Local and regional authorities bear the primary responsibility for all residents of their communities, regardless of their legal status – for ensuring protection of their rights and their access to public services, for promoting their integration into the host community and their participation in community affairs, and for developing harmonious relations between different cultural groups. As European cities are growing increasingly muti-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious, using this diversity for the benefit of the entire community has become a necessary condition for successful local development.
The Congress has been advocating the creation of proper frameworks facilitating migrants’ access to social rights such as housing, education, health care and employment, as well as the setting up of consultative councils of foreign residents at local and regional level and granting foreign residents the right to vote and stand in local elections.
The Congress’ work resulted in recommendations on the participation of foreign residents in local public life (2000), consultative councils of foreign residents (2002), “A pact for the integration and participation of people of immigrant origin in Europe’s towns, cities and regions” (2004), as well as on improving the integration of migrants through local housing policies (2008) and on equality and diversity in local authority employment and service provision (2009). The Congress helped to establish the Cities of Local Integration Policy (CLIP) Network, which today brings together some 40 cities from across Europe.
The Congress also co-organised conferences on the participation by foreign residents in public life at local level (Strasbourg, France, 5-6 November 1999), on foreigners' integration and participation in European cities (Stuttgart, Germany, 15-16 September 2003) and on integrating foreign residents into local public life: challenges and prospects (Strasbourg, France, 15 October 2010).
Over the past decade, the Congress has put forward a number of proposals aimed at developing dialogue and mutually beneficial relations between different cultural and religious groups at local level: such as recommendations Intercultural and inter-faith dialogue: initiatives and responsibilities of local authorities (2005), on intercultural and inter-religious dialogue: an opportunity for local democracy (2008), on developing intercultural municipal policies (2009) and on meeting the challenge of inter-faith and intercultural tensions at local level (2011). In 2006, the Congress elaborated 12 principles of interreligious dialogue for local authorities, which laid down the groundwork for its action to foster intercultural and interreligious dialogue and to build productive intercultural relations at the grassroots. Its activities resulted in recommendations for.
Since 2008, the Congress has been cooperating closely with the Intercultural Cities joint programme of the Council of Europe and the European Commission. It organised two round tables with participating municipalities, to examine the challenges of developing intercultural relations (March 2009) and building an inclusive local identity (March 2012).
The Congress has been a staunch advocate of the right of foreign residents to vote in stand in local elections, provided under the 1992 Council of Europe Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level. While only eight countries have ratified the Convention to date (two of which with reservations as to not to grant this right), and five others signed but not yet ratified it, more than 20 European countries currently give this right to non-EU residents (with or without the right to stand in elections), some on the basis of their bilateral agreements with other countries. Some countries grant this right on a reciprocal basis, so it is limited to certain categories of foreign residents only. Most countries require a minimum time of residence before the right is granted, while some others do not. The 1992 Convention provides for the right of foreigners to vote and to stand in local elections after five years of residence.