Origins and history
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities grew out of the conviction that there was a need to give local, and subsequently regional, authorities a forum to have their say in the early stages of the process of European integration. Starting as a mere committee of the then Consultative Assembly in 1953, it subsequently became the “Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe” and was finally, in 1994, established as the “Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe”. Its remit is to assess the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in the 47 Council of Europe member states.
With two key dates – 1957, the date of the first session of the Conference of Local Authorities, and 1994, the birth of the present Congress – the path of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities illustrates the unanimous recognition by governments of local democracy as a cornerstone of the democratic system. Today, the Congress is a major player in fostering genuine grassroots democracy in the 47 Council of Europe member states.
1957: first session of the Conference of Local Authorities of Europe
In 1953, the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe – now the Parliamentary Assembly – set up a “Special Committee on Municipal and Regional Affairs”. Two years later, the Assembly requested the creation of a European conference of local elected representatives. The new body, which brought together 124 local elected representatives from 13 of the then 15 Council of Europe member states, sat for the first time in Strasbourg on 12 January 1957. Chaired by Frenchman Jacques Chaban-Delmas, it took the title “Conference of Local Authorities of Europe” and first met every two years, then every year. In 1975, it changed its name to “Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe” and in 1983 it became the “Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe” (CLRAE). [More...]
In the 1960s, the Conference mainly concerned itself with all the effects on local authorities of the process of European integration but it also took an interest in the issues of housing and urban renewal. It sought to encourage a sense of European identity in towns and cities, especially through twinnings. Forward-looking in the subjects it dealt with as well as in its policy approaches, for example with regard to subsidiarity and devolution, it was the first to propose, in 1978, a European definition of regions, showing that the latter can contribute to the harmonious development of Europe at both political and economic levels. Its work resulted in the European Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation, which, from 1980 onwards, enabled border regions to begin working together focusing on specific objectives.
At the same time, the CLRAE wanted a European charter that guaranteed local authorities’ rights and responsibilities vis-à-vis central government. The drafting work began in 1981, resulting in the adoption by the Committee of Ministers in 1985 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, in the legal form of a convention, which came into force in 1988. In 1992, the adoption of the European Urban Charter and, in particular the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages constituted the CLRAE’s two other major achievements prior to the extensive development of its role and structures.
1994: the CLRAE becomes the Congress
On 9 October 1993, the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe member states, meeting for their first Summit in Vienna (Austria), approved the creation of “a consultative organ genuinely representing both local and regional authorities in Europe”. This was the first official step in setting up the Congress, the direct successor of the CLRAE. In early 1994, this new body became a Council of Europe organ in its own right, officially tasked with representing the local and regional authorities. [More...]
Called “the Congress”, it is divided into two Chambers, one for the local authorities and the other for the regions, and was given new tasks and responsibilities, the most important of which were the monitoring of local and regional self-government in states that have ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the observation of local and regional elections in member states.
At the turn of the 1990s, the new Congress had much greater challenges to face than in the past. The former “Eastern Bloc” countries, almost all of which joined the Council of Europe from 1991 onwards, are still highly centralised and regard the Congress’s expertise as enormous help in the process of structural change. The Congress also became involved in the restoration of peace in former Yugoslavia by taking action at local level in particular, as it was later to do in the Southern Caucasus, where it set up “Local Democracy Agencies” and encouraged local elected representatives to engage in dialogue and work together.
Instruments for strengthening local and regional democracy
From 1997, the Congress worked on drawing up a “Reference Framework for Regional Democracy”. A genuine code of rights and duties of regional entities, it was approved in 2009 by the Ministers Responsible for Local and Regional Government. In 2003, the Congress adopted the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life. In addition, “European Local Democracy Week” was launched for the first time in 2007 on the Congress’s initiative. [More...]
The aim of this annual pan-European event is to raise awareness of local political life and invite citizens to engage in dialogue with their local councillors. One year later, paying heed to developments in urban policies, the Congress adopted the “European Urban Charter II - Manifesto for a new urbanity”. A further step forward was taken in 2009 with the opening for signature of an additional protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority.
From 2010 onwards, the Congress stepped up its activities relating to its specific tasks, first and foremost its monitoring visits and the observation of elections. Since 2015, a new, post-monitoring and post-observation procedure has made it possible to assist national authorities in improving the implementation of Congress recommendations through the signing of roadmaps. The co-operation programmes launched by the Congress in 2011 also provide practical support for local and regional elected representatives in several countries.
2013 marked the culmination of a long process aimed at establishing a harmonised legislative space for European local and regional democracy. With San Marino’s ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, all 47 Council of Europe member states are now covered by this international treaty.
Congress key dates
From 1952 to these days, the history of the Congress has been shaped by key dates, from the creation of the Special Committee on Municipal and Regional Affairs of the Parliamentary Assembly to the establishment of the Congress as a Council of Europe body representing local and regional authorities. The extension of the Congress's powers and its institution as a Council of Europe body by the Committee of Ministers is an illustration of the recognition by member states of the Congress as an essential actor in the construction of a local democracy in Europe. [More...]
1952 | 26 September
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe decides to set up a Special Committee on Municipal and Regional Affairs.
1953 | 18 October
The first General Assembly of European Municipalities, meeting in Versailles, adopts the "European Charter of Municipal Freedoms" and supported the proposal to create a European Conference of Local Authorities within the Council of Europe.
1955 | 14 October
On the proposal of its Committee on Communal and Regional Affairs, the Parliamentary Assembly decides to convene an annual "European Conference of Representatives of National Associations of Local Authorities".
1957 | 12 January
The first session of the "European Conference of Local Authorities" is opened in Strasbourg, under the chairmanship of Jacques CHABAN-DELMAS.
1961 | 13 September
The Committee of Ministers decides to set up the European Conference of Local Authorities on a biennial basis, declaring that "local authorities can make a substantial contribution to the achievement of the aims of the Council of Europe, as defined in Article 1 of its Statute".
1975 | 19 February
The Committee of Ministers decides to extend the competences of the "Conference" which becomes the "Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe".
1985 | 15 October
The European Charter of Local Self-Government is open for signature by the member states of the Council of Europe, on the occasion of the 20th Session of the European Conference of Local and Regional Authorities.
1988 | 1st September
The European Charter of Local Self-Government enters into force.
1992 | 18 March
Adoption by the Congress of the European Urban Charter, which sets out the principles of good urban governance.
1993 | 8 and 9 October
At the Vienna Summit, the Heads of State and Government of all Council of Europe member states approve the creation of a new body "authentically representing both local and regional authorities".
1993 | 1st October
Opening of the first Local Democracy Agency in Subotica (Serbia).
1994 | 14 January
The Committee of Ministers adopts a statutory resolution establishing the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities as a body representing local and regional authorities within the Council of Europe.
2000 | 15 March
By a statutory resolution, the Committee of Ministers instructs the Congress to prepare regular country-by-country reports on the situation of local and regional democracy in all member states and to ensure the application of the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
2003 | 21 May
The revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life is adopted by the Congress at its 10th Session.
2007 | 2 May
The Congress is mandated by a statutory resolution of the Committee of Ministers to prepare reports and recommendations following the observation of local and/or regional elections.
2007 | 15-22 October
The Congress organises the first "European Local Democracy Week" in the 47 member states, an annual event to promote local democracy among European citizens.
2008 | 29 May
The Congress adopts the Urban Charter II: "Manifesto for a new urbanity".
2009 - 16 November
The Additional Protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of local authorities is opened for signature by member states.
2011 | 19 April
The Committee of Ministers encourages the governments of member states to draw inspiration from the Reference Framework for Regional Democracy, presented by the Congress to the European Ministers responsible for local and regional government, at their meeting in Utrecht in November 2009.
2012 | 1st June
The Additional Protocol on the right to participate in the affairs of local authorities enters into force.
2013 | 23 October
The Republic of San Marino is the 47th and last State to ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which now applies in all Council of Europe member states.
2015 | 20 May
Congress President Jean-Claude FRECON signs a roadmap with the Ukrainian authorities following the first post-monitoring dialogue on the implementation of Congress recommendations.
2019 | 2 April
The Congress votes to grant the status of partner of local democracy to the Kingdom of Morocco.