Parliamentary Assembly session : 23 – 27 September 2002 

(check against delivery)

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

26 September 2002

Mr President, Mr Secretary General, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the CLRAE’s plenary session early in June, President Peter Schieder announced that the Congress President would in future be invited to sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly. The Congress appreciates this honour, and I am particularly happy to be inaugurating a new tradition by my presence here – happy, too, that this gives me an opportunity to say something about the situation in Moldova, which you are discussing today.

The fact that I share a country, but not a political party, with President Schieder strikes me as a perfect example of democracy in action, as practised by the Assembly.

In this connection, I would venture to remind you that it was the Assembly which first took the initiative, just 45 years ago, of inviting elected local representatives to the then European Conference of Local Authorities in Strasbourg, thus involving the lowest democratic echelon – our local and regional authorities - in the epoch-making task of building Europe. The Congress remains mindful of this fundamental task, and we are convinced that democratic stability - the Council of Europe’s supreme goal – cannot be achieved until democracy is consistently practised, not just at national level, but at local and regional level too, in all our member states.

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This is why the starting point for our work on Moldova is the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which was adopted as a Council of Europe convention in 1985 and has now been ratified by 38 member states. The Charter itself establishes no supervisory machinery, but the explanatory report refers to the possibility of the CLRAE’s monitoring implementation of the text.

This has now been clearly confirmed by Committee of Ministers Resolution (2001) 1, which gives the Congress the task of preparing reports on the state of local and regional democracy in all member and applicant countries, particularly with a view to implementation of the Charter in practice.

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On this basis, the Congress has already prepared three reports on local and regional democracy in Moldova (1998, 2000 and 2002). It has also adopted Recommendation 110, which is particularly critical of the new laws on territorial organisation and local government which Moldova adopted at the end of 2001 – laws which violate the Charter. The main problem here is the reintroduction of a vertical power structure for central and local government, and that no adequate provision is made for consultation of local authorities.

Early local elections were also scheduled, although this decision was later set aside by the Moldovan Constitutional Court, which agreed with the CLRAE that it was unlawful. Another problem was the confused situation in the autonomous region of Gagauzia, which has since been compounded by unlawful action on the part of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia.

The CLRAE’s rapporteur went back to Moldova early in September, at the same time as the Assembly’s rapporteurs, to discuss these questions further. You have the report on his visit.

Here, I should merely like to say that, at first sight, recognisable progress has been made on three problems – the forthcoming election of the new Governor or Bashkan of Gagauzia, the OSCE’s proposed agreement for settlement of the conflict between Moldova and Transnistria, and the setting-up up of a working party to make proposals on reforming local government legislation in Moldova, for the purpose of implementing CLRAE Recommendation 110.

Looking more closely, however, we can see that these positive developments are overshadowed by others, which give us fresh cause for concern. There are considerable doubts, for example, concerning the situation created in Gagauzia by the appointment of an interim Chairman to the Executive Committee, and the democratic fairness of the forthcoming elections.

As for the proposed settlement between Moldova and Transnistria, there is good reason to fear that any agreement concluded may be used to restrict or side-line Gagauzia’s hard-won autonomy. We should not forget that Gagauzia’s autonomous status was exemplary in showing how, in a country with numerous minorities, a sensible solution could be found, and conflict avoided, concerning the status of one of them, without detriment to national sovereignty.

The setting-up of the Working Party for implementation of the CLRAE’s recommendation also raises questions, not only regarding the timing of that move, but also because new laws have been passed in the meantime, and the Government is enforcing, at least in certain areas, provisions in last year’s laws which the Constitutional Court rejected.

In the Congress, we shall thus be keeping a critical eye, not just on the elections, but also on the future development of local and regional democracy in Moldova. We are grateful for the support the Assembly has given us, particularly in Recommendation 1554.

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The reports submitted to the Congress are regularly discussed with the governments concerned at our so-called mini-sessions in November. At this year’s November mini-session, for example, we shall be getting new reports on the situation in Poland, Spain and Malta, and shall be discussing the state of local and regional democracy in Ukraine, Moldova, Greece, Yugoslavia and Hungary with government representatives. Next year, we shall also be preparing reports on the countries you are discussing today, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I can already tell you that the report on Azerbaijan will highlight a number of major problems. In Armenia, we shall be observing the local elections on 20 October. So far, we have produced a total of 30 monitoring reports.

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A few days ago, in connection with Luxembourg’s chairing of the Committee of Ministers, the Congress organised a conference in Luxembourg – which attracted wide attention – on the role of local authorities in combating terrorism. On this basis, we are willing to contribute to the success of the colloquy which you are holding in Paris in October, with a view to setting up a European observatory against violence and crime.

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Finally, I should like to suggest one way in which our already good working relationship with the Parliamentary Assembly could be made even better. We think it would be useful if the Assembly rapporteurs were present, and could join in the discussion, at meetings between CLRAE representatives and ministers or other government representatives. We would be grateful if you would consider this idea, and would then – if you agree - invite your rapporteurs to our sessions. We would be particularly happy to have your rapporteurs with us at our exchange of views with government representatives from Moldova on 15 November.

Here, I would particularly like to say how grateful we are that Congress rapporteurs have already been heard at various Assembly committee meetings.