International Conference of capital cities of the Council of Europe Member States

“Making the metropolis citizen-friendly: a challenge for public authorities” Yerevan, Armenia, 11 October 2013

Opening remarks by Vice-President John WARMISHAM Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe

Deputy Prime Minister,

Dear Mayor of Yerevan,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, I welcome you to this international conference of capital cities and metropolises. I would like to thank the organisers – the Armenian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the authorities of Yerevan – for this excellent initiative.

Indeed, with most of the European population today living in urban areas, and with capital cities being the largest urban centres in most countries in Europe, they have special responsibilities in ensuring the quality of life of their residents.  There are many factors that make up what we understand as a good quality of life. It includes the cost of living, the quality of housing and public services, a clean environment, urban security, cultural life and opportunities for citizen participation. I could go on.

As the title of this conference suggests, improving the quality of life and making our capital cities citizen-friendly, oriented towards the needs, concerns and expectations of their residents is a truly challenging task for public authorities. This is even more so in this time of economic crisis, when diminishing revenues, budget cuts and austerity measures are calling for greater innovation in our urban policies.

This is also the time to look at whether our capital cities have enough competences and sufficient institutional capacity to carry out their tasks. The Council of Europe Congress has long maintained that, due to their special responsibilities and particular place in the life of European nations, capital cities should have a special status to match the challenging tasks facing them. The Congress called for such status in its recommendation back in 2007, and continues to follow closely the developments in the situation and quality of local democracy in particular in capital cities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The quality of life in capital cities and their capacity to ensure this quality are the two pillars on which our discussions today will be based. These issues are particularly close to the concerns of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. I must say that the City in general takes a special place in the work of the Congress, which has shown it in its many adopted texts or the initiatives it supports – from the special status for capital cities which I have just mentioned, to the “Child and the City” philosophy of child-friendly and family-oriented communities, to the “Compact City” concept of sustainable and self-sufficient neighbourhoods, to the many networks concerned with the quality of urban life and development – Cities for Local Integration Policy, Cities for Children, Intercultural Cities or Cities for Human Rights.

Five years ago, the Congress brought together its various proposals for new ways of organising urban governance into the European Urban Charter II: Manifesto for a new urbanity. This Charter presents a vision of building a city that is citizen-centred, socially cohesive, sustainable, as well as an innovative and knowledge-driven catalyst for development. Today, these concepts ring true as never before, and will be on the table for discussion at this conference.

They have also been echoed in an initiative of the Union of Capitals of the European Union, the UCEU, which has identified three key areas for urban development and regeneration, with the goal of building inclusive and sustainable capital cities: social sustainability and inclusiveness, urban sustainability and the built environment, and capital cities as knowledge cities. At our conference today, we may ask ourselves the same questions that UCEU has put to its members:

-          Do capital cities give adequate priority to developing as open, accessible and inclusive cities? Do they give adequate consideration to the population groups that are excluded or threatened by exclusion? Do they manage and develop urban space and the built environment in a sustainable manner?

From financial management and the quality of public services to social assistance and civil participation, from crime prevention and conflict resolution to green technologies and technological innovation, public authorities in capital cities today face questions and challenges unparalleled in history. Given their impact on a nation as a whole, the situation of large cities, of capital cities, is being increasingly taken up at European and international level – such as the UCEU initiative I have just mentioned, or a report on good governance of large metropolises which being prepared in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, by my compatriot Jeffrey Donaldson.

This debate is therefore both important and timely. It is a great honour for me to open this conference in Yerevan today.  I wish all of you – all of us, indeed – fruitful and constructive discussions.

Thank you.