Council of European Municipalities and Regions’ 2016 Congress
Nicosia, 20-22 April 2016
Information note – Contribution by Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, to the session 4 – “Bringing Europe closer to you!”
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Introduction of the Congress (political assembly; deals with local and regional authorities which are placed the closest to the citizens; differences to and synergies with the EU, current topics in the committees, etc.).
Concrete work of the Congress in member countries (monitoring, election observation, co-operation activities, etc.).
One tool for informing people on what the Council of Europe and its Congress do for the benefit of the citizens is the European Local Democracy Week.
It was launched in 2007, with the aim of fostering citizen participation at grassroots level and it is co-ordinated by the Congress. This pan-European initiative was created because of the conviction at the Congress that by increasing public participation in decision-making processes and allowing citizens to express their own choices, preferences and opinions, transparency can be improved and public confidence in the democratic process increased;
The ELDW is also intended to promote the European Charter of Local Self-Government and its Additional Protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority à that is why the official week of local democracy takes place in the week around 15 October – the date on which the Charter was opened for signature in 1985;
The Additional Protocol adds a new dimension to the European Charter by providing an international legal guarantee of the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority. This right, however, cannot be fully exercised if citizens are not aware what their right to participate in the local decision-making process entails, and if they do not know about the different ways of exercising it à the European Local Democracy Week is a tool for empowering the citizens to give effect to this right, i.e. to educate them on what and how they can do for their local community;
In the framework of the ELDW, local authorities from the 47 member states of the Council of Europe and beyond organise public events to meet and engage with their citizens on issues of current interest à it is a great occasion for local elected representatives to promote the work they are doing as members of the Congress – or even the Committee of the Regions of the EU;
Partaking local authorities can organise a wide range of participatory activities, taking into consideration their own priorities and their specificities of local self-government. These can be, just to mention a few: public hearings, debates, open days in the town hall, expositions, essay competitions in schools, participatory budgeting activities, neighbourhood meetings à the events are not required to be large scale or highly innovative, rather capable of getting people to participate in local affairs.
Each year, the decision making body of the Congress chooses a main theme for the ELDW; a theme that had previously been discussed with the participating local authorities and NGOs at a yearly meeting in Paris. The ratio of having a theme is to raise the awareness of citizens on current issues and challenges that are high on the European agenda. It also relates to the actual priorities of the Congress, thus enabling us to propose concrete reference texts and tools to the cities for coping with these challenges. Many of these issues, such as the migration flow or the growing radicalisation, are challenges which directly affect local and regional authorities à following this logic, the 2016 theme of the ELDW is “Living together in culturally diverse societies: respect, dialogue, interaction”. In order to provide local and regional authorities with the necessary knowledge and good examples on this topic, the Congress is currently working on a toolkit to prevent radicalisation for use by local and regional elected representatives.
I would like to encourage those local and regional authorities, as well as their associations and civil society organisations whose representatives are here with us today to take part in the ELDW. The official dates this year are 10-16 October. However, should this coincide with other events or local elections, local authorities may choose to organise the ELDW on more convenient dates in October when possible;
Last year, 96 local and regional authorities, their associations and the civil society organisations, coming from 29 countries, celebrated the European Local Democracy Week with us. They organised more than 250 activities, which can be seen on the official website of the ELDW.
To summarize the advantages already mentioned before: The ELDW offers the participating municipalities the opportunity to be part of a large international community engaged in promoting active citizenship, a pool of innovative ideas on participation and good practices where they can learn from each other and benefit from the Council of Europe’s recognised expertise, and a European framework for elected representatives to better inform their citizens on what they can do for their communities at local, and also at pan-European level.
I hope that some of you will take up this initiative this year. You can find all relevant information and the link to registration on the official website of the ELDW (www.coe.int/demoweek). We also have a Congress stand in the hall during the CEMR Congress. My colleague is happy to welcome you there and give you more information about the Congress’ work and the European Local Democracy Week.