Networking and Cooperation Conference: Local Authorities Associations of South Caucasus

Kutaisi, Georgia, 29-30 October 2009

Speech by Dobrica Milovanovic, Deputy Mayor of Kragujevac, Congress member and Vice-President of the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA)

Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues and friends,

I would like to start by saying how delighted I am to have been able to follow the very interesting discussions and exchanges of best practices on this first day of our conference. We have had quite a productive session today, which only highlighted the timeliness of this initiative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Association of Local Democracy Agencies to boost the debate on the role and cooperation between national associations of local and regional authorities in South Caucasus.

Support for national associations of local and regional authorities and creation of their networks has been one of the main axes of Congress action for quite some time. In South-East Europe in particular, we have been promoting the setting-up and development of such associations from the very beginning of the Council of Europe’s enlargement.

This work has led to the creation of the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe, NALAS, whose IT and Knowledge Centre Manager addressed this conference today and, as you have seen in Ginka Tchavdorova’s presentation, NALAS taskforces produce very concrete results.

I should say from my personal experience as a local elected representative in South-East Europe, as Deputy Mayor of Kragujevac in central Serbia, that NALAS has gone from strength to strength. One of the strengths of NALAS lies in creating an infrastructure to ensure the exchange of information and best practices between the participating associations. Another stems from their combined forces, in particular when it comes to lobbying in Strasbourg and Brussels. Thirteen associations are a lot more likely to be heard than one, much as four associations working together, and yet remaining individual entities, are more likely to win project grants from the EU and other sources than one.

Here in South Caucasus, where the Congress has already supported the establishment of national associations in Georgia and Azerbaijan, we wish to encourage such networking amongst them, using the positive experience of NALAS.

It is only logical, because we see associations and their networks as relaying the Congress’ initiatives and projects, which are international in nature, at the national, regional and local level. In fact, I can say that we developed a culture of dealing with national associations in our day-to-day activities.

Our cooperation takes various forms, from consultations with associations and their participation in our meetings, to organising targeted meetings with representatives of associations and their participation in election observation missions of the Congress.

The important role that associations have to play in local democracy is enshrined in the European Charter on Local Self-Government where it states that ‘the entitlement of local authorities to belong to an association for the protection and promotion of their interests and to belong to an international association of local authorities shall be recognised in each State’.

We need your input into our work – including your involvement in the process to decide the composition of national delegations to the Congress. We need your support for the European Charter of Local Self Government in your countries. We need your suggestions for possible action in the areas of our competence. Our partnership should not be a one-way street.

It is in this spirit of cooperation that the Congress organised, in February 2006 and September 2008, the two meetings of Presidents and Secretaries-General of national associations, and we hope to organise a third in 2010. In fact, the meeting in September 2008 was the first when associations contributed to formulating the Congress priorities for 2009-2010, and when the Congress emphasised the need to rely on associations for ‘early warning’ of alleged violations of the Charter, for advocating Congress resolutions addressed to local and regional authorities, and for putting pressure on national governments to implement Congress recommendations. 

It is also in this spirit of cooperation that the Congress decided, in March 2007, to invite the associations to send elected representatives to election observation missions.

And it is in this spirit that we are holding this conference today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Another initiative of the Congress which offers a good opportunity for cooperation between associations of authorities at local and regional level is the creation of Euro-regions of a new generation, bringing together both members and non-members of the European Union.

The first region, the Adriatic Euro-region, was launched in 2006 and proved to be a major success. Pursuing this path, the Congress founded the Black Sea Euro-region in September 2008, which is open to local and regional authorities not only from the countries geographically bordering on the Black Sea, but to all countries of the basin in a broad sense, including Armenia and Azerbaijan. We are particularly pleased that the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, Georgia, and the City of Idjevan in Armenia are already participating in this Euro-region, and we certainly hope that more municipalities and regions from South Caucasus will be joining soon.

In conclusion, before we proceed to taking stock of some of the points made today and some of the points that could be followed up, I would like to stress once again the crucial importance that we in the Congress attach to national associations of local and regional authorities – as reference points both for the Congress at pan-European level and for local and regional elected representatives at national level who, unlike parliamentarians, do not have the infrastructure of national parliaments.  

On the other hand, local democracy agencies, Euro-regions and associations’ networks are the cooperation platforms that we offer for use by national associations, and of which the associations should take full advantage.

Thank you for your attention, and I am sure that tomorrow morning will be as interesting and fruitful as today.