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(To be checked against delivered speech)

Speech by Giovanni Di Stasi, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

26 April 2005

Chairman/ President, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am greatly honoured to speak to you today, on behalf of the Congress, which represents local and regional authorities within the Council of Europe, throughout the European continent, covering the 46 out of 47 European countries, with the exception of Belarus. Belarus, as we all know, is far from being ready to share our values and commitments, with respect to the rule of law, pluralist democracy and the respect of human rights.

The process of revising the 1992 European Charter on the Participation of young people in local and regional life is a direct result of the request made by the Krakow Conference in March 2002. This Conference was organised on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the first version of the European Charter which was adopted by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in 1992.

Our objective was to adapt and to amend the 1992 European Youth Charter in order to make it respond to the challenges of the 21st century. This new tool, the revised Charter which was adopted by the Congress in May 2003, is at your disposal.

This revised Charter has a more logical structure and it has been divided into three sections.

The first section provides local and regional authorities with guidelines on how to conduct policies which affect young people in a number of areas. The second part lists ways of increasing the participation of young people. Finally, the third section gives advice on how to provide institutional conditions for the participation of young people.

The revised Charter contains new chapters on new policy areas, and on others that have gained in importance, with a view to encouraging the participation of young people in local and regional life. An example of the former is the information society, and the use of the Internet, which has become an extremely powerful means of developing youth participation. The revised Charter recognises the enormous potential that that these new technologies provide in promoting the participation of young people, but is also recognises the risk of excluding people who do not have access to them.

Urban insecurity and violence have greatly increased during the past decade. The Congress wishes to emphasise the need to find new ways of dealing with these issues, not only by raising awareness in this respect, but by encouraging direct involvement of young people in the political decision making process, in their neighbourhoods and cities. Young people involved in local politics will have a different perception of violent actions perpetuated by small groups against the majority of people living in disadvantaged and urban areas.

The active participation of young people in decision-making and action at a local and regional level is essential in building more democratic, inclusive and prosperous societies.

Inclusion and not exclusion is, according to our understanding, the right approach to strive for a positive change in our societies.

Participation in the democratic life of a community is more than just voting or running for election. Participation and active citizenship is about having the right, the means, the space and the opportunity and, where necessary, the support to participate in, and influence decisions, engage in actions and activities to help contribute to building a better and a more equitable society.

Local and regional authorities have an extremely important role to play in promoting youth participation. Local and regional authorities need to ensure that young people not only hear and learn about democracy and citizenship, but also have the opportunity to get actively involved.

Youth participation is not only about developing citizens who are actively involved or building democracies for the future. In order for participation to be meaningful for young people, it is also vital that they can influence and shape decisions and actions when they are young and not only at some later stage in life. This gives young people the chance to share responsibility for their own future and not to leave the decision making process to the older generation, or specific interest groups, which might not be eager to deal with the views and needs of a younger generation.

It is particularly important to ensure that all youth have a real possibility of participating and not only those who are naturally inclined and have easy access to means that enable them to be active in society. Special measures should be undertaken to support the participation of young people from all different walks of life, who, for one reason or another, have particular difficulties getting involved in local and regional life.

When local and regional authorities support and promote youth participation, they also contribute to the social integration of young people, helping them to deal not only with the challenges and pressures of youth, but also with the challenges of a modern society where anonymity and individualism and materialism are often difficult issued to deal with.

Any policy or action designed to promote youth participation must ensure that the cultural environment respects youth and takes into account the different needs, circumstances and aspirations of young people. It should also, as stated in the preamble of the Charter, involve some type of “fun” or “enjoyable” element.

I would also like to emphasise that Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), whatever their aims, have a fundamental role to play in promoting participation of young people as citizens.

At the Krakow Conference young speakers called for a more powerful document promoting youth participation. That, of course, is nothing short of what should be expected of experienced politicians.

Allow me to highlight what is written in paragraph 10 b in the draft Resolution: The Congress invites its Members to use the Charter as a reference document and a source of inspiration in their everyday work with a bearing on young people.

I am sure we can agree that the direct involvement of youth in the affairs of society remains essential, as a safeguard to democracy and sustainable development and that involvement of young people is essential in maintaining the legitimacy of democratic decision-making.

For my part, I am convinced that the Charter provides effective guidelines and will motivate local and regional authorities to pursue policies affecting young people and also to implement more ways of increasing participation.

I am extremely pleased to see that this revised Charter, which was prepared and updated by the Congress in close co-operation with eminent representatives of youth NGOs, has created so much interest from your side.

I truly wish that this text will become a living document, and a great means of increasing the participation and the involvement of youth in local and regional political life.