Opening Session of the Ukrainian event on decentralisation

Strasbourg , 

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Ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies

Thank you all for being here to discuss Ukraine’s decentralisation reforms – which are a key plank of our joint Action Plan with the country. 

Reports of heavy fighting in the east of the country, this week, have reminded us of the fragile nature of peace and stability in Ukraine.

The loss of life and worsening humanitarian situation for many citizens, including children, is unacceptable.

I, like many in the international community, urge all sides to respect the ceasefire as defined in the Minsk agreement.

And I would like to repeat here something I have held since the beginning of this crisis: that Ukraine urgently needs an inclusive and sustainable political settlement on which lasting peace can be built.

Decentralisation remains a major part of that.

Almost two years ago I signed, with Deputy Prime Minister Zubko, a statement of intent outlining our commitment to this agenda.

Since then some important steps have been taken, which we should acknowledge today.

Key legislation has been developed and is making its way through the Verhovna Rada.

368 local communities are now benefitting from the restructuring of local government.

The process of decentralising fiscal decision making is also underway.

The Council of Europe continues to support the reforms by providing legal expertise. And by helping Ukraine benefit from the wider European experience – in which decentralising power very much goes with the grain. 

The lesson from Europe is that decentralisation is not a purely administrative task.

It is about a change in mindset at all levels of government and among the public. It involves careful institution building. It also creates clear expectations among citizens – and these need to be met in order to avoid disappointment.

Recent polls suggest that over two thirds of Ukrainian citizens expect decentralisation to reduce corruption. Many believe it should improve public services.

And many in the country, and in the wider international community, also know that these reforms will have a direct impact on stability, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Hence why it is so important that the principles underpinning Ukraine’s decentralisation programme are firmly rooted in the country’s constitution, in a way which commands broad consensus.

We strongly believe that giving decentralisation an inclusive, constitutional basis would help the reconciliation process, and would help unite the country.

Public support for decentralisation is strong and has grown over the last year. But many believe that reform is too slow. And it is true that we need to build momentum.

The Council of Europe will continue to support Ukraine’s decentralisation process, in order to ensure that the country’s laws comply fully with the principles of the European Charter of Local Self Government.

We are committed to this agenda – through our Action Plan, which remains the biggest of its kind – and I would like to thank our partners for being here today and for our excellent co-operation. The Foreign Ministry, and also the Ministry of Regional Development, the Verhovna Rada Specialised Committee and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. The many donors supporting the Action Plan also deserve our sincere thanks.

Last year I appointed, at the authorities request, Mr Dan Popescu, head of our Centre of expertise on local government, to act as the Council of Europe Special Advisor to the Government of Ukraine on Decentralisation. Mr Popescu, who will moderate today’s session, continues to provide. technical and legal advice to both MinRegion and the Rada’s Committee.

Our Organisation is also now working with the authorities in the government controlled areas in Donbas, based on a recent agreement with the Donetsk State Administration. Such new requests for co-operation are very encouraging. They have my full support – although further resources may need to be mobilised, through the Action Plan, in order to satisfy all the demands.

I hope that today our commitment is clear. We see decentralisation as central to a stable and prosperous future for our member state – and we will do everything we can to help Ukraine complete this journey.