Conference of European ministers responsible for local and regional government Budapest, Hungary, 24-25 February 2005
To be checked against delivered speech
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In three month’s time, the Council of Europe will organise its 3rd Summit of Heads of State and Government to be held in Warsaw under the Polish Chairmanship. I am certain that the Council of Europe will, on that occasion, insist on the core values of the Organisation. These include Human Rights and the Rule of Law, but also democracy and in particular pluralist democracy. Let me tell you immediately that I am convinced that democracy, in the sense in which we understand it in the Council of Europe, does, of necessity, include pluralist democracy at local and, where appropriate, regional level.
There is no democracy without democracy at local level in which citizens are closely involved. In the Council of Europe there are two formed by elected representatives: the Parliamentary Assembly the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. At the intergovernmental level local democracy is supported by the CDLR with whom we co-operate.
We hope that the Summit will fully recognise the importance of territorial democracy and will therefore enhance the role of the Congress in its main activities.
monitoring of local and regional democracy. In this respect I have noted with interest that you suggested that the Congress should be given a formal mandate to monitor the progress of regional democracy in the light of Council of Europe declarations (in particular the one approved in Helsinki),
observation of elections where we have as our forthcoming activities, an election in the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and the elections in the Palestinian territories,
capacity building, in particular through the promotion of local authorities associations and through the European Network of Training Organisations,
networking where the Congress has been mandated to create the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (LDA), the Network of Associations of Local Authorities in South-East Europe (NALAS), the Working Group of elected members of South-East Europe and ENTO as well as the association of historic cities;
exchange of best practices in decentralisation in such areas as social cohesion, culture, education, youth, participation, sustainable development and urban policies.
The Conference of Ministers of Local Government of South-East Europe held in Zagreb at the end of October has been a good example of strong co-operation between Ministers and the Congress, and in particular, the network of local authorities associations. The Budapest Conference will be a first occasion to discuss how commitments made in Zagreb are actually implemented.
Ladies and gentlemen, as representatives of the Congress, we expect good news from Warsaw, but we are sure we can continue to count on a strong and effective support from the Ministers of local and regional affairs.
To my mind, an important subject for our co-operation is also transborder co-operation. Here the Congress has been active over the last months promoting the creation of a Euroregion of the Adriatic Sea with an Adriatic Council that will include not only representatives of local and regional governments, but also of national governments and of European institutions. This Euroregion could also be a model for other semi-closed seas like the Black Sea or the Baltic Sea and I hope that the Congress can be instrumental also in the future for the promotion of these ideas.
Since 2000, the Congress has carried out a programme of monitoring local and regional democracy in member states which has resulted in a number of recommendations. This, in turn, has paved the way for frank and constructive dialogue with the authorities of member states. The whole process is designed to encourage maximum dialogue between the players in local and regional democracy in Europe.
Today we are happy to acknowledge that our work has enabled significant results to be achieved in terms of legislative and practical reform in a number of countries. Positive results have also been obtained through the Committee of Ministers’ monitoring of the Congress’s recommendations under the intergovernmental co-operation programmes. It should also be noted that there is excellent co-operation between the Congress and the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy, the Congress’s main partner in drafting the reports.
At the same time, it should be stressed that the Congress’s reports have proven valuable for the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of the Regions.
This experience built up over the last few years has made it possible to sketch a general picture of the residual difficulties and the positive trends which will be discussed during our colloquy later on today. Let me just stress at this stage that the situation still remains fairly contrasted, but generally speaking, ideas enshrined in the European Charter of Local Self-Government are recognised throughout Europe thanks to the activeness of our local and regional councillors and the will of the government to face the challenges of new governance.
As to the future lines of our common work, I think that the positive trends and difficulties described by the Congress in its report already, in themselves, offer a fairly accurate indication as to the possible commitments which the Ministers might make in terms of both contributing to the Council of Europe’s intergovernmental work and following up the results of the Congress’ work.
On its side, the Congress will strengthen its commitment to its activities relating to legal and institutional matters and, more particularly, to following up the application by member states of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
On this occasion, the Congress commits itself to taking into consideration in its follow-up activities on the Charter work already done at intergovernmental level. The Congress invites the Ministers and its representatives in the CDLR, for their part, to maintain close relations with the Congress, particularly with those of its rapporteurs specifically responsible for the aforementioned reports.
Speaking about the second theme of this conference, let me underline that on the basis of our regular contacts with regional and national authorities through specific colloquies tailored to the needs of the countries, we have observed that the idea of creating a second decentralised tier of government is making headway in Europe. We have come to the conclusion that many countries, for a variety of reasons related to their particular situations, have introduced, or are planning to introduce, a regional level of government. If one wanted to qualify this trend, one would have to emphasise its gradual character – some countries are considering regionalisation merely as a long-term objective.
Today we would like the governments to give continuing support to this positive trend. Not only at a national, but also at a European, level. This is why we believe that a legal instrument, namely a convention on regional self-government, would be an appropriate expression of such support. Our delegation has come here to Budapest with a clear mandate from the Congress to discuss our latest proposals and to continue our dialogue with a view to achieving our initial aim which is to give regional authorities the same level of legal protection at European level as that given by the European Charter of Local Self-Government, of which we are celebrating the twentieth anniversary this year.
I bring my speech to a close with a special mention on behalf of NALAS – the Network representing the local authorities of South-East Europe with whom you had a fruitful dialogue in Zagreb.
NALAS has asked me to remind ministers of its Declaration – appended to the Zagreb Final Declaration – which invites them to put into practice the measures signed at the Zagreb conference and strongly encourages them to continue and to develop their close consultation with the national associations, notably on the national Work Plans, in order to promote truly effective democratic governance at local and regional level. For its part, NALAS reiterates its commitment to the development and implementation of these Work Plans and its determination to be an effective and reliable partner to central government in local affairs.
NALAS assures ministers of its full commitment to collaborating with central government to promote a set of regional standards of local services, to enhance citizen participation and to contribute to local development. NALAS emphasises that it is up to central authorities to establish the adequate fiscal, legislative and organisational framework and mechanisms to allow the associations to become full partners and meet the standards contained in the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
On that positive note, I take my leave and look forward to working fruitfully over these two days.