Speech by Ms Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, President of the Congress

41st General Assembly of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece (KEDE)

Thessaloniki, 3 December 2016

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me indeed to speak to you today on behalf of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

I am grateful to the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece, KEDE, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this General Assembly. I look forward to having an exchange with you on the challenges, priorities and issues of concern facing your Association, the local authorities of Greece and indeed your country.

I am particularly pleased to be here not only as President of the Congress but also as co-rapporteur on local and regional democracy in Greece. Needless to say, I am very much aware of these challenges, notably as regards the economic situation and the refugee crisis, but also as regards the specificities of your country.

After visiting Greece during two monitoring missions of the Congress, I understand better the realities you must face – for instance, how difficult it can be to manage a municipality located on an island or in a mountainous area.

In our recent monitoring report, we drew the attention of national authorities to these specificities, which require solutions to address the particular needs for municipalities and regions. We also pointed to the lack of consultation of local authorities by the central government, the weakness of fiscal autonomy, and – among others – the lack of finances which correspond to the transfer of competences. The recommendation which we sent to Greek national authorities addressed these issues and asks the Government to take measures to solve them.

Since the adoption of this recommendation in March 2015, a Congress delegation had the opportunity to come back to Athens in September this year, on the invitation of the Governor of the Attika region and Congress member, Mrs Rena DOUROU.

The delegation was led by the former Congress President, Mr Jean-Claude FRECON, and visited two refugee camps to assess the challenges that the reception of refugees represent for a region and a municipality. We are convinced that this type of visits are crucial for Congress members and contribute to better conveying an appropriate political message to governments.

The former President, Mr FRECON, also had the opportunity to meet the former Minister of the Interior, Mr KOUROUMBLIS, to whom he suggested launching a post-monitoring process between Greece and the Congress.

The aim of this process would be to strengthen the political dialogue between the Congress and the Greek government in order to implement our recommendation in the framework of an agreed calendar. I hope that the newly appointed Minister, Mr SKOURLETIS, will take a positive approach to this proposal. Our experience in other countries shows that such post-monitoring helps to accelerate the process of improvement of local democracies in Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Council of Europe Congress and KEDE share a long tradition of close and fruitful co-operation between our two bodies. The Congress itself is of course a pan-European association, an assembly of local and regional authorities from the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. It is made up of more than 600 local and regional elected members, representing some 200 000 communities from across the European continent.

The Congress is indeed your assembly within the Council of Europe. It has a unique mandate to assess the situation of local and regional democracy, observe local and regional elections and put forward recommendations to both national governments and grassroots authorities for improving the governance of our communities.

The Congress is also engaged in implementing co-operation programmes in member states and neighbourhood regions, and working to achieve inclusive multicultural societies, to increase citizen and youth participation, and to foster respect for diversity and for fundamental rights at local level, among many other issues.

In October, the Congress held its second session this year. On this occasion, all national delegations were renewed for the next four years. I would like to congratulate the 7 representatives and 7 substitutes of the new Greek delegation and in particular its President, the Mayor of Samos Island, Mr Michail ANGELOPOULOS, who was also elected Vice-President of the Congress. His participation in the Congress Bureau means that the Congress will have an even stronger link with your delegation and your association, and we all are looking forward to this collaboration.

In this regard, I would like to thank KEDE for inviting the Congress’ Monitoring Committee to hold its next meeting in Athens on 16 February, which is yet another proof of your continued commitment to Congress activities.

I myself have been elected President of the Congress during the session in October. I am particularly proud that the Congress has taken another step towards equality by electing a woman as president for the first time in its history.

Ladies and gentlemen,

National associations of local and regional authorities, such as KEDE, are of crucial importance to the Congress. They are our main partners in the national setting, the bridges linking together local and regional communities of European countries.

We work closely with them and consult them when we define our strategic orientations. The Congress priorities for 2017-2020, which were adopted during the past session in October, were drafted in consultation with all Congress members and with the national associations.

National associations play an essential role in the work of the Congress. They participate in the selection process of national delegations. They help national members fulfil their work within the Congress. And they can act as Congress relays in their countries, giving follow-up to Congress recommendations and visibility to Congress reference documents and texts.

As I have said, the core mission of the Congress is to monitor the situation of local and regional democracy in member states. We base this work on our reference text, the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

Article 10 of the Charter concerns the consultation of local and regional authorities by central government. This is one of the pillars of our local democracy. Consultation is a central feature of local self-government and a vital process which serves to ensure that our multi-level governance system functions effectively.

Consultation is also one of the “recurring issues” in many countries which we identify during our monitoring work. We want to see progress in this area and will continue to work on improving the situation. As I have said at the beginning of my speech, this is also one issue which was addressed in our report on Greece and included in our recommendation to the Greek government.

Both the monitoring and the election observation by the Congress contribute to the post-monitoring process, which we have developed over the past years and which is are based on our political dialogue with the national authorities.

We consider this dialogue as essential because the challenges and difficulties faced by our communities need to be tackled by pooling the efforts and resources at all levels of governance – European, national, regional, and local. We strongly hope for a positive response from the Greek government to launching such post-monitoring process in your country.

For my part, my participations in this General Assembly and the bilateral meetings I will have are all an integral part of this dialogue, aimed at promoting decentralisation in our member states and strengthening the capacities of local and regional authorities and their associations, such as KEDE.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The programme of this General Assembly is very interesting and impressive indeed. I look forward to our exchanges today, and wish your association and all of you every success in your future work.  

Thank you for your attention.