1187th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies
11 December 2013
Communication by Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased with this opportunity to continue the tradition of dialogue between you and the Congress. It has been eight months since my last communication to you on 3 April, and the Congress has carried out a wide range of activities that you can find in my written communication distributed to you, which covers the period until the end of November 2013.
PRIORITIES – MONITORING
Over this period, we have continued to advance with our three-step approach of monitoring the situation of local and regional democracy, post-monitoring dialogue and targeted co-operation activities. This approach was presented to you by Congress President Herwig van Staa in September. During the 25th Session of the Congress in October, the rules of procedure for monitoring, election observation and post-monitoring dialogue were developed further and were brought to the attention of the Committee of Ministers in the 1185th meeting on 19-21 November 2013.
Since April, the Congress has fielded monitoring missions to Ukraine, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium and Armenia, as well as a post-monitoring mission to Portugal, and observed elections to the City Assembly of Yerevan. We have made progress in elaborating road maps for implementing our recommendations in the framework of post-monitoring dialogue. In this regard, the President will send a letter to your Group of Rapporteurs on Democracy, GR-DEM, concerning the recurrent issues revealed by our monitoring, and we look forward to discussing them with you.
PRIORITIES – CO-OPERATION
We have also advanced with our co-operation projects, in particular in Albania – thanks to your voluntary contributions – and continued to take an active part in strengthening the local and regional dimension of Council of Europe action plans for specific countries (e.g. UKR, GEO, ARM).
In pursuing its co-operation with the European Union, the Congress participated in the meeting of CORLEAP (Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of the Eastern Partnership) in Vilnius in September, prior to the Partnership’s Vilnius Summit last week – which has reaffirmed, to our great satisfaction, the crucial importance of local democracy and citizen participation for the Partnership’s objectives, and the need for strengthening the role of local and regional authorities, with a clear reference to the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
A few words about our thematic activities. Over this period, the Congress has organised conferences on changing perceptions of cultural diversity among the local population and on the residence-based participation of foreign residents as a new reality of modern democracy, respectively in Ankara and in Strasbourg. Congress members have contributed as speakers and moderators of the labs of the World Forum for Democracy in November. Also in November, the Congress and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions held a joint conference in Strasbourg to discuss the current situation of decentralisation in Europe, on the occasion of the anniversaries of the European Charter of Local Self-Government (25 years) and the European Charter of Municipal Liberties (60 years).
I should point out in this context that in October, San Marino became the 47th country to ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and I would like to congratulate the San Marino Delegation and thank it for this important step. Thus, the Charter is now covering 100 per cent of the Council of Europe territory, and a special ceremony was organised during the 25th Session of the Congress to mark this occasion. We will continue to convince member States to accede to the remaining articles, by which they had not declared themselves bound when ratifying the Charter. However, the historic and often the legal context have changed, and for many member states the conditions or reasons no longer exist to justify this situation. I am pleased in this regard that the Serbian State Secretary for local government recently told me his country would consider doing so in the near future as a result of reforms undertaken in co-operation with the Council of Europe.
We have pursued co-operation with the intergovernmental sector. As its contribution to the Council of Europe’s “One in Five” Campaign, the Congress has been promoting its Pact of Towns and Regions to stop sexual violence against children. In the last three months, our Thematic Spokesperson on Children, Mr Johan van den Hout, visited the Netherlands, Cyprus and the United Kingdom to raise the Pact’s visibility. As a result, more than 20 cities and regions have already committed themselves to joining the Pact since its launch in March. These include, among others, Land Berlin in Germany and Calabria Province of Italy, Land Tyrol in Austria, the cities of Nicosia, Limassol and Heraklion, a number of Swiss and Dutch municipalities – among them Rotterdam – as well as the City of Liverpool in the United Kingdom and Dammarie-les-Lys in France, home town of Parliamentary Assembly President Jean-Claude Mignon.
The European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, launched by the Congress in March, has also pursued its activities under the Joint Programme “ROMACT” between the Council of Europe and the European Commission, which started on 1 October 2013. On 18 December, Paris will become the 121st city or region to join the Alliance in an official ceremony in the City Hall. As part of our action for Roma, the 4th Dosta!-Congress Prize for Municipalities was awarded during the October session to the cities of Obrnice in the Czech Republic and Heraklion in Greece, as well as the regional authority of Kocaeli in Turkey. However, sustaining Alliance activities may be at risk and become problematic next year due a lack of funding the Alliance’s staff under the ROMACT Programme, which would be a very unfortunate setback. The European Commission is aware of this and we hope that progress can be made soon.
The Congress has co-operated closely with the Armenian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in organising conferences on citizen participation in local democracy and on the status of capital cities, and took part in a conference on fighting racism, intolerance and xenophobia in Europe. We were pleased to learn that Sarajevo intends to host the next CoE conference of mayors of capital cities during the Bosnian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in 2015. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Armenia for advancing the local democracy agenda, and to congratulate my home country, Austria, on taking up the Chairmanship last month. The Congress is looking forward to further co-operating with the Austrian Chairmanship in the coming months after holding the first joint conference on integration policies at local level in the first Austrian human rights city, Graz, last week.
Allow me now to highlight the most significant past event – the 25th Session of the Congress, which took place in Strasbourg from 29 to 31 October. First of all, I would like to thank those delegations who helped to organise the participation of their Ministers and government officials in the session. Congress members had very productive exchanges of views with Deputy Prime Minister Armen GEVORGYAN of Armenia, Deputy Prime Minister Liviu Nicolae DRAGNEA of Romania, Minister of Internal Affairs Gian Carlo VENTURINI of San Marino, Minister of State Fergus O’DOWD of Ireland and Parliamentary Secretary for Culture and Local Government Jose HERRERA of Malta. These exchanges have highlighted the spirit of an open dialogue with you and your governments that we are seeking to strengthen, by associating national authorities with our sessions.
We will be pursuing this dialogue during the next Congress’ session from 25 to 27 March 2014, when we would be pleased to welcome the participation of Ministers from Austria representing the Committee of Ministers’ Chairmanship, and from Armenia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden, if the respective reports will be adopted by the Monitoring Committee.
The 25th Session in October also saw the debates of monitoring reports for Hungary, Ireland, Ukraine, Albania and Denmark – as well as on the observation of local elections in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and of the Yerevan City Assembly. Among other issues discussed were responses of local and regional authorities to the economic crisis, promotion of migrant entrepreneurship at local level, better access of migrants to regional labour markets, prospects for effective transfrontier co-operation in Europe, regions and territories with special status, as well as regionalisation and devolution in a context of economic crisis. I should add that the session’s current affairs debate on fighting political extremism at local and regional level, with the participation of Mayor of Athens Yiorgos KAMINIS and Robert Schuman Foundation researcher Magali BALENT, has evoked great interest and active contribution from Congress members.
Next year, we will keep with the tradition of having a general theme for both Congress sessions, which was this year “Europe in Crisis: Challenges to Local and Regional Democracy”. In 2014, we will focus on building democracy together with young people, empowering youth and promoting youth participation, which we will pursue in close co-operation with the intergovernmental sector and the Parliamentary Assembly. We are planning debates with representatives of youth organisations in March – at the session which will also feature a report on local and regional policies to empower Roma young people. We also have an initiative to invite young people from all the 47 member states to attend and to participate in the Congress session in October, which we are currently discussing with our partners in the Youth Department of DG 2.
However, in order to develop these activities, and to sustain the initiatives already launched, the Congress needs to have adequate human and budgetary resources, which have been further reduced for 2014. I informed the Congress Bureau of the recent budget decisions which took note, but expressed its concern on the impact this reduction will have on the statutory work and the operational activities of the Congress. This is why I would like again to call for possible secondments and voluntary contributions from your governments to support the Congress action – monitoring and post-monitoring dialogue, election observation, co-operation programmes, thematic work, the Alliance, the Pact supporting “one in five” – and to ensure that this action remains credible and meaningful and brings about concrete results. The job description for the statutory requirements can be found on the “secondments” website, and I am happy to provide further information, if you wish.