18th Plenary Session of the Congress

Strasbourg, 18 March 2010

Speech by Gagik BEGLARYAN, the Mayor of Yerevan

Distinguished Mr. President;

Esteemed Members of the Congress;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

I would like to start off by expressing my gratitude for this invitation to address the Congress.

Before making my speech, though, I would like to congratulate Mr. Andreas Kiefer for being elected as the Secretary General of the Congress.  I wish you productive work and success.

On behalf of the local authorities of Armenia, I would like to use this opportunity to express our satisfaction with the continued effective cooperation with the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, in particular, has been our long-term partner in this process.

The election in the City of Yerevan on 31 May 2009 and my visit to the Congress today symbolize the fact the Yerevan, the capital city of Council of Europe member state Armenia, has joined the Greater Family of European nations.

I am honoured to appear before the Congress as the elected mayor of Yerevan, the 2791 year-old city.

Yerevan is an old, yet young and developing city.  Yerevan is home to 37% of Armenia’s population, about 1.1 million residents.

Yerevan has around 30 sister and partner cities, including Paris, Lyon, Nice, Marseilles, Moscow, Athens, Tbilisi, Montreal, Los Angeles, San Paulo, Damascus, Beirut, Kyiv, Chisinau, and many others.

Some of our partners, the mayor of Rostov on Don Mr. Mikhail CHERNISHEV and the Mayor of Odessa Mr. Edward GURVITZ, are present here today, and I convey to them my best wishes.  I congratulate Mr. Chernishev on his re-election to the Mayor’s post last Sunday.

With its new status, Yerevan intends to expand and intensify its external relations by fostering cooperation in the economy, science, culture, education, tourism, and many other sectors.

Yerevanparticipates in a number of international organizations, such as the International Association of Francophone Mayors, the Black Sea Capitals’ Association, the Organization of World Heritage Cities, and others.  Yerevan is represented in the membership of the Armenia’s delegation to the Congress.

Yerevan will henceforth intensify its engagement in the aforementioned organizations.  We will join and actively contribute to other European and international organizations, as well.

In this context, we have recently undertaken to organize in Yerevan this fall the First Armenian-French Conference on Decentralized Cooperation.  Yerevan is one of the authors and organizers of this initiative.

The City of Yerevan and about three dozen other cities and regions of Armenia have traditionally had partnerships in France.

To this end, steering committees have been set up respectively in Armenia and France, which are led by the mayors of Yerevan and Lyon.  The aforementioned conference will bring together over 250 participants, 100 of whom our colleagues from France.

We expect the conference to grow into a traditional forum that will be convened once every two or three years in France and Armenia.

The conference will precede the celebration of the 2792nd “birthday” of Yerevan, which is due to take place on 7 and 8 October 2010.  Thus, all the conference participants will enjoy the festive atmosphere of the three millennia-old city.

I am pleased to invite an official delegation of the Congress to participate in our conference.

A key event marked in the calendar of the Council of Europe, the Forum for the Future of Democracy, will be held in Yerevan in October 2010.  The Forum was set up in May 2005 at the Council of Europe’s Warsaw Summit of the Heads of State and Government.

Considering the leadership role of the Congress in the Forum process, I would like to assure my colleagues that the Republic of Armenia and the City of Yerevan will put in place all the conditions necessary for the success of the Forum.

I am confident that the upcoming Forum will serve as a good example of the cooperation between the Council of Europe and the Republic of Armenia and the City of Yerevan.

The Council of Europe has accompanied Armenia throughout the process of strengthening local democracy.  As a result of this cooperation, the Constitutional amendments adopted in a National Referendum in 2005 stipulated the legal foundation for the current status of Yerevan.

As was repeatedly discussed in the Congress, Yerevan had the status of a region prior to 2009; the Mayor of Yerevan was appointed by the central government, and the city did not have a budget.

Furthermore, Yerevan was divided into 12 district communities, in each of which the population directly elected a community mayor and community council.

Under such a fragmented system of local government, the City clearly could not exercise effective local self-government.

It was an honour for me to be elected by direct vote for three consecutive terms (in 2002, 2005, and 2008) as the Head of the “Kentron” (Center) District of Yerevan.  Owing to public trust, I succeeded in leading the campaign list of the Republican Party of Armenia in the 31 May 2009 election in Yerevan and became elected as the Mayor of Yerevan.

With this election, Yerevan became a holistic integrated community with an elected mayor and council.

It should be emphasized here that the current model of local government in Yerevan was developed in close political and expert cooperation with the Congress and other structures of the Council of Europe.

Clearly, one of the capitals in the South Caucasus, i.e. Yerevan, has made a significant political achievement that is essential for not only Armenia, but also the whole European family of nations.

In this context, our colleagues in Georgia are implementing key political change in Tbilisi, a sister-city of Yerevan.  As you are perhaps aware, direct election of the Mayor of Tbilisi will be held at the end of May.

Following the political progress described above, we have still some way to go in realizing effective local self-government in capital cities based on the participation of citizens.  The future holds the promise of the successful implementation of many more of the provisions of the Law on Yerevan.

As we democratize governance in our capitals, we need also to upgrade infrastructure and significantly improve the quality of services.

This goal can be achieved only through the constant attention, support, and engagement via experience-sharing and investments of the Council of Europe, the EU, other European and international organizations, and partner capital cities.

Moreover, our capitals still have much untapped potential.  We intend to play a much greater role both within our countries and in the process of regional and European integration.

European integration is a key priority for all the countries in the South Caucasus.

Under the Eastern Partnership Program, the European Commission cooperates with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and the Ukraine in order to achieve a higher degree of political integration.  The key goal of the Eastern Partnership is to bring the Eastern neighbours closer to the EU.

Local authorities and capitals should certainly engage in this process.

With vast potential, our capitals are ready and able to become the driving force behind the European integration of our countries.

Therefore, I propose to launch expert and political consultations, in cooperation with the EU’s Committee of the Regions, on a common policy to bring together all of our efforts under the Eastern Partnership.

It is possible, for instance, to set up a task force or a network of capital cities for better coordination.

Dear Colleagues;

Using Yerevan as an example, I presented a number of issues typical of all the capital cities in the South Caucasus.

Today, by discussing the status of the capital cities in the South Caucasus (the reforms already implemented in Yerevan and Tbilisi and expected in Baku) as a special topic, we can draw an important conclusion.

Institutional reforms in the capital cities of the South Caucasus on the basis of the principles enshrined in the European Charter of Local Self-Government complete the European “picture” of local democracy.

Many of the issues raised are relevant for other European capitals, as well.  The discussion on these topics and the status of capital cities has never faded away.  To this end, the Congress has repeatedly discussed the issue and adopted documents.

It is essential to remain engaged in dialogue between all the European capitals, as well as between capitals and the Council of Europe and the EU.

Hence, I propose to the Congress to hold a Summit of the Capital Cities of Member States of the Council of Europe during 2012.

Yerevan is ready to host such a summit.

This dialogue will clearly add tangible value to the process of strengthening local and regional democracy in Europe.

Distinguished Mr. President;

Ladies and Gentlemen;

Allow me once again to thank the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities for the constant support to the development of local democracy in Armenia and for this opportunity to share some of my views today.

I am confident that the dialogue and cooperation will continue and remain productive.

Thank you.