The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the guarantor of local and regional democracy in Europe
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is a pan-European political assembly, the 636 members of which hold elective office (they may be regional or municipal councillors, mayors or presidents of regional authorities) representing over 200,000 authorities in 47 European states.
Its role is to promote local and regional democracy, improve local and regional governance and strengthen authorities' self-government. It pays particular attention to application of the principles laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It encourages the devolution and regionalisation processes, as well as transfrontier co-operation between cities and regions.
On the ground, the Congress gauges the situation of local democracy
The Congress conducts regular monitoring visits to all member states to appraise their implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. After these visits the Congress sets out conclusions in its monitoring reports and adopts recommendations which the governments are required to follow, as well as resolutions with a view to improving the governance of local and regional authorities.
This monitoring activity provides a sound basis for constructive political dialogue with member states' governments. Through its activities, the Congress encourages them to take account of the local and regional dimension and to involve local and regional authorities fully in their political decisions. It also ensures that the subsidiarity principle is respected, a principle which ensures that some responsibilities and financial resources are transferred from central to local and regional authorities. Much legislative reform has been carried out by member states on the basis of the findings set out in Congress monitoring reports.
An observer of local and regional elections
The Congress periodically observes local and regional elections in the Council of Europe's 47 member states. Its observation duties extend to the whole election process and go hand in hand with its monitoring of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
The specific role of the local and regional elected representatives who, as members of the Congress, observe local and regional elections fosters the legitimacy and credibility of the election process at local and regional level. Election observation, which covers both the campaign and the ballot, provides an opportunity to engage in top-level co-operation with representatives of the national authorities and political parties and groups, as well as with electoral commissions, the media and NGOs.
The reports written after Congress election observation missions afford an opportunity to assess not only the situation prior to the day of the ballot, taking into account the specific political and societal context, but also the legal conditions and organisation of the ballot, and to describe the relevant facts observed on election day and the following days.
Under its agreement with the European Union's Committee of the Regions, the delegations sent by the Congress also include some members of the Committee of the Regions. In addition, observation missions may be carried out in co-operation with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission.
The results of the work of the Congress: conventions and charters
Since it was set up, the Congress has drawn up a number of international treaties, including the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which has become the international benchmark in this field, laying down common European standards to protect local authorities' rights.
Partner networks and associations
The European states which have ratified the Charter are under an obligation to comply with a number of conditions, principles and practices in this field. Opened for signature in 1985, the Charter came into force in 1988 and has, to date, been ratified by 45 of the Council of Europe's 47 member states.
On 16 November 2009, an Additional Protocol was adopted to supplement the text of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It relates to the right to participate in local authorities' affairs. [CETS n° 207]
Among the Congress' other legal instruments and benchmark texts are:
- European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation
between Territorial Communities or Authorities (1980) [CETS n° 106];
- Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level
(1992) [CETS n° 144];
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992) [CETS n° 148];
- European Urban Charter (1992);
- European Charter on the participation of young people in local and regional life
- European Code of conduct for the political integrity of local and regional
elected representatives (1999);
- European Landscape Convention (2000) [CETS n° 176].
The Congress plays an active part in projects to strengthen local democracy and transfrontier co-operation in Europe and encourages the setting up of national associations of local and regional authorities, Local Democracy Agencies and the new kind of Euroregion.
National associations of local and regional authorities
The task of such associations is to defend, at national level, the interests of all local authorities and to foster the development of a partnership culture between local and central authorities. The Congress plays an active part in the setting up of this kind of association (as it has done, for instance, in Georgia and Azerbaijan). In addition, it supports the development of the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS).
A training network
The Congress plays a part in improving local authorities' skills through the introduction of appropriate training courses, particularly through the network known as ENTO, the European Network of Training Organisations for Local and Regional Authorities, which offers assistance and specialised training to the countries of central and eastern Europe.
Local Democracy Agencies
The Congress initiated the setting up of Local Democracy Agencies (LDAs), which promote human rights and democracy, transfrontier co-operation, intercultural dialogue and local development in south-eastern Europe and the South Caucasus. They set up partnerships between local and regional authorities and NGOs throughout Europe, and co-operate with each other through the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA).
A new kind of Euroregion
The Congress supports transfrontier and local and regional co-operation in the Council of Europe's 47 member states, inter alia through the creation of a new kind of Euroregion involving authorities from European Union member and non-member states. These Euroregions enable political and economic links to be strengthened between national, regional and local authorities in EU member states, EU candidate countries and other European countries which are members of the Council of Europe. The Adriatic Euroregion was set up in 2006, and the Black Sea Euroregion in 2008, at the initiative of the Congress.