CORLEAP Annual Meeting

Vilnius, Lithuania, 3 September 2013

Statement by Herwig van Staa, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

The Conference of Regional and Local Authorities of the Eastern Partnership and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe share a great affinity with each other – not only in the fact that many CORLEAP members are also members of the Congress, creating a natural link between these two institutions. We share a great affinity of our common aims and objectives, and therefore a great potential for synergies:

-          in asserting the role of local and regional authorities vis-à-vis national governments and European institutions;

-          in seeking greater competences, decision-making and financial autonomy for the local and regional level through decentralisation;

-          in insisting on consultations with local and regional authorities by national governments and European institutions on matters of common concern;

-          in promoting good local governance, based on true leadership and ethical behaviour;

-          in increasing citizen participation in our communities;

-          in advancing territorial co-operation between municipalities and regions.

The principles behind these objectives have been laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government whose implementation is the core mission of the Congress. We appreciate that this meeting’s recommendations make explicit references to the Charter and its requirements, and that our common objectives are reflected in both the political report and the recommendations, which we fully support.

The Congress’ support for positive change in Eastern Partnership member states comes through our proper mechanisms of monitoring the Charter’s application in those countries, observing local and regional elections and establishing post-monitoring dialogue to map out the way to implement our recommendations, leading to practical co-operation programmes. Through post-monitoring, we are broadening direct political dialogue with both national governments and territorial authorities to ensure an effective follow-up to our proposals.

Over the past two years, the Congress has carried out the monitoring of local and regional democracy in Moldova, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Georgia, and adopted recommendations with regard to most of them. During our session in October, we will debate a monitoring report on the situation in Ukraine, and we are planning a monitoring visit to Armenia in November. Over the same period, the Congress has also observed local elections in many of those countries. I am pleased to say that Congress recommendations are in synch with those of CORLEAP.

As for Belarus, two Belarusian local self-government organisations have an observer status with the Congress and participate regularly in Congress sessions; we have recently agreed with them to organise a round table in Minsk on the principles and standards of local democracy laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. You will find more information on our activities in Eastern Partnership countries in the files distributed to you.

I should add that the Congress is also actively participating in the local and regional dimension of the Council of Europe Action Plans for Eastern Partnership countries, that have already been launched – such as for Ukraine and Armenia – or are still under preparation, such as for Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

The focus of the Congress under the EU-Council of Europe priority co-operation areas in the Eastern neighbourhood is on strengthening institutional frameworks for local governance, by making sure that national laws conform to the standards of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and by increasing leadership capacities of local and regional elected representatives and promoting their ethical behaviour. While we support the three priorities of public administration reform, fiscal decentralisation and territorial co-operation, we are convinced that a more dynamic approach is needed with regard to transparency and ethics at all levels of governance, including the local level. Ethical governance is an integral part of good governance, helping to build citizens’ trust in public authorities.

In conclusion, I would like to stress the Congress’ full support for elected representatives who are members of CORLEAP, who are members of the Congress and of the Committee of the Regions – our close and long-standing partner in the EU. They – you – have a crucial role to play in developing a strong local and regional dimension within the Eastern Partnership, in making sure that CORLEAP becomes the Partnership’s driving force for local and regional issues and for democratic change at the grassroots. We need a stronger co-operation between national and grassroots levels within the Eastern Partnership, and I would like to reiterate our strong support for CORLEAP recommendations to the Eastern Partnership’s Heads of State. We will convey the same message to the Council of Europe member states.

For our part, we in the Congress look forward to strengthening our co-operation and building synergies with CORLEAP on issues of common concern., and I wish you every success in your efforts.

Thank you.