“The role and responsibilities of local authorities in tackling terrorism” – CLRAE conference in Luxembourg - 20 to 21 September 2002 

Statement by Lydie Polfer

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, Chairperson of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers

(Check against delivery)

21 September 2002

Mr Chairman,
President of the Chamber of Local Authorities,
Vice-Presidents and members of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe,
Mayors and members of municipalities,
Experts and specialists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities for the close co-operation that has been established with the Chair in organising the conference that has just taken place in this chamber.

At the annual plenary session of the CLRAE in Strasbourg, at the beginning of June, I told Europe’s local and regional representatives how much importance I attached to this well-focused event, which fits in neatly with the Council of Europe’s wider campaign against terrorism.

The specialised skills of the Council of Europe and its extensive body of conventions must be used to the full, in co-operation with other relevant organisations and institutions, while focusing on three main areas, namely closer co-operation in the legal field, the preservation of core values and investment in democracy and civil society.

The fact that local elected representatives and specialists have gathered here – as part of the programme of the Luxembourg Chair – to exchange views and share experience in crisis prevention and management and to jointly identify ways of improving the protection and, hence, security, of citizens, gives me tremendous satisfaction. Not least because I myself was in charge of municipal affairs in the host town for eighteen years.

Ladies and gentlemen.

My colleagues have been telling me about the high calibre of yesterday’s speeches, but also about the numerous points of agreement that emerged in the course of the debates, on a wide range of key issues in the urban sphere.

As regards emergency plans and security systems to meet citizens’ basic security needs, the keywords were: information, co-ordination, operational networking between policy-makers, security and civil protection agencies and those working on the ground. When it comes to prevention policies, no less than when responding to emergencies, responsibilities must be clearly defined, any decisions taken must be clear and prompt, and the chain of command must leave nothing to chance.

Our citizens must be able to see for themselves the determination and commitment on the part of those who are responsible for their everyday environment, including and indeed especially in times of crisis. Several speakers, including Mr Lhota, former Deputy Mayor of New York, have demonstrated the importance of this fact.

Even though it is very difficult to prepare for the unexpected, it appears from your debates that simulation exercises and forward planning based around “disaster scenarios” are of major importance.

Ladies and gentlemen.

The 11th September 2001 has – alas – taught us that even the most far-fetched theories can become horribly real.

Co-operation at national and local level, with due regard for each other’s competencies, is essential too. Preventive action requires firm mutual support between all levels of government. It also requires better public awareness.

Something else which clearly emerged from the conference discussions is the need for liaison and exchanges of information at crossborder, regional, European and even international level. These links exist in various shapes and forms; it is important that better use be made of these partnerships, in the light of the new security situation, and, where appropriate, that more emphasis be given to the operational aspect, far more than what might have been considered appropriate in the past.

Although, clearly, the protection of public areas and sensitive sites (airports, stations, high-risk industrial plants, etc) is at least partly – and for obvious reasons – confidential, we can all of us appreciate the information provided by experts in the field, who have given us a practical insight into the realities and security issues that need to be taken into account. We are thus all the more able to appreciate their particular responsibilities and what their job involves on a day-to-day basis.

Ladies and gentlemen.

One subject which is particularly close to my heart and which attracted considerable attention during the conference session that was devoted to it, is the fight against exclusion and promoting tolerance.

Without wishing to make a direct causal connection between terrorism, on the one hand, and deprivation, poverty and the alienation of the poorest sections of society on the other, I, like you, am afraid of this deep frustration that stems from rejection and suspicion of others. I therefore remain convinced that a deepening and widening of multicultural and inter-faith dialogue coupled with a determined policy of inclusion and education in tolerance would go a long way towards gradually reducing the climate of suspicion, revenge and violence on which terrorism feeds.

In this respect, politicians from all levels of government, be it local, regional or national, have a fundamental part to play, in the same way as European and international institutions.

The Council of Europe, whose humanist values provide a response to the numerous challenges facing our societies and their leaders, seems to me to be a key partner.

Mr Chairman,
President of the Chamber of Local Authorities,
Members of the Congress,
Experts and specialists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to thank you most sincerely for the active and constructive part that you have played in this conference, which in my view constitutes an important stage in the new understanding that we have of each other’s responsibility in the fight against terrorism and in protecting the welfare of our fellow citizens.

The conclusions reached at this conference accurately reflect, in my opinion, the main points identified by the participants and deserve the full attention of those for whom they are intended.

I will have an opportunity to return to this subject – together with President Skaar, of the Chamber of Local Authorities – at the press conference which is to be held in a moment.

While thanking you once again, and expressing my gratitude to the host country authorities, I declare the conference closed.