1210th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies of the Council of Europe

22 October 2014, Strasbourg, France

Speech by Jean-Claude Frécon, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Mr Chairman, Secretary General, Deputy Secretary General, Ambassadors,

I am honoured to be addressing you today, only a week after being elected President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.  It was last week, during its 27th session, that the Congress renewed its leaders – the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Chambers, the Chairs of the committees and political groups and its President.

I am French and my first official visit was a meeting with the German delegation to the Congress in Stuttgart last Thursday.  I am personally very attached to the great symbolism there.  As representatives of the Council of Europe’s member states, you here are all aware of just how important Franco-German reconciliation has been historically in the European construction process and how important it still is today for peace and prosperity in Europe.

Our session was very busy.  Congress members had an opportunity to exchange views with your Chair and with the Council’s Secretary General about the priorities for the years ahead.  These regular exchanges with the organisation’s leaders are vital to us, as they confirm our own policy directions and priorities, which are fully in line with the Council of Europe’s agenda.

As you know, we held a debate on separatist tensions in Ukraine and neighbouring countries in the presence of ministers from four states – Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan – and I should like to thank those countries’ Permanent Representatives most sincerely for helping to ensure that their ministers attended.

Since the beginning of the year, like the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress has condemned the holding of an undemocratic referendum in Crimea, the annexation of that autonomous region of Ukraine and Sebastopol by Russia and the presence of Russian regular troops in eastern Ukraine.  However, we have not confined ourselves to condemning these developments; we have also stepped up the existing dialogue with the authorities and taken very practical steps to help them on the path to local and regional reforms in Ukraine.

For instance, we observed the first local elections in May and arranged the first post-monitoring preparation visit with the relevant minister.  We conducted a major high-level visit in July and will be continuing the post-monitoring programme in December.  All this has been in close co-ordination with the country’s authorities.  Several co-operation seminars have also been held during the period.

At the close of an intense and serious debate, we adopted a declaration setting out our policy line for the months ahead.

Our session was also special because, for the first time, youth delegates were able to sit in the national delegations and take part in the debates alongside them.  Both the young people and Congress members found this first experience to be very positive, and we must now make sure that it was not just a one-off, isolated initiative but is followed by other initiatives and fits into the broader framework of increased participation by young people in our activities.  We are looking into the possibilities here.

In the context of the Council of Europe’s neighbourhood policy, the Congress has implemented specific activities in Morocco and Tunisia.  Last week, it adopted partner for local democracy status, which will enable it to step up this co-operation and support local and regional reforms with the governments and local and regional authorities in the countries concerned.  Morocco has shown great interest in obtaining the status.

I should like now to say a few words about the work of the Congress in the coming months.  As over the past few years, we are going to continue stepping up our activities in terms of monitoring the Charter of Local Self-Government and observing local elections, putting a still greater emphasis on the aspect of implementation of our recommendations through post-monitoring dialogue with governments.

To carry out our statutory tasks, we need a properly staffed and competent secretariat.  The budgetary situation in recent years has not been very favourable to us and we have had to make proportionately larger cuts than other entities in the organisation.

I was Vice-Chair of the Finance Committee of the French Senate until a few weeks ago, so I am aware of how things stand with our countries’ public finances.  And I know that the organisation’s budget debate is in progress and is extremely difficult.  I have not come here to beg; instead, I wish to share with you my realistic concerns about our working structure.

Allow me to make a personal comment: I believe that our Secretary General is a responsible and sensible manager.  That is a great asset for our organisation and for the quality of the budget debate.

The Congress now receives substantial voluntary contributions for carrying out co-operation programmes in various countries, in particular Albania, Armenia and Ukraine, as well as others which are under preparation.  I should like to extend particular thanks to the Swiss and Danish authorities for their commitment and their financial support in this respect.

However, to give you the full picture, I must say that, in terms of the Congress’s statutory activities, we now suffer from a lack of resources, in particular as regards staffing, and our secretariat is not sufficient for us to meet the expectations and keep up with the pace of the politically realistic and necessary programme which we have adopted.  If this situation continues, there is a risk in the short term of it jeopardising our co-operation activities which are based on the results of our statutory activities.

I should like to close this presentation on a more optimistic and more personal note.  I arrived at the Congress at the time of the introduction of its new statute in 1994, following a decision by the Vienna Summit of Heads of State and Government.  In various posts, I have followed the developments which have taken place over 20 years.  I have witnessed and supported the reforms of the Congress, the refocusing of its activities and the concentration of its efforts and resources on its priority tasks.  And I can assure you that the Congress has become a loyal, operational and effective political partner both for governments and for the other entities in the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Venice Commission and the operational directorates, under the aegis of the Secretary General.

The Congress, an assembly of local and regional elected representatives, has found its full place in an intergovernmental organisation, and every advance has been made with your support.

As you know, I also sit in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in my capacity as a member of the French Senate.

For years, the Council of Europe and its 47 governments have welcomed and made effective use of the contribution of the two assemblies of national and of local and regional elected representatives.  That is to their credit and, I believe, entirely to our organisation’s benefit.

Thank you.