25th Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
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President Van Staa,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is good to have this exchange with you, in these challenging times, but also, as
I understand, in a moment when you are in a celebratory mood. The ratification by San Marino of the European Charter of Local Self-Government means that 100% of the Council of Europe "territory" is now covered by the provisions of the Charter.
We now have truly pan-European coverage and one single legal space for the local
self-government in Europe and I congratulate you on this achievement.
It is now important to ensure full and coherent implementation of these standards.
A common legal space also means consistency in the application of standards and achieving the Charter's implementation without reservations – a 100% Charter, as you say in the Congress – is an ambitious endeavour.
What we notice today is that the Council of Europe, our benchmarks and our assistance, are more than ever needed, but the resources are scarcer than ever before, and this affects the way we work.
Let me briefly update you on where we are at this particular moment in time. When
I took up my office as the Secretary General just over four years ago, I encountered several challenges.
One of it was to update the legal arsenal of the Council of Europe – Conventions: which allow us to combine robust law enforcement responses to cross-border threats with clear human rights safeguards. We have added two new protocols to the Europe Convention on Human Rights, aimed at improving the efficiency of the Court, new Conventions but also prioritised the list of treaties, allowing us to focus on the most important ones.
My other priority was to look at the functioning of monitoring mechanisms.
These mechanisms, like the Charter of Local Self-Government, are key assets of our organisation. I felt that we have not been able to exploit the full potential of the monitoring because of the insufficient co-ordination and sporadic follow-up to their findings. All in all, in addition to the Congress, but also the Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe counts over ten evaluation and monitoring mechanisms, conducting visits and producing regular monitoring reports. Without co-ordination there was a risk of overlap and duplication but also of what is called "monitoring fatigue" in our member States.
In order to remedy this, we have put in place a number of measures to help reduce the burden for the member States.
The other, much more difficult challenge is to improve the follow-up to our monitoring. The monitoring recommendations are useful only if followed through and implemented, by the member States in co-operation with us.
This is perhaps one of the most important parts of the reforms but also the most demanding, requiring a change of attitude and culture of doing things differently, but also a decentralisation of resources in the field.
The work of better connecting our monitoring mechanisms with our work in the field is one of fundamental importance and is still not finished. The objective is not to shame and blame any country for the shortcomings, but to establish a constructive dialogue with the authorities, on the basis of the findings of the monitoring bodies.
Last May the Committee of Ministers asked me to present a yearly report on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, based on the findings of the monitoring mechanisms, accompanied by proposals for action. The first step in preparation of such a report has just been completed for the 47 member States of the Council of Europe. Based on the data from our monitoring instruments, we have a country-by-country analysis identifying three key challenges per country. Individual country profiles are now sent to each of the member states and should serve as the guiding lines of our future co-operation.
The reforms you have undertaken here in the Congress have largely echoed the general reform efforts and I am glad to see the results today.
I appreciate in particular the steps taken by the Congress to broaden political dialogue with member states at national, local and regional levels. In this regard, I welcome your decision to develop post-monitoring dialogue in order to work on the issues raised in your recommendations, and to help the authorities with their implementation. I believe you are going in the right direction.
At the same time, I would like to see a further increase of the co-operation programmes of the Congress but also their better integration with the different actors within the Council of Europe, such as a stronger involvement of the Congress in the country-specific Action Plan.
It is also my strong belief that you have an important role to play in countering a number of rather worrying trends which we observe in Europe today, such as the rise in extremism, hate speech and denigration of minorities.
You will not have failed to notice the importance which I put on the need to address the situation of the Roma in Europe.
The dull statistics show that, despite countless programmes, budgets and NGOs, Europe is failing in its integration of Roma. We are FAILING in making the largest European minority a full-fledged member of our societies.
Old habits die hard. We saw last week how all these structured and carefully crafted efforts of combatting anti-gypsyism seem to be easily wiped out by a story around medieval stereotypes of child-stealing. A catchy media story with abusive generalisations and we risk being taken a step back. During my last address to you in spring, I mentioned the high hopes that I had from the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, launched by the Congress. This is an opportunity not to be missed. I am glad to see that the programme is now being rolled out together with the local authorities. I know that many municipalities are committed to do their utmost in their struggle for integration, but feel alone and poorly equipped. They need your support, expertise and resources.
We must help them get the resources, offer all the backing they need and mobilise others to follow suit. This in fact has been the underlying general objective of the reforms which I launched in the Council of Europe. I am glad to see that it is producing concrete and measurable results.
I could also perhaps mention your co-operation with both the intergovernmental sector and the Parliamentary Assembly in the "One in Five" Campaign, which has been recently boosted with the launch of your own campaign to promote the Pact of Towns and Regions to Stop Sexual Violence against Children.
The Congress' action today is more in synch with that of the whole Organisation, addressing common political priorities: such as your co-operation on reform processes in Morocco and Tunisia, and elaborating a "partner for local democracy" status to be granted to those countries' delegations, or the activities in Belarus.
There is a great potential for synergies there, and I welcome your initiative to organise a seminar on the European Charter of Local Self-Government in Minsk. I believe that Congress members can and should act as messengers and good-will ambassadors for local self-government through their involvement in activities in Belarus.
Your alignment to the common priorities is also reflected in the debates during this session.
I welcome the fact that you chose to discuss political extremism at local and regional level. It is a particularly timely discussion. Extremism and hate speech must be countered at all levels of government and within all sectors of society.