the exchange of views the GR-DEM had with Mr Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Spokesperson of the Congress for relations with the intergovernmental sector, and is looking forward to holding an exchange of views with Ambassador Astrid Helle, Chair of the GR-DEM, at the next Bureau meeting on 2 February 2015.
We also look forward to welcoming the Chairpersons of the relevant rapporteur groups, who will be invited to the Congress committee meetings, a practice which has already been begun by the Parliamentary Assembly.
In my communication to the CM last year, on 11 December 2013, I presented to you the concept of the Congress to engage in political post-monitoring and post-election observation dialogue with member states’ governments. Today I am happy to inform you that we are in a very promising dialogue in Ukraine – this very week -, in Georgia – meetings take place next week – and in Armenia, where we will start early next year. I would like to thank the Ambassadors concerned for their support in organising this post-monitoring dialogue with their authorities.
The idea is not to leave the governments concerned on their own, in dealing with the Recommendations stemming from Congress monitoring, but to accompany the authorities in the process of adapting their constitutions and legislation and introducing appropriate policies to develop, reform and strengthen local self-government.
We are working closely with the Venice Commission on this. An example is the Congress contribution to the opinion of the Venice Commission on the constitutional reform in Ukraine, which has been largely taken into account.
Yesterday, in Kyiv, our post-monitoring delegation met with Deputy Minister Nehoda, senior representatives of the Ministries for regional development, finance, economy and interior and all representative associations, to discuss our proposals for a transfer of competencies and constitutional aspects of decentralisation. As you may know, there is a heated debate on this in Ukraine at the moment and we want to contribute to achieving a sustainable solution in close contact with the Venice Commission. The Congress will present an intermediate report and a roadmap for the process early next week.
Another example of concrete follow-up following a monitoring report, is the letter of the Dutch Minister of the Interior, Mr Pasterk, which he sent jointly with the Associations of Local and Regional Authorities. Together they provided information on the follow-up to be given to the Congress’s Recommendation in the spirit of a culture of consultation and partnership between the national, regional and local levels.
Invitations to observe elections
Besides monitoring the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the observation of local and regional elections is the most effective means of the Congress to assess the situation of local and regional democracy in a member state.
On the basis of recommendations, stemming from such monitoring activities, the Congress engages in a post-monitoring dialogue and in co-operation activities (bilateral and in the framework of CoE Action Plans).
While the monitoring visits are scheduled on the basis of the work programme of the Monitoring Committee, concerning election observation, the Congress relies on an official invitation by the respective authority in the country concerned. That can be the Central Electoral Commission, a Ministry or the Permanent Representation in Strasbourg. The essential is that by this invitation the Congress’ delegations are granted access to the polling stations and entitled to perform their duties, on the basis of internationally agreed standards for observing elections.
As you know from our Plenary Sessions, in 2014, the Congress has observed local elections in the Netherlands, Georgia and Ukraine. The Congress is willing and interested to observe elections.
We therefore regret that we were not able to respond positively to invitations in recent months, since we did not receive the necessary official invitation in time.
For this reason, I would encourage you to ask your authorities to invite the Congress as early as possible after the announcement of the election. A timely invitation helps us to properly prepare an election observation mission, in accordance with the internal procedures and rules of the Congress, as well as with international standards.
20 years of Congress and co-operation with EU
In April I had the opportunity to inform you about the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Congress during the March Session.
Three weeks ago, the Congress held two joint events with the Committee of the Regions, which was also established in 1994. On 17 November the Governance and CIVEX commissions held a joint meeting, and on 18 November the Congress / CoR “Contact Group” met in Brussels. We were honoured by the participation of Ambassadors Jari Vilén and Torbjørn Frøysnes, to discuss issues of common interest in the fields of democracy, human rights and rule of law, with a specific focus on candidate countries for the EU and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries. As you may know, the EU has set up the Conference of local and regional authorities of the Eastern partnership (CORLEAP), in which many Congress members represent their respective national associations and thus create synergies in the interest of the Council of Europe.
Another area of co-operation with the EU: The Congress has submitted a joint proposal with DG Democracy for a 3-year project within the “2015-2017 EU-CoE Eastern Partnership Programmatic Co-operation Framework (PCF)”, which is supported by EU funding. The component led by the Congress aims:
· at supporting the ongoing local government reforms in the five participating countries which are Council of Europe member states (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine),
· at raising awareness of European standards on local democracy in Belarus, and
· at promoting ethical behaviour by locally elected representatives as well as a citizen participation culture in the whole region.
This project, which is now in the final stage of negotiations with the European Commission, should start in early 2015.
In the context of the co-operation with the EU, Director General Philippe Boillat and I will speak at a conference on Human and Fundamental Rights which is being organised by the Commission’s Vice-President Frans Timmermans next week in Brussels. I will be presenting proposals and experiences of the Congress to raise the awareness of cities, and regions and their politicians and senior staff, to promote human rights in their areas of responsibility. I see this invitation as an acknowledgement of the competence and expertise of the Congress and the Council of Europe by our partners in Brussels.
Now that all 47 member states have ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government, one of the key priorities in 2015 and beyond will be to engage in dialogue with governments, so as to achieve more and more articles declared applicable, in order to establish a common European space of local democracy. We are pleased to note that in recent years a number of our member states have accepted to apply additional articles of the Charter.
The Congress has analysed the reasons for non-acceptance of articles in the Charter (in a report on the subject debated in October 2011) and is now pursuing its efforts to change the circumstances that were used as justification for non-ratification. These efforts are bearing fruit. The analysis of the current situation shows that the number of non-ratified provisions has decreased over the past 7 years (since May 2007) from 107 to 83 today that is minus 22 percent! This is also consequence of our monitoring activities.
In addition to the country-by-country approach, the Congress is collecting experiences from several member states. You had an opportunity to discuss these “recurring issues” with Mr Lambertz in September at the GR-DEM. The Congress will pursue both these approaches – by member states and horizontally - and propose legal and policy responses to address the shortcomings identified.
European Local Democracy Week (ELDW)
The eighth edition of the European Local Democracy Week (ELDW) took place between 13 and 19 October 2014 and was dedicated to the theme of “Participatory democracy: sharing, proposing, deciding”, with a special focus on youth.
175 partners from 24 countries participated this year and organised some 470 activities. Information on this can be found on the ELDW website run by the Congress Secretariat.
Outlook for 2015
The Congress will continue to focus on the core areas of the Council of Europe. The Bureau has chosen “Local responses to human rights challenges – migration, discrimination, social inclusion” as the guiding theme for the two sessions in 2015. This will include concrete and specific aspects of human rights at local and regional level.
Congress members will discuss the situation in UK after the referendum in Scotland and invited Lord Ahmad, Minister for Communities and European Programmes, to present the UK government proposals for empowering not only Scotland but also Northern Ireland, Wales and England. I would like to thank Ambassador Johnson for his support.
We will also continue to work with the youth representatives and the feedback and proposals from their side as well as from the members of the Congress are very encouraging.
As a next step in the Congress reform, the Committee of Ministers has received proposals to amend the Statutory Resolution and Charter, as a basis for further modernising the rules of procedure. Subject to (a discussion in the GR-DEM and) the decision of the CM, the Congress is preparing to adapt its rules of procedure in the March session. Our members would therefore be grateful if this decision could be taken by the Committee of Ministers in due time.
Finally, I would like to thank the Ambassadors of Austria and Turkey for seconding officials to the Congress Secretariat to work in the areas of the Monitoring committee, as well as the Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma inclusion. This is a substantial support that facilitates our work!