The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Local and regional democracy: a means of greater freedom
The Council took its first step towards local authority representation in 1957 and since then its work has extended from Iceland to the Russian Federation and from Norway to the Balkans.
In 1994, the Council of Europe established the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe as a consultative body to replace the former Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. It works on the basis of Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
The role of the Congress
- is the voice of Europe’s regions and municipalities in the Council of Europe;
- provides a forum where local and regional elected representatives can discuss common problems, pool their experience and express their views to governments;
- advises the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on all aspects of local and regional policy;
- co-operates closely with national and international organisations representing local and regional government;
- organises hearings and conferences at local and regional levels to reach a wider public whose involvement is essential to a working democracy;
- prepares regular country-by-country reports on the state of local and regional democracy in all the Council’s member states;
- monitors in particular the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government;
- helps new member states with the practical aspects of their progress towards establishing effective local and regional self-government.
New realities, new goals
The emergence of new states from varying political and economic backgrounds has meant that the Congress’s objectives have had to be reviewed and reformulated to include:
- promoting effective local and regional government structures in all Council of Europe member states, especially in the new democracies;
- examining the state of local and regional democracy in member and applicant states;
- developing initiatives to enable citizens to participate effectively in local and regional democracy;
- representing the interests of local and regional government in the shaping of European policy;
- encouraging regional and cross-border co-operation for peace, tolerance and sustainable development in order to safeguard our regions for future generations;
- encouraging the setting up of Euro-regions;
- observing local and regional elections.
A two-chamber assembly
The Congress comprises two chambers: the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions. The two-chamber assembly has 318 full members and 318 substitute members, each of whom is an elected representative from one of over 200,000 local and regional authorities in the Council’s member states. The Congress appoints its President from the members of each Chamber on an alternating basis. The President remains in office for two ordinary sessions.
Since 2009 the Congress holds two plenary sessions in Strasbourg, in spring and autumn, where it welcomes delegations from accredited European organisations and some non-member states as special guests or observers.
The Standing Committee, drawn from all national delegations, meets during the autumn and the spring sessions at the same time as the various committees and it acts on behalf of the Congress in the periods between sessions.
The Congress divides its work up amongst four statutory committees:
- the Institutional Committee, which has the particular task of preparing reports on the progress of local and regional democracy in Europe and is assisted by a Committee of independent experts;
- the Committee on Culture and Education, responsible for media, youth, sport and communication;
- the Committee on Sustainable Development, responsible for environmental affairs and spatial and urban planning;
- the Committee on Social Cohesion, responsible for issues concerning employment, citizenship, migration, inter-community relations, equality between women and men, and solidarity.
The Chamber of Regions also has a special Working Group on Regions with Legislative Power. The Chief Executive of the Congress is responsible for the budgetary management and for directing some 40 staff members of the Congress Secretariat.
European Network of Training Organisations for Local and Regional Authorities (ENTO)
This network provides expert help and training for central and east European nations lacking managerial experience and technical skills. The ENTO network promotes co-operation between local and regional government training centres and links national organisations with their counterparts in other countries.
There is a special support programme for local and regional democracy in central and eastern Europe. This programme gives priority to assistance in drafting local government legislation. It offers training and expert guidance in local institutional reform and includes workshops, study visits and courses on health care in cities, fiscal independence and local government funding.
Local Democracy Agencies (LDAs)
Established in 1993 as part of the peace process in the former Yugoslavia, LDAs form a partnership between a particular authority in the region and local authorities elsewhere in Europe. They promote respect for human rights and democracy, cross-border co-operation, inter-cultural dialogue and local development.
The Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations
The Council of Europe’s work benefits extensively from contacts and co-operation with the dynamic elements of society as represented by NGOs. One of the main challenges currently facing the Organisation is to strengthen NGOs and civil society in the new member states and to develop participatory democracy on a pan-European basis. The Council of Europe’s co-operation programmes rely on partner NGOs and focus on democratic reform.
The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe’s Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations (INGOs) is made up of INGOs with participatory status at the Council of Europe. Through this status, the Council of Europe includes INGOs in intergovernmental activities and encourages dialogue of members of parliament and local and regional authorities with associations on major social issues.
Consultative and participatory status
INGOs have been able to acquire consultative status with the organisation since 1952. In November 2003, this was upgraded to participatory status for international NGOs, recognising their significance in Council of Europe policy making. This status is governed by Committee of Ministers’ Resolution (2003)8. INGOs wishing to obtain such status must be particularly representative in their field(s); they must share the Council’s objectives for Europe and contribute actively to its work. To date, approximately 400 INGOs hold such status. They form the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, which meets three to four times a year to decide on general lines of action.
Structure of the the INGOs
The Standing Committee is responsible for co-ordination between the Conference of INGOs and its Committees and Transversal Groups, and ensures consistency of the Committees and Transversal Groups’ work and compliance with the major policy lines defined by the Conference. It has a consultative and proposal-making role vis-à-vis the Conference of INGOs and its Bureau. It meets during the sessions of the Conference of INGOs which coincide with the sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The Bureau prepares the agenda for the meetings of the Conference of INGOs and its Standing Committee and implements the decisions taken by these two bodies. It also implements the internal and external communication policy of the Conference of INGOs defined by the Standing Committee.
A Liaison Committee elected by the Conference meets regularly, promoting permanent dialogue and co-operation between the Council’s Secretariat and the INGOs. It maintains close contact with the Council’s political bodies – the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Commissioner for Human Rights.
INGOs with participatory status have set up five committees (civil society and democracy; culture, science and education; human rights; social cohesion and eradication of poverty; sustainable territorial development) and two transversal groups (gender equality; Europe and global challenges) which meet four times a year in Strasbourg. The Groupings maintain a regular dialogue with Council of Europe representatives, receiving first hand information on the Council’s activities and contributing their collective know-how to their implementation.
Different forms of co-operation
Co-operation with INGOs takes many forms, from simple consultation to full-scale co-operation on specific projects. INGO experts may participate in various projects as consultants; they may contribute to the work of intergovernmental committees on an institutionalized or ad-hoc basis, prepare memoranda for the Secretary General, make oral or written statements to the committees of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and address seminars and other meetings organised by the Council of Europe.
INGOs enjoying participatory status also disseminate information about the Council of Europe’s aims and activities among their constituencies.
In November 2003, the participatory status for international NGOs was supplemented by a partnership between the Council of Europe and national NGOs (Resolution (2003)9), reflecting their vital role in strengthening a democratic and open society in all member states and their active and constructive contribution to the Council of Europe’s work program.
Participation in the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe
The Congress plays an active part in projects for strengthening local democracy and cross-border co-operation in south-eastern Europe; to this end it set up an ad hoc Working Group of Local and Regional Representatives of South-East Europe with particular responsibility for following up Stability Pact activities.
It lends its supports to:
- the organisation of the annual Forums of Cities and Regions of South-East Europe;
- the development of the National Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS) network;
- the setting up of an interactive database on partnerships with municipalities and regions in south-east Europe;
- the preparation of a policy statement on cross-border co-operation between local and regional authorities in south-east Europe.
Clear legislative guidelines to assist with the framing of policies
The European Charter of Local Self-Government (1985) sets out the principle that effective local self-government is essential to democracy. The Charter serves as a model for legislative reform in the new democracies. Some states have already incorporated its principles into their constitutions.
The European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities (1980) and its two Additional Protocols recognise the right of local and regional authorities to co-operate across frontiers in providing public services and environmental protection.
The European Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level (1992) puts forward the principle of granting civil and political rights progressively to foreign residents, including the right to vote.
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (1992) aims to preserve regional and minority languages as a unique component of Europe’s cultural heritage, extending their use in law, in schools, in public, cultural, economic and social life and in the media.
The European Landscape Convention (2000) sets forth an obligation for public authorities to adopt policies and measures at local, regional, national and international level to protect, manage and plan landscapes throughout Europe.
The European Urban Charter (1992) defines citizens’ rights in European towns and cities. It provides a practical guide to good urban management, covering housing, urban architecture, transport, energy, sport and leisure, pollution and street security.
The Charter on the Participation of Young People in Municipal and Regional Life (1992), revised in 2003, sets out guidelines to encourage young people to play their part in decisions affecting them and to be involved actively in social changes in their neighbourhood, municipality or region.
The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers is currently considering a number of other texts:
- the draft Charter on Mountain Regions, setting out guidelines for reconciling development and conservation in mountain regions;
- the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government, complementing the European Charter of Local Self-Government;
- the draft Charter on Citizens’ Rights and Responsibilities.
Member states and their representation
Albania (4), Andorra (2), Armenia (4), Austria (6), Azerbaijan (6), Belgium (7), Bosnia and Herzegovina (5), Bulgaria (6), Croatia (5), Cyprus (3), Czech Republic (7), Denmark (5), Estonia (3), Finland (5), France (18), Georgia (5), Germany (18), Greece (7), Hungary (7), Iceland (3), Ireland (4), Italy (18), Latvia (3), Liechtenstein (2), Lithuania (4), Luxembourg (3), Malta (3), Moldova (5), Monaco (2), Montenegro (3), Netherlands (7), Norway (5), Poland (12), Portugal (7), Romania (10), Russian Federation (18), San Marino (2), Serbia (7), Slovakia (5), Slovenia (3), Spain (12), Sweden (6), Switzerland (6), “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia“ (3), Turkey (12), Ukraine (12), United Kingdom (18).