121st Session of the Committee of Ministers

Istanbul, Turkey, 10-11 May 2011

Speech by Keith Whitmore, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe



Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, the Congress represents local and regional communities, the tier of government closest to the citizens.

Today, the challenges that Europe is facing, in a system of multilevel governance require close interaction between at all government levels. Local and regional authorities are much more than service providers. By implementing strategies and finding policy solutions for local situations, they have become full-fledged political players in the development of their communities.

The challenges that Europe is facing today are transversal, and so too must be the solutions. The Congress represents this transversality. As an integral part of the Council of Europe, the Congress functions not only as a source of proposals to the Committee of Ministers, but also as a distribution channel for the policies and strategies of this Organisation at local and regional level, underpinning its action for territorial democratic development.

As part of the broader reform of the Council of Europe the Congress has refocused its priorities, adapted its structures and shaped itself to tackle the most pressing issues for our territorial communities. We have given priority to promoting human rights at local and regional level and raising awareness in our communities – because we are convinced that fewer violations at the grassroots level means a better application of the European Human Rights Convention and fewer cases before the Strasbourg Court. This will also be the motto of this year’s European Local Democracy week.

We have launched activities to mobilise local and regional action for Roma inclusion, and will hold a Summit of Mayors on Roma in September this year.

Can I assure you, through a broader application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government we will pursue our action to strengthen local and regional democracy, which is restricted today by the reservations that a number of member states made when they ratified the Charter.  We are convinced that European democratic development needs a common space of standards and principles, which are the same for every country. As you know through our particular expertise in monitoring local and regional governance, the Congress also stands ready to provide its help in local democracy-building in the southern Mediterranean and beyond, once the Council of Europe neighbourhood policy and action are defined.

We are also committed to pursuing close cooperation and building synergies with the Conference of Ministers responsible for local and regional government, in defining an agenda in common to advance democracy in areas where governments and local and regional authorities can and must join forces. Encouraging citizen participation and fighting corruption in local government remain our top priorities in this field. I am convinced that this national/local partnership can only be good for democracy.

The Congress as the voice of municipalities and regions remains fully committed to these principles and actions.

Thank you.