16 November 2011
Communication by the Secretary General of the Congress at the 1126th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies (16 November 2011)
Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress
In October 2010, and also in March 2011, the Congress adopted a series of measures aimed at reforming its structures, functioning, working methods and activities, within a broader reform of the Council of Europe. Since then, and with the support of the Committee of Ministers that has adopted a revised version of the Statutory Resolution and Charter of the Congress in January 2011, the Congress has implemented this reform, making it concrete and tangible.
Its objective is clear: The Congress is fully committed to a more operational, more practical, more concrete and more result-oriented approach. It has also reinforced its dialogue with the governments, in particular in recentering its action on more comprehensive and higher-quality monitoring of local and regional democracy.
It has better structured and codified the observation of local and regional elections, and has undertaken a better follow-up of its recommendations. It has also introduced the local and regional dimension of human rights as a new priority. It has furthermore decided to refocus its thematic activities on key challenges faced by local and regional authorities, and has stressed the need for grassroots action as well as stronger and more permanent dialogue not only with national governments but also with its institutional partners.
To succeed in the mission as redefined by the reform, the Congress has strengthened the political role of the Congress Bureau, refocused its activities around three new committees and established a Statutory Forum, composed of the heads of the 47 national delegations replacing the former standing Committee.
The monitoring of local and regional democracy
Since March 2011 the Congress has strengthened the monitoring of the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It fielded 9 visits to 8 countries (France, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Moldova, Germany (2 visits), Italy and Portugal) and has planned a visit to the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and again to Moldova and Bosnia and Herzegovina before the end of 2011. It has also adopted 9 recommendations on the monitoring of local and regional democracy in Romania, Malta, Turkey, Austria, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Finland, Latvia and Serbia.
This strengthening has allowed the Congress to enter into more substantial and more targeted dialogue with authorities in the country concerned, and the first results of these efforts can already be seen. The monitoring report on Austria has triggered debate about federalism in the country, and in June, the Austrian parliament voted for decisions that were a direct implementation of three concrete Congress recommendations. Also as a result of monitoring, the Estonian government has renewed its dialogue with local authorities, and Slovenia has ratified the Additional Protocol to the Self-Government Charter, on citizen participation.
The observation of local and regional elections
Over the same period, the Congress observed local elections in Albania in May, in Moldova in June and in Bulgaria in October. The observation delegations included also members of the European Union Committee of Regions. Under the new rules of procedure for election observation, all observation missions are now preceded by pre-electoral visits, which allow a broader observation including the organisation of the elections, the financing, the role of media, etc. If the Congress is not the only international institution to observe local or regional elections in a country, it may decide to form part of an IEOM (International Election Observation Mission) together with the OSCE.
Strengthening of the dialogue with the member states
The Congress has also pursued its efforts to convince member states to lift their reservations to the Charter, which is indispensable for a unified European space of common standards for local democracy, a “100% Charter” Europe.
In May 2011, the Congress President had the opportunity to address the Ministerial Session of the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul, where he stressed the need for better partnership and indeed joint action between national governments and local and regional authorities, in areas of common concern. Areas of such possible joint action have been identified and included in the report which was discussed at the Conference of Ministers responsible for local and regional government in Kyiv on 3 and 4 November 2011. In his speech, the Congress President underlined that dialogue between the Congress and the Committee of Ministers has improved substantially since the last Ministerial Conference and that the Congress will continue its efforts to maintain and to further develop this dialogue.
Another successful result of the Congress dialogue with national authorities was the recent visit of a Congress delegation to meet with Leyla Güven, Mayor of Viransehir and Congress member, who remains incarcerated in Turkey after almost two years. This visit was followed by a report to the Bureau which reiterated its position that the prolonged detention of a large number of mayors and city councillors, who are prevented from fulfilling their duties to the citizens, is debilitating for local democracy. The Bureau called on several bodies of the Council of Europe to address this situation, asking the President of the Congress in particular to invite the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to look into the issue in light of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Venice Commission to examine the question of the use of languages other than Turkish in its constitutional assistance to Turkey and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) to examine the conditions of detention of Ms Güven.
Human Rights awareness and citizen’s participation
The Congress has also made advances in its approach to promoting human rights and raising the awareness of elected representatives about human rights respect and implementation. It adopted a resolution on identifying human rights indicators at local and regional levels. The explanatory report develops an appropriate methodology for collecting data, provides analysis in order to identify the problems facing local authorities in their daily work and sets out the Congress strategy. In this approach the Congress is co-operating with the Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, and the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency and is committed to a strengthened dialogue with the Committee of Ministers’ Group of Rapporteurs on Human Rights.
The key challenges faced by local and regional authorities have been largely integrated into the Eminent Persons’ Group’s report on Living Together: Combining Diversity and Freedom in 21st Century Europe, published in May. This report’s recommendations on greater citizen participation, better local integration and cohesion, more effective protection of citizens’ rights and stronger intercultural dialogue and interaction are among the Congress’ priorities and are already reflected in many of the Congress reports that are being prepared by its Committees.
The Congress has taken a specific action this year with regard to the inclusion of Roma. It responded to the October 2010 meeting convened by the Council of Europe Secretary General by organising a Summit of Mayors on Roma, in Strasbourg on 22 September. The Summit brought together almost 400 participants, representatives of local and regional authorities and of associations and networks who pledged their commitment to pursue their activities at the grassroots and took a very concrete decision to establish a European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion. To back up this initiative, at its 21st session the Congress adopted a report as well as a recommendation and a resolution on “The situation of Roma – a challenge for local and regional authorities” containing concrete proposals for grassroots action.
Towards a renewed Congress
In undertaking this in-depth reform, the Congress has set the objective to become more operational and more concrete. This momentum has been kept up and strengthened further in the course of the year. It enhanced the Congress’ ability to better adapt and respond to thechallenges posed by the financial and social crisis facing the continent and for which local and regional authorities are at the forefront. As noted by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in his speech during the 21st session of the Congress: “It is said that all politics is local’, and I believe this to be more true now than ever” because “Political action is only meaningful if it leads to real results with a real meaning for real people. Results people can see, touch, feel and from which they can benefit”.
Table of contents
The Session held a debate on “the reform of the Congress within the Council of Europe reform” and adopted Recommendation 299 (2011) and Resolution 321 (2011). The report, presented by Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Belgium (R, SOC), and Anders Knape, Sweden (EPP/CD), takes stock of the first two phases of Congress reform already implemented and sets out the third phase to be embarked upon following the adoption of the revised versions of the Congress' statutory texts by the Committee of Ministers on 19 January 2011.
The first two phases enabled the Congress to improve its effectiveness and response capacity, by creating more streamlined and more political structures, simplifying its functioning and expanding key activities such as monitoring local and regional democracy and observing local and regional elections. One major feature of the third phase will be an in-depth revision of the Rules of Procedure of the Congress.
The rapporteurs also called for strengthened institutional links and political dialogue with the Committee of Ministers and the other organs of the Council of Europe in order to incorporate the local and regional dimension in any action of the Organisation. They further stressed the importance of developing active cooperation with the Committee of the Regions and the Agency for Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The Council of Europe Secretary General, the French Minister responsible for Local and Regional Authorities and the Turkish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers expressed their support for the reform during the debate held at the 20th session on “the reform of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities within the Council of Europe reform”
Thorbjørn Jagland declared that he supported the Congress’ orientation on refocusing its priorities to centre on monitoring local and regional democracy, promoting human rights, fostering good democratic governance and responding to major challenges for local and regional communities. He said he was confident that the new Congress structures, set up as part of the reform and adapted in line with these priorities, will enable the Congress to react swiftly to today’s challenges.
Philippe Richert declared that the Congress had been relevant, effective and exemplary in carrying out its monitoring activities, fact-finding missions, observation of elections, and programmes of cooperation and has demonstrated its ability to foster local and regional democracy in Europe. More specifically regarding the ongoing reform of the institution, Mr Richert backed a refocusing of the Congress on its fundamental missions. "The targeting of activities will make it possible to cope with a difficult budgetary situation, by clearing a sufficient margin for manoeuvre ensuring the smooth running of Congress activities. It will also be able to consolidate its positioning within this pan-European organisation and its reputation in European public opinion".
Yavuz Selim Kösger, Director-General of the Directorate General of Local Authorities of the Interior Ministry of Turkey[*] said the Congress’ determination to foster dialogue, synergies and cooperation with the Committee of Ministers itself, are a clear indication of its commitment to actively contribute to increasing the standing and credibility of the Organisation.
In its reply of 12 October 2011 to the Congress Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers reiterated its encouragement to pursue these reforms so as to ensure that the Congress’ activity is fully in line with the Organisation’s strategic priorities. It welcomed the opportunity to co-operate closely with the Congress in addressing issues which affect the interests of local and regional authorities. It said it attached great importance to the work of the Congress, which, by working towards the emergence of solid, efficient local and regional democracy in Europe, is helping to achieve the Organisation’s statutory aim.
The Committee took note of the Congress’s wish to further reinforce their mutual dialogue. It invited its rapporteur groups to bear this in mind whenever their work could benefit from Congress input.
During the 21st session, Congress President Keith Whitmore underlined that the reform brings more substantial dialogue with governments on grassroots policies. The approach of the Congress has become more operational, practical, concrete and result-oriented. As the first tangible success he qualified the monitoring missions of local and regional democracy “which allow the opening of a more substantial and targeted dialogue on grassroots issues with authorities in the country concerned”. Progress achieved, in particular, in Austria, Estonia and Slovenia, was a concrete result of this reform process.
The Congress Rapporteurs on Reform, Mr Halvdan Skard and Mr Günther Krug, were mandated by the Bureau to substantially revise the Rules of Procedure not only in light of the Congress' reform but also with a view to updating these Rules and rendering them more user-friendly and streamlined. Congress members were consulted during the summer of 2011 on the Rapporteurs' first draft with the resulting amended draft Rules being presented to the Congress Bureau in September. Discussions are ongoing within the Bureau and the definitive draft Rules should be ready for adoption by the Congress session at its March 2012 Session.
In the framework of the 2010 reform, the activities relating to monitoring the European Charter of Local Self-Government have been stepped up. More frequent and more regular, since each member state will now be visited and evaluated every five years, these activities involve more political dialogue with the states concerned.
The composition of the delegations, the preparation and conduct of the visits, and the drafting of the reports have been better codified in Resolution 307rev (2011) to ensure greater transparency, more independence and impartiality, and a greater degree of legal expertise. Specific co-operation programmes may also be introduced with the states concerned to provide practical solutions to the problems identified and to improve local governance.
Since March 2011, the Congress adopted 9 recommendations on local and regional democracy in the following countries:
● Romania (22 March 2011)
The recommendation presented by Jean-Claude Frécon, France (L, SOC), and adopted at the 20th Session, invites the Romanian authorities to pursue their efforts with a view of putting into practice all the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Over the last decade Romania initiated many legislative reforms, which were generally implemented in accordance with the principles and the spirit of the Charter. The new Congress recommendation suggests, in particular, improving mechanisms for consultation with local authorities, to provide local authorities with financial resources commensurate with their powers and responsibilities and to grant special status to the capital, Bucharest.
● Malta (23 March 2011)
The Congress adopted during its 20th Session, the recommendation on the situation of local democracy in Malta presented by Emil Calota, Romania (L, SOC). It welcomes the local government reform undertaken by Malta in the last three years, in particular, the initiative to lift reservations to the Charter of Local Self-Government. The amended 2009 Local Councils Act met most of Malta’s obligations under the Charter. Malta’s reservations on four paragraphs of the Charter, under Article 7 (financial compensation of local elected representatives) and under Article 9 (financial resources of local authorities), were lifted. This is a positive step in the current campaign of the Congress to promote a “100% Charter” - a Charter without reservations - amongst member countries
● Turkey (24 March 2011)
In the recommendation presented by Anders Knape, Sweden (EPP/CD), and Herwig Van Staa, Austria (EPP/CD, on local and regional democracy in Turkey, the Congress recommends that Turkey pursue constitutional reforms with regard to decentralisation. The report followed visits to Turkey carried out in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and a fact-finding mission sent to South-East Anatolia in 2007. Anders Knape, however, regretted the lack of political dialogue with Turkish authorities during the preparation of the report. The ongoing detention of 1,500 politicians in South-East Anatolia, including Congress member Leyla Güven and many other locally elected representatives, was also discussed.
● Austria (24 March 2011)
The recommendation on local and regional democracy in Austria presented by Irene Loizidou, Cyprus (EPP/CD), and Marc Cools, Belgium (ILDG) has been adopted at the 20th session of the Congress. It generally voiced praise for Austrian local democracy, especially the consultation mechanism between the various tiers of government that is typical of the country. This “co-operative federalism” has proven effective as a transmission belt between the federal government, the Länder and municipalities. The Congress is however less pleased with the progress of the reforms to modernise the federal system, which have been under way in Austria for many years. In this connection, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities points out that the dependence of local self-government on the federal authorities is still very noticeable, especially with regard to administrative and fiscal matters. The Congress report therefore advocates fundamental institutional reform of the federal system in Austria.
The recommendation on the situation of local and regional democracy in Slovenia presented by Jos Wienen, Netherlands (EPP/CD) and Merita Jegeni Yildiz, Turkey (EPP/CD) takes note of the improvements observed in local government finances, the good practices concerning the integration of Roma minorities and the status of the capital city. A number of issues such as the fragmentation of municipalities and the process of regionalisation remain unresolved. The Congress would like to see an increase in the financial autonomy of local authorities. Promotion of mergers of local authorities where appropriate and launching the process of regionalisation are among the recommendations made to the Slovenian authorities along with a call to disseminate the existing good practices concerning the integration of Roma among local communities.
In this session, the Congress also adopted the recommendation on the situation of local and regional democracy in Bulgaria presented by rapporteurs Artur Torres Pereira, Portugal (EPP/CD) and Johan Sauwens, Belgium (EPP/CD). It underlines the considerable improvement in local democracy in Bulgaria since the first monitoring visit in 1998. Some concerns are voiced over the financial restrictions the local authorities face. Efficient judicial protection is mentioned as another area requiring improvement. The Congress invites the Bulgarian authorities to withdraw their reservation in respect to Article 7, para. 2, since its local government law is already in accordance with the Charter and to ratify the Additional Protocol to the Charter on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority and Protocol No. 3 to the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities concerning Euroregional Co-operation Groupings (ECGs).
The session also adopted the recommendation presented by rapporteur Jean-Louis Testud, France (EPP/CD) on the situation of local and regional democracy in Finland. The report emphasises the exemplary culture of consultation and involvement of local authorities by central government. Excessive deficits of some municipalities and the need to ensure an equal standard of basic services throughout the country are mentioned. Finnish authorities are encouraged to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in local affairs as well as the Additional Protocols to the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities.
Presented to the Congress by Jean-Claude Frécon, France (SOC), and Philippe Leuba, Switzerland (NR), the recommendation adopted during the 21st session concludes that Latvia’s legislation on local government is a good basis for the development of local self-government. Financial problems facing local authorities remain an issue. So do the restrictions on the participation in public affairs of non-citizens who identify with a national minority. A special legal status for the capital Riga and the granting to “non-citizens” of the right to vote in local elections figure among the Congress recommendations. Latvian authorities are also invited to sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority as well as Protocol No. 3 to the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities concerning Euroregional Co-operation Groupings (ECGs).
This first monitoring report on Serbia was presented to the Congress Session by Odd Arild Kvalöy, Norway (NR). The recommendation underlines that the guiding principles of local self-government are secured in Serbian legislation. The need for reform of local self-government and regional autonomy are mentioned. Congress welcomes the legislation granting special status to the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, but is less happy that the municipalities are being made to carry the burden of the financial crisis and are not consulted sufficiently by the central government. Finding a solution to the restitution of public property, an important issue for Serbia, is the subject of a recommendation. So is the lifting of reservations on Articles 4 para. 3 and 8 para. 3 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government dealing with the principle of subsidiarity. Congress calls upon Serbia to sign and ratify the Additional Protocols to the Charter. Finally, it is noted that since the visit in 2010, new legislation has been adopted in Serbia, which was included in the recommendation in order to update it.
Since March 2011, the Congress made 9 local and regional monitoring visits to the following 8 countries:
● France (29 – 31 March 2011)
In this second part of the visit, the rapporteurs of Congress, Onno Van Veldhuizen (Netherlands, ILDG) and Guilherme Pinto (Portugal, SOC), met with Edouard Balladur, President of the Committee on Territorial Reform, Philippe Richert, Minister in charge of territorial entities, Pierre Schapira, Deputy Mayor of Paris and Pierre Dartout, Prefect of Val-de-Marne as well as with interlocutors from the Ministry of the Interior, Overseas and Local Authorities, the Court of Audit and the Mediator of the Republic.
In the first part (29 November -1 December 2010) the delegation met Alain Delcamp, Secretary General of the Senate, Claude Belot, President of the Senate Delegation on Local and Regional Authorities and Decentralisation, as well as with presidents and members of national associations of regions, departments, municipalities, medium-sized towns and rural mayors.
● Bosnia and Herzegovina (11 - 14 April 2011)
Congress rapporteurs Jean-Marie Belliard (France, NR) and Beat Hirs (Switzerland, ILDG) met with Zoran Mikulić, Minister of Justice of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), and Anto Krajina, Minister of Finance of the FBiH, as well as members of the government of the Republika Srpska (RS), in particular Željka Cvijanović, Minister of Regional Development, Zoran Tegeltija, Minister of Finance, and Lejla Rašić, Minister of Administration and Local Authorities.
The second part of the monitoring visit will take place in December 2011.
● Lithuania (6 - 8 June 2011)
Congress Rapporteurs Gudrun Mosler-Törnström (Austria, SOC) and Irène Loïzidou (Cyprus, EPP/CD) examined the follow-up of the commitments Lithuania made in the field of local and regional self-government during this second monitoring visit to the country. The meetings included representatives of the government, notably Raimundas Palaitis, Minister of the Interior, as well as the Vice-Minister of Finances, Edmundas Žilevičius. The delegation also met Romualdas Kestutis Urbaitis, Acting President of the Constitutional Court, and Ričardas Piličiauskas, President of the Supreme Court, as well as representatives of the Ombudsman. Meetings with mayors and secretaries of the cities of Vilnius, Ignalina and Utena as well as with members of the Parliament and the Association of Local Authorities of Lithuania were also scheduled.
● Czech Republic (13 - 15 June 2011)
Congress Rapporteurs Emil Calota (Romania, SOC) and Philippe Receveur (Switzerland, EPP/CD) examined the follow-up of commitments undertaken in the field of local and regional self-government with regard to the country’s ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in May 1999. Meetings took place with high-level representatives of the Czech government, notably Jan Kubice, and Ondřej Veselský, respectively Minister and Vice-Minister of the Interior, as well as Judr. Pavel Rychetský, President of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, František Dohnal, President of the Supreme Audit Office, and Judr. Pavel Varvařovský, Public Defender of Rights. The delegation also met mayors of Velký Osek and Brno, as well as representatives of the Prague City Assembly, the Association of Regions and the Union of Towns and Municipalities of the Czech Republic.
● Moldova (12 - 13 September 2011)
The Congress rapporteurs Francis Lec (France, SOC) and Ignacio Sanchez-Amor (Spain, SOC) considered Moldova's record of compliance with its local and regional commitments in light of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which it ratified in October 1997. In particular, they focused on the country's response to the recommendations to the Moldovan authorities following the last Congress monitoring visit in 2005. There were a number of meetings with government and parliamentary representatives, in particular Marian Lupu, parliamentary speaker and interim President of Moldova, and Mihai Moldovanu, Deputy Prime Minister. The delegation discussed the implementation of the national decentralisation strategy, the various local and regional administrative reforms in the country and the abolition of the Ministry of Public Administration in 2009. This first visit will be followed by a second one in the autumn 2011.
The second part of the visit is foreseen for November 2011 and will take the delegation to Transnistria.
● Germany (27-29 June 2011 and 27-28 September 2011)
Congress Rapporteurs Britt-Marie Lövgren (Sweden, ILDG) and Ignacio Sanchez-Amor (Spain, SOC) carried out the first general monitoring visit to Germany. The previous monitoring visit of Germany in 1999 had focused on the situation of local finances only. The visit was organised in two parts. In the first part, the delegation met with interlocutors from the National Associations of cities, counties and regions, the Federal Ministries of the Interior and Finance as well as from the Senate of Berlin, members of the Bundestag, the Regional Parliament of Brandenburg and the Mayor of Frankfurt (Oder). The second part of the visit enabled the delegation to meet, in particular, the Minister of the Interior of North Rhine Westphalia, the Permanent Secretary of State in the Ministry of Interior of Hessen, the Vice-President of the Regional Parliament in Baden Württemberg, the mayors of Langenfeld and Ludwigsburg, and the President of the Constitutional Court of Baden Wurttemberg.
● Italy(2 – 4 November 2011)
The Congress Rapporteurs Knud Andersen (ILDG, Denmark) and Marina Bespalova (EPP/CD, Russian Federation) examined the follow-up commitments undertaken in the field of territorial democracy and decentralisation with regard to Italy’s ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 1990. The previous monitoring mission in the country was carried out in 1997. Meetings were held with the Italian delegation to the Congress and with representatives of the Municipal and Provincial Association. In addition, meetings were held with the Presidents of the regions of Lazio and Lombardy, communities of the Provinces of Rome and Milan and Mayors and representatives of municipal councils of Rome and Milan. The second part of the visit is scheduled for May 2012.
● Portugal (7 - 9 November 2011)
The Congress Rapporteurs Devrim Çukur (SOC, Turkey) and Jos Wienen (EPP/CD, Netherlands) examined the follow-up to commitments undertaken in the field of territorial democracy and decentralisation with regard to Portugal’s ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in 1990. The delegation met, in particular, the Portuguese delegation to the Congress and representatives of the associations of local authorities, as well as the Secretary of State for Local Administration and Administrative Reform the Mayors of Lisbon, Coimbra Porto and Vila Nova de Poiares and the President of the Lisbon Metropolitan Area. Meetings were also scheduled with the President of the Court of Audit and the President of the Constitutional Court as well as representatives of the Ombudsman.
A visit to “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and second visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Moldova are planned before the end of 2011.
The reports on Lithuania, Czech Republic, Moldova and Germany will be on the agenda of the session of March 2012.
The adoption of a new strategy and rules in June 2010, in the framework of the reform, has set to develop and expand the election observation process: it is no longer confined to polling day alone but now covers the entire electoral process, including the preparations for the election and examination of the political, legal and media systems, with pre-electoral missions to become standard practice. In addition, election observation is now dealt with in a report and a recommendation, followed by a debate, to be routinely taken into account as part of the monitoring of local and regional democracy process.
● Local elections in Albania (8 May 2011)
A delegation headed by Hana Richtermocova (Czech Republic, ILDG), which also included members of the EU Committee of the Regions, observed these local elections. Volkram Gebel (Germany, EPP/CD) was appointed Rapporteur and Uno Aldegren (Sweden, PES) speaker on behalf of the members of the Committee of the Regions. Among others, the delegation met with Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, and the Mayor of Tirana, Edi Rama, as well as with Foreign Affairs Minister, Edmond Haxhinasto.
Prior to Election Day, on 7 May, Congress teams were deployed to several municipalities including Durres, Elbasan, Himare, Shkoder, Vlore and Tirana, to meet with elected representatives, candidates and NGOs and to observe the elections on 8 May.
In line with the observers from OSCE/ODIHR, the Congress concluded that Albania’s local elections were competitive and transparent, but took place in an environment of high polarisation and mistrust between governmental parties and the opposition which may prevent the constructive dialogue necessary to address citizens’ needs and ensure good local governance.
● Local elections in Moldova (5 June 2011)
A delegation headed by Britt-Marie Lövgren (Sweden, ILDG) - including members of the EU Committee of the Regions - observed local elections in Moldova. Hannes Weninger (Austria, SOC) was appointed Rapporteur for this mission. Congress teams were deployed to different regions of the country - in total some 150 polling stations were visited. Overall, Election Day was described as calm, orderly and well organised. From Congress’ perspective, the local vote in Moldova of 5 June marked a further step in the right direction. There was a vibrant campaign and contestants behaved - mostly - in a responsible manner. However, the observers stated that the country was not at the end of the reform process and that there was room for improvement, in particular in respect of the accuracy of the voter's lists, campaign and party financing and as regards to the clarification of electoral competences between different levels of government.
● Electronic voting in Norwegian municipal elections(12 September 2011)
A delegation from the Congress carried out a political assessment mission in the framework of the local elections held in Norway. Composed of two Congress members, Nigel Mermagen, United Kingdom (L, ILDG) and Devrim Cukur, Turkey (R, SOC), the delegation was particularly interested in gathering information about the electronic voting procedure tested in ten Norwegian municipalities (Bodø, Bremanger, Hammerfest, Mandal, Radøy, Re, Sandnes, Tynset, Vefsn and Ålesund).
● Local elections in Bulgaria (23 October 2011)
A delegation led by the Rapporteur, Mihkel Juhkami (Estonia), observed the local elections. On 21 and 22 October, the delegation held meetings in Sofia with representatives of the government, including representatives of the Ministry of Local and Regional Development and Public Works, the Central Election Commission, as well as representatives of the Bulgarian delegation to the Congress and associations of local and regional authorities. On 22 October, six Congress delegations were deployed to several regions of the country to meet with candidates and observe the vote on Election Day.
As a preliminary conclusion the delegation stated that these elections were carried out - largely - in a calm and orderly manner and on the basis of a solid legal framework for democratic elections. However, the delegation referred to administrative problems which were raised during the meetings with different Congress interlocutors in Sofia, not least, in respect of an unbalanced composition of election commissions at all levels. In addition, the delegation referred to information received about vote-buying, in particular among the vulnerable Roma population, and in respect of controlled vote (collective pressure vote) and attempts to manipulate the vote. A report on the observation of these elections will be on the agenda of the Congress Plenary Session in March 2011.
The Congress has committed itself to strengthening its activities of promoting human rights at a local and regional level. The aim is to develop tools to improve its assessment of the actual situation with regard to the application of human rights at local and regional level, to identify policies which work and encourage the sharing of good practices between local and regional authorities in Europe
Resolution 334 (2011) to identify “local human rights indicators”, was adopted at the October 2011 session. The explanatory report, based on Congress Resolution 296 (2010) on the role of local authorities in implementing human rights, develops an appropriate methodology for collecting data and providing analysis in order to identify the problems facing local authorities in their daily work.
The report sets out the Congress’ strategy on how to approach human rights issues from the local and regional point of view. It underlines the importance of adopting a rights-based approach at the local level (including civil, political, economic and social rights) and of building upon the work of existing Council of Europe monitoring bodies. To ensure an exchange of good practices, the resolution adopted together with the report proposes a series of activities such as training programmes for elected representatives and action plans. It also proposes the holding of an international conference on raising local authorities’ awareness of human rights and drafting five-yearly reports on the implementation of policies for human rights by local and regional authorities in the member States of the Council of Europe.
The Congress is also pressing for the introduction of machinery, such as local human rights ombudsmen’s offices in the Council of Europe member states, and for closer co-operation between the different levels of governance. With a view to all of these activities, it is working closely together with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
Invited to participate in the debate on human rights at the local and regional level during the Congress session, the President of the Board of the Agency of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Ilze Brands Kehris (Latvia), stressed the importance of this issue in Europe.
The Congress rapporteur on Human Rightsunderlined the importance oflocal and regional representatives to be aware of the dimension of human rightsand fundamental freedoms in their daily work, especially when making a decisionthat creates conflicts between, for instance, the preservation of public order and the right of assembly and freedom of expression, or when they have to ensure that a policy of non-discrimination is continuously applied as well in the management of public services as in any act within their competence.
The resolution on the indicators is designed as a practical tool intended for the Congress and, more broadly, all local and regional representatives, who must take this dimension into account in exercising their mandate.
● 20th session (Strasbourg, 22 - 24 March 2011)
Practical initiatives for the improvement of the situation of Roma in Europe were debated at the 20th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe in the presence, among others, of Jeroen Schokkenbroek, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe for Roma Issues, and John Warmisham, United Kingdom (L, SOC), Thematic Rapporteur on Roma/Travellers Issues. A Summit of Mayors in autumn 2011 will be at the top of the Congress’ political agenda in this respect. It will be attended by cities and municipal networks acting for Roma integration, local and regional representatives from the Council of Europe's 47 member states, and in particular Roma elected members. In addition, the Dosta! Congress Prize for Municipalities implementing innovative Roma policies will be awarded at the October 2011 session.
A debate was dedicated to the role of the Congress in the context of the current reform process of the Council of Europe. On this occasion, Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Philippe Richert, French Minister responsible for local and regional authorities, and Yavuz Selim Kösger, Director-General of the Directorate General of Local Authorities of the Interior Ministry of Turkey, speaking on behalf of the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, gave speeches to express their support to the reform undertaken by the Congress.
Congress members also examined several reports on territorial democracy in Turkey, Romania, Austria and Malta as well as the report on the observation of local elections in Ukraine, held in October 2010. Among the guest speakers, were the Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Morten Kjaerum, and Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg for the debate on “Human Rights – action at local and regional level” and the EU Commissioner responsible for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, for the debate on “Strengthening co-operation with the European Union”.
An urgent debate on “ the changes happening in Arab countries – a new Council of Europe neighbourhood policy?” took place also during this session with a presentation by Francis Lec, France (L, SOC), and a communication by Gianni Buquicchio, President of the European Commission on Democracy through Law (Venice Commission).
● 21st session (Strasbourg, 18 – 20 October 2011)
Under the title “Living together in dignity”, the focus of the 21st Session of Congress was societal inclusion, involvement of citizens and awareness raising for human rights at the local level. The Congress examined the reports on the state of local and regional democracy in Serbia, Slovenia, Finland, Latvia and Bulgaria and the election observation missions in Albania and Moldova. The Congress also debated energy supply and efficiency at local and regional levels and adopted Resolution 335, which urges local and regional authorities “to increase energy efficiency, reduce energy consumption and encourage the use of renewable energy resources”. The Congress discussed citizen participation at grassroots level. Recent developments in regionalisation and multi-level governance in Europe were the subject of two round tables.
One of the main topics examined was the discrimination of Roma populations. The Congress adopted a resolution and a recommendation on “The situation of Roma in Europe – a challenge for local and regional authorities” on 19 October 2011. It called for the involvement of local and regional authorities in the elaboration and implementation of national strategies for Roma and proposed the introduction of a European programme, complementing the Roma Mediator Training Programme. The Congress also reaffirmed its commitment to establishing a co-operation frame, an“European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion.” John Warmisham, the Congress Rapporteur on Roma and Travellers, concluded the debate by pointing out that the adopted resolution ‘will provide a frame and guidelines for the action of this Alliance’, and calling on the municipalities and regions represented in the Congress to join this new co-operation frame. It also called for the creation of similar networks at national level.
The Congress held a ceremony to award four cities as winners of the third edition of the Dosta! Prize for Municipalities: The first prize ex-aequo to the city of Jyväskylä in Finland and the Municipality of Surcin, Belgrade in Serbia, the 2nd prize to the city of Southwark, London, in the United Kingdom, the 3rd prize to the Autonomous Community of Madridin Spain. The Dosta! Prize for Municipalities rewards leading cities of their outstanding initiatives towards Roma inclusion.
The Congress debated how to increase the impact of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. “It encouraged member states to withdraw any reservations and declarations made when ratifying the Charter” and “proposed a series of measures to strengthen the integration of the Charter in member states' domestic legislation”. Of the 45 member states that have ratified the treaty, 24 have done so in its entirety, while 21 have done so with reservations.
Under “Living Together in Dignity,” part of the ONE in FIVE campaign, the Congress examined the issues surrounding sexual violence against children. The Congress adopted its strategic action plan as Framework for the Congress’ contribution to the ONE in FIVE Campaign. It outlines the various aspects of this contribution, in particular the setting up of mechanisms and action plans co-operating with the State; establishing quality management systems for child care services and benchmarks for agencies; developing regional guidelines for detection, assessment, protection and response; and evaluating and monitoring plans and policies.
The personalities addressing the 21st Session included Piero Fassino, Mayor of Turin, (Italy), Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Armen Gevorgyan, Deputy Prime Minister of Armenia and Minister of Territorial Administration, Anatoliy Blyzniuk, Minister for Regional Development and Construction of Ukraine on behalf of the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and Yury Sentyurin, State Secretary of the Russian Federation and Deputy Minister for Energy.
● 1st Statutory Forum (Strasbourg, 17 June 2011)
Composed of the heads of national delegations and the members of the Congress Bureau, the Statutory Forum was set up in the context of the recent Congress reform. Participants discussed, in particular, the Summit of Mayors on Roma, with the participation of Nawel Rafik-Elmrini, Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg in charge of International and European relations, as well as town twinnings and decentralised co-operation.
President Whitmore stated that the 1st Statutory Forum prepared the ground for continued reform in the Congress. He underlined that the Congress activities to respond to the challenges faced by local and regional authorities are notably focusing on the issues of Roma inclusion, integration of migrants, action to prevent violence against children, as well as on the implementation of the Council of Europe neighbourhood policy.
Recommendation 306(2011) on the Congress budget 2012-2013, presented by Jean-Claude Frecon, France (L, SOC), and Svetlana Orlova, Russian Federation (R, EPP/CD), was adopted by the Forum. It encourages Member States to consider funding, by means of voluntary contributions, post-monitoring activities with regard to the monitoring by the Congress of the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and of local and regional elections. It also asks the Committee of Ministers to ensure, through its dialogue with the Congress, consistency between the priorities adopted by the Congress and its budgetary allocations in order to achieve critical mass and impact.
The Forum also held debates on the reform of the Council of Europe, a renewed dialogue with the Committee of Ministers and the next session of the Council of Europe Conference of ministers responsible for local and regional government, on 3-4 November 2011 in Kyiv.
● During the 20th Session, the Chamber heard presentations from the European Local Democracy Week. Keith Whitmore, the President of Congress stated, “Citizens’ participation is the backbone of democracy, and this participation comes when people are aware that they have the right to take action, and are capable of doing so.”
A debate was held on “Protecting Cities from Natural Disasters”. Helena Molin-Valdes, Deputy Director of the secretariat of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), invited the Congress to participate in a worldwide campaign for the prevention of catastrophes - ''Making Cities Resilient''.
Reports were adopted on local democracy in Malta and “Meeting the Challenge of Inter-Faith and Intercultural Tensions at Local Level”. The latter report underlined the threat which intercultural and inter-faith tensions pose to social cohesion. The resolution, which was unanimously adopted, asked local authorities to take into consideration the religious needs of groups of migrants while safeguarding the fundamental values of the host community. In the recommendation and the resolution adopted on this subject, the Congress called on Council of Europe member states and local and regional elected representatives to implement practical measures such as associating migrant organisations, reducing ethnic stereotypes, promoting intercultural training, employing people from minority backgrounds and setting up local offices to combat discrimination.
● At its 21st session, the Chamber adopted reports on the local elections in Albania with the participation of Uno Aldegren (Sweden, SOC), Head of the Delegation of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union and Moldova. It also adopted the reports on the reservations and declarations to the European Charter of Self-Government (Michael Cohen (Malta, SOC)), the European Charter of Self-Government in domestic law (Willy Borsus (Belgium, ILDG)) and education for democratic citizenship – tools for cities (Dario Ghisletta (Switzerland, SOC)).
● The Chamber considers the “Reference Framework on Regional Democracy” that was adopted on 16 November 2009 in Utrecht by the Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government as a reference text. The Chamber of Regions was involved in promoting this text and published a booklet with comments on each article. Although not of a binding character, the “Reference framework” represents an encouraging compromise and a new departure in Congress efforts. The Chamber then worked on the protection and improvement of regional democracy, using this text as the basis. The wish of the Chamber is that this text may inspire those who have the task of leading and managing regional authorities in the 21st century.
● Concerning the co-operation with European regional associations, the Chamber took part in the Adriatic Euroregion Assembly, held in Campobasso on 29 June 2011 and on 23 May 2011 in the workshop on “The Dynamics of European Regionalism”, (held in Pescara Italy on 21-23 July 2011) organised by the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE). Finally, concerning trans-border cooperation the Chamber took part in the meeting on “Removing Obstacles on Cross-border cooperation”, held in Strasbourg on 12 September 2011, organised by the Committee of Expert on Local and Regional Government Institutions and Cooperation of the Council of Europe.
● During the 20th session, the Chamber held a round table on the challenges for regions in Europe and a round table on the co-operation between the Congress and the associations representing regions in Europe. Jean-Luc Vanraes, President of the Conference of European Regions with Legislative Power (REGLEG), and Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, and Nazario Pagano, President of the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE), took part in this debate.
During this session, the Chamber held a round table on the role of regional ombudsmen in Europe with the participation of Tom Frawley, Northern Ireland Ombudsman, and of Burgi Volgger, President of the European Ombudsman Institute. The Chamber wishes to encourage regional authorities to administer their functions for the benefit of the citizens and believes that the office of the ombudspersons encourages good administration.
The Chamber finally held a debate on energy supply and energy efficiency at regional level.
● During the 21st session, the Chamber organised a Round Table with the participation of Herwig Van Staa, President of the Regional Parliament of Tyrol (Austria), Konstantinos Tsimaras, Professor Assistant of Constitutional Law at the Hellenic Army Academy (Greece), Francesco Palermo, Director of the Institute for Studies on Federalism and Regionalism in Bolzano / Bozen (Italy), Bartlomiej Ostrowski, Director of Unit for International Cooperation and Projects of Marshal's Office of Lower Silesia (Poland), Sergei Morozov, Governor of the Ulyanovsk Region (Russian Federation) and Uno Aldegren, Regional Government Commissioner of the Region of Skane, Sweden.
It organised a second Round Table on multi-level governance in Europe with Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Chair of the Governance Committee, Luc Van Den Brande, Chairman of the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, Mikhail Men, Governor of Ivanovo Region (Russian Federation), and Susanne Neuwirth, President of the Federal Council (Austria).
It also held an exchange of views on the participation of Regions in the development of European Macro-Regional strategies.
The Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by member states of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, or the “Monitoring Committee” as it is more commonly known, was set up in October 2010 as part of the reform of the Congress structures. Its Chair is Lars O. Molin (L, EPP/CD, Sweden). Its three Vice-Chairs are: Gudrun Mosler -Törnström (R, SOC, Austria), Francis Lec (L, SOC, France) and Alexander Uss (R, EPP/CD, Russian Federation).
The Committee is responsible for monitoring the application of the Charter as well as institutional developments in Europe’s regions, for preparing reports on the situation of local and regional democracy in the countries that have ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government and for monitoring specific questions related to local and regional democracy in the member states.
The Committee met in July 2011 in İzmir in Turkey and on 18 October 2011 in Strasbourg, during the 21st Session of the Congress and adopted Resolution 334 (2011) on “Developing indicators to raise awareness of human rights at local and regional level” as well as recommendations on the monitoring in the member States.
The Chair, Mr Lars Molin, represented the Congress, in particular, at meetings of the Venice Commission as well as the Committee of Regions and the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU.
The Governance Committee was set up in October 2010 as part of the reform of the Congress structures. Its Chair is Karl-Heinz Lambertz (R, SOC, Belgium). The three vice-chairs are: Britt-Marie Lövgren (L, ILDG, Sweden), Enes Özklarsli (R, EPP, Turkey) and Viacheslav Rogov (R, ILDG, Russian Federation).
The Committee is responsible for affairs falling within the scope of the Congress' statutory mandate such as governance, public finance, cross-border and interregional co-operation and e-democracy as well as co-operation with intergovernmental bodies.
The Committee contributed to the preparation of the Conference of Ministers Responsible for Local and Regional Government, which took place on 3-4 November in Kyiv, Ukraine.
It contributed to a workshop on participatory budgeting, organised jointly on 10 May with the intergovernmental sector. This included detailed presentations from a number of countries, including Belgium, Germany and South Eastern Europe, explaining how they had used participatory budgeting to improve citizen participation.
The 1st Vice-Chair, Mrs Britt-Marie Lövgren, represented the Congress at two meetings of the Stakeholders’ Platform on the Strategy for Innovation and Good Governance at the Local Level in June and October 2011.
The Governance Committee also piloted an internet forum using the NING software, which will be used as a platform for debate and discussion between members of the Committee between meetings. An electronic voting system was also successfully tested and was used by the Chamber of Local Authorities in the 21st Session.
The Committee met in Strasbourg on 26 September and prepared reports, resolutions and recommendations on the following subjects: Office of the Ombudsman and Local and Regional Authorities; Reception of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in the Legal Systems of Ratifying Countries; State of Reservations and Declarations to the European Charter of Local Self-Government by the Member States of the Council of Europe and Citizen Participation at Local and Regional Level in Europe.
These reports and their recommendations and resolutions were adopted by the Congress during the 21st session.
In 2012, the Governance Committee will examine the various levels of local and regional government across Europe as well as the right of Local and Regional Authorities to be consulted (Rapporteur - Britt-Marie Lövgren, Sweden (L, ILGD)); the criteria for standing for local and regional elections (Co-Rapporteurs - Oleksiy Goncharenko, Ukraine (R, SOC) and Jon Hermans-Vloedbeld, Netherlands (L, GILD)) and transfrontier cooperation: knowledge sharing and networks, amongst other topics.
The Current Affairs Committee was set up in October 2010 as part of the reform of the Congress structures. Its Chair is Emin Yeritsyan (EPP/CD, L, Armenia). Its three Vice-Presidents are: Barbara Toce (SOC, L, Italy), Farid Mukhametshin (ILDG, R, Russian Federation) and Claudette Abela Baldacchino (SOC, R, Malta).
Under its terms of reference, the Committee is responsible for studying the role of local and regional authorities with regard to the major challenges of our society; preparing work on thematic issues such as social cohesion, sustainable development, education, culture and intercultural dialogue from the point of view of the Council of Europe's core values; and proposing action to respond to existing or emerging problems as well as to emergencies at local and regional levels.
In 2011, the Committee met three times: on 23 March 2011 in Strasbourg (during the 20th Session of the Congress), on 29 June 2011 in Yerevan, Armenia, and again in Strasbourg on 18 October 2011, during the 21st Session of the Congress.
The Committee has prepared reports on the situation of Roma in Europe: a challenge for local and regional authorities (Rapporteur John Warmisham, SOC, L, United Kingdom); on energy supply and energy efficiency at local and regional levels (Rapporteur Svetlana Orlova, EPP/CD, R, Russian Federation); and on education for democratic citizenship: tools for cities (Rapporteur Dario Ghisletta, SOC, L, Switzerland).
Also at the June meeting, the Committee decided on the preparation of new reports, namely on the disengagement of young people and ways to increase their participation in democracy; on promoting ethnic entrepreneurship in European cities as a means of integration of migrants through self-employment; and on making cities more resilient in the face of natural disasters. At its October meeting, it decided on the preparation of further reports: on the consequences of the Arab Spring as an opportunity for local and regional democracy; and on the role of regions with legislative powers in implementing the provisions of the Council of Europe convention to prevent sexual abuse of children (Lanzarote Convention).
In addition, the Committee organised, on 30 June 2011 in Yerevan, a colloquy on challenges of migration for local and regional authorities, in light of the expected influx of migrants from North Africa as a consequence of the Arab Spring.
At its meeting on 18 October 2011 in Strasbourg, the Committee exchanged views on current affairs and its planned activities, and appointed the following rapporteurs: Per Bodker Andersen (Denmark, L, SOC) for the report on making cities resilient in the face of disasters; Amy Koopmanshap (Netherlands, L, SOC) and Claudette Abela Baldacchino (Malta, R, SOC) as co-rapporteurs on developments in the Arab world – a new neighborhood policy and opportunities for local and regional democracy; as well as Dusica Davidovic (Serbia, R, NR) for the report on possibilities of using the provisions of the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children from Sexual Violence in the legislation of regions with legislative powers. The Committee recommended to the Congress Bureau to appoint Ms Davidovic Thematic Rapporteur of the Congress on children, in light of Congress’ participation in the Council of Europe platform "Building a Europe for and with Children", as well as of its contribution to the Council of Europe’s ONE in FIVE Campaign to combat sexual violence against children. Also as part of this contribution, the Committee decided to organise a seminar on the role of local and regional authorities in combating sexual violence against children, in February 2012.
In addition, the Committee appointed Els Ampe (Belgium, R, ILDG) Rapporteur on political disengagement of young people, and held a hearing on the subject, with the participation of the Congress expert, Professor Helmut-Erich Willems, as well as representatives of youth organisations: Maria Martinsson from the Youth Regional Network of the Assembly of European Regions; Anemone Birkaebek of the European Youth Forum; and Giorgos Georgiadis, founder of the “Kids in Action” network from Greece.
Finally, the Committee supported a proposal by Andrea Pellizzari (Italy, L, EPP/CD) to prepare a report on the negative impact of the economic crisis on local authorities and appointed him as Rapporteur, subject to the approval by the Bureau of the Congress.
● Summit of Mayors on Roma (Strasbourg, 22 September 2011)
The Congress organised this Summit in co-operation with the Special Representative of the Council of Europe Secretary General for Roma issues, to address the situation in the field of the Roma and Travellers. It brought together representatives of municipalities and regions as well as networks, European institutions and Roma organisations in order to share information, experiences and practices, and to identify concrete solutions.
Debates focused on relations between local and regional authorities and Roma communities. They underlined that to fight exclusion and discrimination, the local representatives must be proactive in implementing policies at the local level. Solutions discussed included ending barriers to education that are created through lack of documentation, bringing communities together in order to overcome prejudice, and creating inclusive and flexible services so that the Roma can have equal access to housing, healthcare and employment.
Local and Regional Authorities must lead by example and protect the rights of all their citizens. Hatred speeches in particular must be denounced without ambiguity.
In the final declaration, the participants reaffirmed their determination to take further action for improving the inclusion of the Roma population. To this end, they supported the creation of a European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma inclusion. Six European cities and regions (Aubervilliers/France, Kavarna/Bulgaria, Malaga/Spain, Region of Madrid/Spain, Heraklion/Greece and the 5th district of Bucharest/Romania) proposed themselves as a kick-off group to build on this Summit and to prepare the establishment of this new European interactive co-operation network.
● Adoption of the report on the situation of Roma in Europe: a challenge for local and regional authorities (Strasbourg, 18 October 2011)
The report of John Warmisham (SOC, L, United Kingdom) and a Recommendation to the Committee of Miinisters as well as a Resolution were adopted by the 21st session. In its recommendation, the Congress calls for the elaboration of national strategies, involving the local and regional authorities in devising them, and sets out provisions for their effective implementation on the ground. The main aim is to ensure that local and regional authorities have the requisite powers and resources to act.
The recommendation proposes that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe introduce a European programme, in co-operation with the Congress, geared towards to reinforcing capacities at local and regional levels. This would complement the Roma Mediator Training Programme (ROMED) and operate as part of a pan-European co-operation process involving all local and regional authorities.
The Congress also reaffirmed its commitment to establishing a co-operation frame, the first step being the setting-up at the Summit of Mayors of a working group of cities to launch a “European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion”. It also called for the creation of similar networks at the national level.
Lastly, stressing that local councillors often came up against legal obstacles, the Congress invited governments to consider recognising Roma as a “national minority” in order to ensure their protection under international law, particularly where access to rights at the local level was concerned.
● Urgent debate on the changes in southern Mediterranean countries (Strasbourg, 23 March 2011)
On the occasion of the urgent debate held during the 20th Congress Session, focusing on the changes currently underway in southern Mediterranean countries, Jean-Claude Frécon, the President of the Chamber of Local Self-Government, highlighted the need to support the Arab peoples. He said the European Charter may be European by birth but it belongs to everyone. It is designed to inspire emerging democracies who want to strengthen the skills of their territorial authorities. Congress members were invited to sign a declaration to support Arab peoples.
● The Congress gives the floor to local elected representatives from Arab countries (Strasbourg, 17 June 2011)
Kamel Besbes, former Deputy Mayor of Monastir, Tunisia, addressing the Statutory Forum of the Congress stated that the Tunisian revolution is above all a revolution of the regions. At present in Tunisia there are 88 recognised political parties which are all advocating regional development. He announced that elections for a constituent assembly are to be held in October 2011 and in that context, the setting up of local governments is one of the most important issues that will need to be discussed and included in the new Tunisian constitution.
● Colloquy on “Challenges of migration for local and regional authorities” (Yerevan, Armenia, 30 June 2011)
The Current Affairs Committee organised this colloquy in light of the expected influx of migrants from North Africa as a consequence of the Arab Spring. The colloquy brought together members of the Congress’s Current Affairs Committee and of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as well as representatives of networks of municipalities, local and regional government associations, international organisations and associations dealing with migration issues.
The speakers also included Vache Terteryan, First Deputy Minister, Ministry of Territorial Administration of the Republic of Armenia, Petr Novak, Deputy Chair of the European Committee on Migration (CDMG), and Damtew Dessalegne, representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Armenia.
● Conference on ''Women as agents of change in the South of the Mediterranean'' (Rome, Italy, 24 October 2011)
''The events in North Africa have brought to light the importance of the role and the engagement of women in bringing about political change,'' Dubravka Suica, Vice-President of the Congress declared at this conference. She also stressed the importance of full inclusion of women in the future of these countries especially at the grassroots level, which is ''the level where the changes brought about by the Arab Spring are the most tangible and the level that offers better chances for women''.
One of Congress’ priorities for 2011–2012 is a targeted post-monitoring and election observation assistance. To achieve real results with respect to the recommendations of its monitoring and election observation missions, the Congress may organise specific cooperation programmes with the member States concerned to address the major issues that it has highlighted as requiring attention and to increase their knowhow and capacity for local governance and election organisation. Such programmes should involve local and regional representatives, not just those of the countries concerned but also those from other European countries who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise on a peer-to-peer basis.
The Congress thus intends to engage in a new action of support of European locally and regionally elected representatives and in the improvement of their capacities and leadership.
With this in mind, the Congress partnered with the action plan of the Council of Europe for Ukraine. This action plan is intended to support the European reform agenda of Ukraine in the fields of human rights, rule of law and democracy. The Congress supports this three year action plan which contributes to its local democracy component. In this context, it was represented at the inaugural conference in Kiev on 16 September 2011.
It is also in this context that the Congress has proposed holding the first seminar for mayors and presidents of municipal councils newly elected in Albania.
● Tirana (Albania) 28 September 2011
The establishment of dialogue in a context of political pluralism was the focus of this seminar, jointly organized by the Congress and the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South East Europe (NALAS), with support from the Tirana Officeof the Swiss Agency for development and co-operation and the OSCE Presence in the country. The seminar also brought together mayors and presidents of municipal councils of Albania, other European mayors and presidents of national associations of local authorities, NALAS members and members of the Congress, including its president, Keith Whitmore. Elected officials present argued for a unified voice of local Albania. The Congress proposed to continue its support for concrete actions to improve the dialogue between local authorities and the central authorities. “After the local elections of 8 May, the political situation in Albania remained tense. This seminar – which, while constituting the starting point of an initiative for Congress - aims at developing a climate of confidence between political groups in the interest of good governance and enhancement of local self-government in Albania. Through this new initiative, the Congress seeks to strengthen leadership by locally and regionally elected representatives, making them aware of their role and responsibilities at grassroots level,” Congress President Keith Whitmore said.
The programme of the seminar included a presentation on the challenges of decentralisation in Albania as well as working groups on the dialogue between majority and opposition and with central government and parliament.
● "Human rights at local level”, leading theme of 2011 edition (10 -16 October 2011)
Cities and towns of the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe are invited to join European Local Democracy Week (ELDW) with the slogan “Human rights? What about your backyard?” The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities wishes to highlight human rights as a fundamental component of local democracy and to nurture a culture of respect for human rights throughout local communities in Europe. 'Every year the ELDW provides a great opportunity for local councillors, mayors and citizens of all ages to raise their awareness of democratic participation at the local level and to enhance dialogue' – says John Warmisham, political coordinator of the ELDW and member of Salford City Council (UK). The leading theme of the 2011 ELDW reminds us all of our responsibility to combat intolerance, discrimination and social exclusion. Some 20 municipalities from 9 countries have already elaborated a programme of activities.
The current economic crisis and the promotion of human rights at the local and regional level were on top of the agenda of the 17th Session of the Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government, to which the Congress participated actively. Also, participants debated the role of central governments in removing obstacles to crossborder co-operation. Congress Vice-President Jean-Claude Frécon (SOC, France), addressing the audience at the opening of the Kyiv Conference, urged Europe and the Mediterranean neighbours to ''not forget that good democracy cannot develop without strong local and regional democracy”. ''With regard to the importance of high-quality governance during the economic crisis'', Mr Frécon said that the general arbitration of public finances should not be at the expense of local and regional governments, ''which would, ultimately be to the detriment of our citizens''.
The Conference approved the report by Manuel Chaves, Spanish Minister of Territorial Policy and Public Administration, which is centred on local and regional democracy work of the Council of Europe. The report supported the reforms undertaken by the Congress since the Utrecht Conference, particularly concerning transparency and the monitoring of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Minister Chaves also proposed that the Congress establish a common agenda with the Ministerial Conference in order to improve coordination. In his speech, Congress President Keith Whitmore proposed improvement, in particular, in three common areas of work: broadening the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, encouraging citizen participation and fighting corruption. He said the report of Mr Chaves was truly geared towards synergies between the national and territorial levels. ''We have a report that will serve to guide our work for the coming years and we fully support its findings,'' Keith Whitmore concluded.
During a debate on co-operation between the European Union and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, held on 24 March at the 20th session of the Congress, Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, called for a strengthening of co-operation activities with the Congress based around three key points: to build on the strengths and the assets of both organisations, and in particular on their complementarity; to determine a strategic direction for regional and local authorities in Europe, in particular at the EU macroregion level, for example the Danube region; and the Euroregions created by the Congress, notably the Black Sea Euroregion; and finally, to build bridges and to help other countries through decentralised approaches and partnerships, particularly with regard to the challenges facing the Mediterranean basin.
In order to reinforce Europe’s stability through strong local and regional structures, the Commissioner called for a genuine implementation of multi-level governance.
The election observation exercises conducted by the Congress, which regularly include the participation of delegations from the EU Committee of Regions, constitute a concrete example of this co-operation.
In 2011, the Congress increased the cooperation with the Committee of the Regions of the European Union (CoR).
● On 8 May, four members of the Committee of the Regions took part in the election observation mission led by the Congress in Albania.
● On 5 June, members of the CoR took part in the observation of elections in Moldova.
● On 1 July, the Secretary Generals of the Congress and the CoR, Andreas Kiefer and Gerhard Stahl, met in Brussels.
● On 8 September, the Committee of the Regions launched in Poznan (Poland) the set up of the “Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership” (CORLEAP). The Congress obtained the appointment of 9 of its members from Eastern European countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine). The Congress, as such, obtained observer status. At the inaugural session, it was represented by Mr Van Staa and Mrs Romanova.
● On 23 October, members of the CoR took part in the observation of elections in Bulgaria.
The Congress and the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union have pursued their co-operation on the implementation of human rights at local and regional levels and the definition of useful indicators that would allow data collection and better targeting of actions to be implemented at this level of governance.
In this context, the Congress has taken part in a symposium organised by the Agency in Vienna in May 2011 on the use of indicators to « measure » fundamental rights in the European Union. A resolution on this theme has thus been adopted during the 21th Congress session on 20 October 2011.
Furthermore, the Agency has participated in the Summit of Mayors on Roma which took place in Strasbourg on 22 September 2011. Its representatives made presentations in the workshops on overcoming prejudice and equal access to housing, health care and employment. The Agency also held an exhibition stand presenting its work to the participants.
The Congress continued to monitor very closely the evolution of ALDA and is regularly represented at its major meetings and in its decision-making bodies.
● Conference on Cooperation for the development of local governance in the South Caucasus, (Kutaisi (Georgia), 30 November 2010)
The Congress has supported the organisation by the Association of Local Democracy Agencies of the second conference of local officials and representatives of civil society in the three countries of South Caucasus. The conference aimed to continue the dialogue between the associations of local authorities of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and to strengthen relationships between all parties involved. National seminars were held with elected representatives of each of the country in April in Georgia, in May and July in Azerbaijan and Armenia.
● Creation of an Agency for local democracy in Armenia (Gyumri, 28 October 2011)
This new Local Democracy Agency (LDA) was opened in Gyumri, with a satellite office in Ijevan, by the Association of Local Democracy Agencies with the support of the Congress. The new LDA will work on strengthening democratization, local self-government, human rights, citizen participation, sustainable development and cross border co-operation. A conference on “Co-operation between Local Authorities and Civil Society,” took place on the opening day in Gyumri City Hall and promoted democratic participation at grassroots level. The ADL brings together local authorities of Armenia and other European countries and NGOs working together to strengthen local democracy and citizen participation.
This network, created at the initiative of the Congress in 2001, continues to be the privilege partner of the Congress in its field activities in Southeast Europe.
● International Municipal Fair: NEXPO 2011 (Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), 10 March 2011)
At the opening ceremony of NEXPO 2011 organised by NALAS, Congress President stated that networking at the local and regional level is of the utmost importance for building the future of South East Europe. Keith Whitmore called for a more dynamic dialogue between local, regional and national levels of government. The event gathered some 1000 participants including representatives from more than 100 municipalities from South East Europe to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
The network was co-founded in September 2006 by the Congress, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions and the City of Stuttgart.
● 10th Meeting of the Network on “Entrepreneurship among Migrants at the local Level” (Frankfurt (Germany), 23-24 May 2011)
This 10th meeting of the network brought together representatives of over 30 European cities and researchers to discuss strategies to promote entrepreneurship among ethnic minorities in the context of policy development and integration migrants at the local level. Congress President Keith Whitmore delivered a keynote speech in which he urged inter-municipal networks to find solutions to integration problems in local communities. He stated that the future action for local and regional democracy in Europe should rest on four pillars of increasing citizen participation, improving local integration, fostering better dialogue and relations between different community groups and building truly pan-European local and regional cooperation across borders.
The Congress continued its working relationship with the main associations of local and regional authorities, including the Assembly of European Regions (AER) and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), which have the observer status to the Bureau of the Congress.
The President of the Congress or his representative attended the general meetings of the AER, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR), the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) as well as the Conference of European Regions with Legislative Power (REGLEG) and the Conference of the regional Assemblies of Europe (CLRAE).
The Congress has participated in several conferences and seminars organised by these associations and the presidents of several of these associations have addressed the Congress in recent sessions.
5) A relay for the Council of Europe campaigns
At the High-Level Launching Event for this Council of Europe campaign in Rome on 29 November 2010, Congress Vice-President Dubravka Suica emphasised the need for awareness-raising, in particular among children and young people, as well as for coordination mechanisms among child services, child-friendly judicial procedures and mediators to accompany children through the process. She stressed that territorial authorities have the necessary competences and institutional capacities in this matter.
In September 2011, the Congress launched a website dedicated to the theme at local and regional level.
On 18 October 2011, it held a debate as part of its 21st session and presented its Strategic Action Plan which details the contribution of the Congress to the ONE in FIVE Campaign, in particular the setting up of mechanisms and action plans co-operating with the State; establishing quality management systems for child care services and benchmarks for agencies; developing regional guidelines for detection, assessment, protection and response; and evaluating and monitoring plans and policies.
On 18 October 2011 also, the Committee on current affairs of the Congress adopted a proposal for a report on promoting the implementation of the provisions of the Lanzarote Convention (Council of Europe on protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse) at the regional level and appointed Dusica Davidovic (Serbia, R, OR) as a thematic rapporteur on children. The Committee also decided to organize a seminar on the role of local and regional authorities in the fight against sexual violence against children, in February 2012.
● Participation in the work to draw up an international convention (Strasbourg (France), 18-21 January 2011)
Congress member Sandra Barnes participated in the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO). The aim of this meeting is to finalise the draft of a new Council of Europe convention in this field. In 2009 the Congress adopted a recommendation calling on governments to prepare a binding international legal instrument to strengthen the prevention of violence against women, the protection of victims and the prosecution of perpetrators. "The local and regional dimension must be considered as communities face in everyday life the direct effects engendered by such violence, and are at the same time, the better able to provide concrete answers on the ground", SandraBarnes said.
[*]On behalf of the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers