Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, 1153bis Meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (Tirana, 9 November 2012)

Speech by President Herwig Van Staa, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities,  Council of Europe

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address you for the first time since my election as President of the Congress three weeks ago. I was elected to this position at the time when the Congress, strengthened by its reform, is becoming increasingly operational, action-driven and result-oriented.

At its last session in October, the Congress renewed both its membership and leadership, and adopted priorities for action for the next four years, aligned with the priorities of the Council of Europe and targeting the immediate needs and concerns of local and regional authorities and our citizens. We intend to pursue this work in close co-operation with our partners, and in particular the Committee of Ministers and the intergovernmental sector. As a result of the reform, our dialogue with the Committee of Ministers – with you – has become stronger, more regular and more structured, focusing on specific problems and challenges for local and regional democracy in our countries.

We have expanded our monitoring of national situations of local and regional democracy, making this process more comprehensive and seeking to ensure a more effective follow-up to our recommendations. We pursue this follow-up through post-monitoring dialogue and co-operation with both national and territorial authorities, geared towards their practical implementation. The same is true for the observation of local and regional elections, as well as our participation in country-specific Action Plans – such the one with Ukraine – or co-operation programmes, for example with Albania, which are all part of the process of overcoming together the existing shortcomings and problems at the grassroots. 

For Albania in particular, the Congress will soon take concrete steps forward with a project that seeks to build a sustainable and unified platform for local and regional elected representatives based on dialogue and political pluralism. The overall aim of this project is to improve local and regional democracy by empowering elected representatives and enhancing their role, capacity and co-operation. I would like to thank in this regard the authorities of Switzerland for their voluntary contribution for this project.

The Congress has enjoyed relations of close co-operation with the Albanian Chair, and I would like to congratulate the authorities of this country on their successful chairmanship, which will be concluded today. I would like to mention in particular the conferences on regionalisation, on human rights at local level and on the role of decentralisation in Albania, as well as other events in which the Congress took an active part – such as the Council of Europe Exchange on intercultural dialogue, a seminar on teaching the remembrance of the Holocaust, or today’s conference on European diversity.

We are particularly pleased that the outgoing Chairmanship has focused on the promotion of local and regional democracy as one of its priorities, and we welcome the decision of the next Chair, Andorra, together with the following chairmanships of Armenia and Austria, also to make promoting local and regional democracy their common priority. In March last year, Andorra became the 45th member state to ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and I wish to congratulate yet again the Andorran authorities on this important step.

As President of the Congress, I will make sure that our dialogue with the Committee of Ministers is pursued and deepened through future chairmanships. As for the Congress, today, it is our ambition to become ever more operational, geared towards the practical implementation of this Organisation’s objectives and priorities in grassroots communities. As an example, I could mention our efforts to build a European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, in response to the Strasbourg Declaration, or the local and regional dimension of the One in Five Campaign to stop sexual violence against children, to name just two.

However, I must admit that the conditions for realising this ambition to the full extent are becoming increasingly difficult, due to the budgetary and human resources constraints.  In other words, we need greater support from you to be able to support better your action, the action of the Council of Europe, and I hope that future chairmanships will take this into account.

I would like to thank once again the Albanian Chair for the accomplished work and to wish Andorra a fruitful and successful chairmanship during the next six months.

Thank you.