1167th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies
Strasbourg, 3 April 2013
Communication by Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It has been nearly six months since my last activity report in November 2012, and in keeping with the tradition of dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Congress, it is my pleasure to provide you today with direct information about the most recent developments in Congress activities.
As it is customary, you will find details of the Congress’s activities in my written communication, which has been distributed to you. In my oral presentation, I would, therefore, rather highlight those events, which, in our view, are most significant or relevant to our work. I am referring to the events connected with the 24th Session of the Congress, from 19 to 21 March 2013.
This session was taking place at a time when the multiple crises in Europe continue to represent major challenges to the proper functioning of local and regional democracy and to the delivery of services by local and regional authorities in our continent. At a time, also, when the depth of these crisis is such that it calls for concrete and swift response action at the grassroots. The President stressed that the Congress cannot respond to these challenges with theory alone, simply by proposing initiatives and activities while overlooking their practical application. In line with the logic of the reform of the Council of Europe and its own reform, the Congress is becoming less theoretical and more practical, more operational, more action-driven and result-oriented, engaging in concrete activities together with national governments. This new orientation is already bearing fruit.
This is our basic philosophy today and the main orientation that we consider important to follow in the current situation, as it was revealed by the session’s debates and exchanges of views with our guest speakers. In this regard, I would like to mention in particular the participation of Mrs Valentina MATVIENKO, Chairperson of the Federation Council of Russia, who spoke about her country’s role in building a democratic Europe through its work in the Council of Europe and particularly the Congress. I should say that Mrs MATVIENKO accepted readily to answer questions from Congress members and to have a fruitful exchange of views with them in a spirit of open and frank discussion, for which we are very grateful. Congress members were also pleased to hear her assessment of the Congress's monitoring as professional, steady and systematic in nature over the past two years. I would like to thank the Russian Permanent Representation, and in particular Ambassador Alekseev for their assistance in organising this visit.
Another highlight of the session was a thematic debate on preventing corruption and promoting ethical governance, which was one of the session’s three current affairs debates, along with fostering active citizenship and fighting social exclusion. The President of the Group of States against Corruption, Mr Marin MRČELA, and Mrs Petra KNEUER, Director of Investigations of the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, made a valuable contribution to this debate as guest speakers, together with Jean-Pierre GUIS, President of a French Association of elected representatives and citizens against corruption, ANTICOR, and Sir Alan MEALE, Parliamentary Assembly’s General Rapporteur on Local and Regional Authorities.
In addition, the session saw the official launching of the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, the result of a year and a half of work following the Summit of Mayors on Roma in September 2011. The establishment of this co-operation framework, which today brings together almost 120 municipalities, regions and their networks, was welcomed by EU-Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes HAHN in his video message to the session, who pledged the European Commission’s support for this project. I thank the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General for their indispensable political and the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Roma Issues for his ongoing operational support. Last but not least, I should also mention the launching of an interactive online platform to demonstrate and develop good local and regional practices in fighting sexual abuse of children, announced during the session, which is a support tool for the Congress’ Pact of Towns and Regions to combat sexual violence against children.
Thus, the 24th Session was also an occasion to expand the panoply of practical tools of the Congress, aimed at refocusing its activities around the Council of Europe reform priorities and at fine-tuning its action with the core business of the Council of Europe. This reorientation follows the philosophy of the reform carried out by Secretary General JAGLAND, which is also your philosophy in the Committee of Ministers.
Resolution on post-monitoring and post-election observation dialogue
I am pleased that Congress members have supported this change on focusing with enthusiasm and conviction, in particular by adopting during the session a resolution on post-monitoring and post-election observation dialogue. This resolution represents the Congress’ commitment to developing its political dialogue with national authorities initiated during monitoring, in order to agree on a roadmap leading to the effective implementation of the recommendations adopted. The objective is to ensure that the Congress’s thorough and intensive monitoring work on the state of local and regional democracy and its election observation procedures are subsequently followed by concrete and practical measures: that recommendations have a real, distinct impact, for the benefit of the member states concerned and at their request. This approach reflects the spirit of professionalism, transparency, dialogue and fair treatment, as it was discussed in your thematic debate of 13 March on “Ways to improve the impact of the Council of Europe monitoring mechanisms”.
The post-monitoring procedure will enable us to make a specific contribution to Council of Europe co-operation programmes, tailored, as required, to the needs of the local and regional authorities and of the member states concerned. On the basis of the defined roadmaps, we will provide input to action plans and co-operation programmes developed in relevant Council of Europe departments, and I would like to thank already the Director Generals and the Directors of various entities of the Council of Europe for systematically involving the Congress’ involvement in this general endeavor. You will find the full text of the resolution in annex to my written activity report.
Of course, we do understand the seriousness of the current budgetary situation of member states, a topic which was also the subject of discussions during the session. Congress members adopted a recommendation on the needs and budgetary proposals for 2014/2015 which is submitted to you. I invite you to also read the explanatory memorandum to that recommendation as it gives a good overview of the reform activities and the financial development of the Congress in the past years. I know that many heads of Congress delegations discussed this important issue with you, Ambassadors, during the Congress Session.
The Congress is aware that its current budgetary situation, which reflects severed cuts operated already over the last four years, particularly with regard to staff resources, will barely suffice to maintain its statutory functions in place. The Congress is indeed aware that the Ordinary Budget of the Council of Europe will not be able to fund emerging ambitions and priorities, even though they are based on shared priorities. In order to implement our new post-monitoring and co-operation activities – essential as they are - we will need to rely more heavily on voluntary contributions and on staff seconded from national public services. In this context, I would like to make an appeal to you and to your governments to consider seconding staff to the Congress secretariat for the implementation of specific projects and programmes. I would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to those governments which have already taken steps in that good direction, notably Austria and Italy. Working in the Congress, accompanying Congress missions to assess the situation on the ground can be a great learning experience for your national officials, and we consider such secondments as truly a “win-win” situation. I would also like to thank Switzerland for the contributions enabling the Council of Europe to implement a substantial local democracy project in Albania.
I would like to conclude by stressing that we in the Congress want to be more useful to member states, not only in theory, but also in practice. We are hoping for your reciprocity in supporting our action and giving us means to continue to produce concrete results. The political leadership of the Congress and the committed secretariat are working for this substantial contribution to the performance of the Council of Europe.