International Seminar - « Strengthening citizens’ democratic participation in decision making at local level”

Tirana, 5 October 2012

Speech by John Warmisham, Salford city Councilors, member of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and political coordinator of the European Local Democracy Week

Mister Deputy Minister, Ambassador, Mayor of Tirana, representatives from the Associations of local authorities, Ladies and gentlemen, dear Colleagues,

First of all let me thank you all and in particular the Mayor of Tirana, Mr. Lulzim Basha, and de Deputy Minister of Interior, Mr. Ferdinand Poni, for organizing this meeting today giving me the opportunity, as representative of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, to participate in launching the European Local Democracy Week 2012 in Albania, which falls during the Albanian chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

As you know, the European Local Democracy Week promotes and fosters democratic participation at a local level, with a beneficial impact both on local authorities and citizens.

In October 2007, in Valencia (Spain), European ministers responsible for local and regional government made this an annual event under the co-ordination of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

The reasons for holding this event are still valid and evolve every year in response to the need for transparency and good governance.

The Week is a campaign to encourage the involvement of citizens of all ages in their local communities: from primary school children to the elderly. In hundreds of municipalities and towns where local authorities hold the ELDW, various groups of citizens get involved in events, wherein each group and each individual play a role. Everyone has the right to raise questions with those who are entrusted with the care of citizens, and the right to get answers. This is the spirit of the European Local Democracy Week.

In this way, the ELDW represents an important tool for developing participatory processes in communities across Europe. Each year the number of local authorities and associations which take part in the Week is growing and this is a welcome sign.

The more significant outcome is the feedback that we receive from local authorities who organise the ELDW events in their communities. I would like to quote some mayors who took part in the past. They said the events of the Week led them to:

- involve citizens more in public life and to greater interaction with local authorities;

- familiarize citizens with participatory tools and to build trust in their local institutions;

- improve social cohesion and respect for others in the community.

Local authorities provide simple and clear information during the Week. 

The ELDW is not a campaign for politics or for creating consensus; it is an event for democracy. It is an opportunity to meet people, to shake hands… but, most of all, the European Week of Local Democracy is an opportunity to hear from people, to know about their concerns and their daily needs. And this is very crucial in this period of financial instability.

The European Local Democracy Week gives local authorities an opportunity to boost their profiles and to remind them of their responsibilities, not just to represent the citizens, but to build a better society.

During the Week’s activities local authorities explain their programmes and how they propose to deal with their budget problems, regarding on-going works and future projects within their areas.  With the European Week of Local Democracy local authorities have the chance to bring people closer to their community, to rebuild their trust in local institutions and in others, and to make a pact with citizens and between citizens.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Living in a community means living with others. To be part of a community requires trust in others and respecting people regardless of their origins, religion, age or status. And this is a key issue in our intercultural communities.

The Congress of local and regional authorities chooses an annual theme for the Week, based on the main issues for local democracy.

In the past the Week was organised around the theme of preserving the natural environment and natural resources. Last year the Week was focused on how to protect human rights at local level. The Congress is strongly committed to enhancing respect and solidarity for all citizens and residents within a community and to fighting against violations of these values.

In recent years, European societies have witnessed increasing intolerance and discrimination. Intolerance is taking different forms: sometimes in the form of fanatics like Breivik in Norway, and more often by young people exhibiting racist and bullying behaviour. We, as local elected representatives, cannot allow this phenomenon to go on.

Local authorities have the responsibility to fight against all forms of discrimination and violations of human dignity, such as: sexual abuse, discrimination against women, domestic violence, racial and religious intolerance.  These are the reasons why the Congress wants the European Local Democracy Week to focus on human dignity.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Democracy, transparency, citizenship and solidarity: these are the pillars of the European Local Democracy Week and these are the reasons for its success. The European Local Democracy Week with its strong message of mutual responsibility provides momentum for creating participation, solidarity and social cohesion. And this is what our societies need more.