Conference on Participatory democracy at local level,
Yerevan, Armenia 19 June 2013
Opening remarks, Herwig Van Staa (Austria, EPP/CCE), President of the Congress
1. It is an honour for me to welcome you to this conference on behalf of the Congress. Thank you to our hosts, to Minister Gevorgyan and Mayor Margaryan and to the Armenian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe for making this possible.
2. I extend a special welcome to the civil society representatives who are here today. Participatory democracy is very much a partnership between elected representatives and civic society. I encourage you to take a full part in today’s discussions.
3. Participation is one of the priorities that the Congress has identified for its 2013-2016 activities, where we affirm our belief that the quality of democracy depends on the participation of citizens in the democratic process. We underline that this participation must include all residents, particularly those groups which currently feel excluded – such as young people, foreign nationals and minorities such as Roma.
4. It is at the heart of democracy. Every day when we look at the news, we are reminded of how crucial this is to the development of our societies – the integration and inclusion of our citizens – to avoid fragmentation – to create the best quality of life for all people who live in our territories
5. We are also in the process of appointing a thematic rapporteur on this issue, to steer this work in the Congress and ensure that it remains high on our agenda. The Congress has committed itself – in its Resolution 326 (2011) to promoting and facilitating participation and to strengthen our links with civil society groups to take this forward.
6. Participation is an area where we are seeking to coordinate our activities with our partners within the Council of Europe. This is why I am very pleased that the representatives of the Council of Europe’s European Committee on Local and Regional Democracy - the CDLR - have been able to join us today.
7. I must congratulate the Armenian authorities on their recent ratification of the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority – and I look forward to seeing how you will apply it.
8. One activity where we are already working together with the Union of Communities of Armenia to promote citizen participation - is the European Week of Local Democracy. We now have 29 member states using this tool to involve citizens more in the political process. The theme this year is “Active citizenship at the grassroots level – voting, sharing, participating” and I am looking forward to heard what activities our Armenian partners are planning for this year’s event.
9. I wish you a very lively and productive Conference and, in the spirit of our theme, I urge you all to participate actively and to share with us your thoughts and experience.