Congress Plenary Session

Strasbourg , 

Embargo until delivery / Check against delivery

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to give my first institutional speech as Secretary General of the Council of Europe to the Plenary Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

As for many politicians, my belief in the importance of local democracy is not based on theory, but on practical experience. Some 34 years ago I started my political career as a member of the Buskerud County Council and it was then and there that I received my first and most precious lessons in politics, democracy and -participation.

It is at the local level that politicians are most directly confronted with the needs, wishes and complaints of the people they represent. Politicians are always under pressure to deliver results, but it is at the local level that this pressure is perhaps most concrete, constant and direct.

It is because of the importance of local democracy for democracy in general that the Congress has such an important place in the institutional set-up of the Council of Europe. Our organisation would not be complete without a strong component of local and regional representation. We are committed to promoting local self-government that meets the needs of the citizens wherever they may be. And we will certainly continue to do so.

But the Congress is not only to represent local and regional democratic institutions at the European level. You also have a very important role to monitor the functioning of grassroots democracy in all of our 47 member states. You have a mandate to assess the functioning of local and regional democracy through regular country monitoring, fact-finding missions and the observation of local and regional elections in Europe.

This component of your work is high on the agenda of this plenary sitting, during which you will review the situation of local and regional democracy in Turkey. You will also look into some transversal issues with a direct impact on democratic participation and which will influence the life of our citizens in the near future, such as e-democracy, the role of regions in the sustainability of households and the functioning of multilevel governance. I assure you that I will follow your discussions - and especially the outcome of your discussions - with great interest.

This plenary session is also of particular importance since it also combines two festive events: your contribution to the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Council of Europe and the fact that it takes place during the European Local Democracy Week. I will have the privilege of closing the European Local Democracy Week in Strasbourg, which is one of the pilot cities of the Week, together with the Mayor of Strasbourg at the end of this week.

Dear Members of the Congress,

I was elected with a strong mandate to reinforce the role and the influence of the Council of Europe on the European and international scene. My objective is to make this great organisation even more relevant, efficient and effective in carrying out its mission to defend and extend human rights , the rule of law and democracy – including local and regional democracy.

Every single part of the organisation can and will contribute to this and I count on the support of the Congress in this endeavour.

Let me conclude with what I said in my meeting with the staff of the Council of Europe yesterday - I have run for the post of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe because I believe that it is excellent organisation – and because I believe that - together – we can make it even better.

Thank you very much.