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

Mr Chair,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to convey the voice of local and regional authorities, a voice which is still insufficiently heard but which, I firmly believe, is essential to the concert of 46 nations you are representing here.

I am the sole, but staunch representative here of some 200,000 municipalities, regions, counties and special-status communities, forming a mosaic of varieties of administrative institutions that reflect all our identities.
I myself am an elected representative of a region of Italy, Molise, that some of you have perhaps not heard of but which has a strong personality, a pronounced identity and the kind of day-to-day grassroots democracy that is a key aspect of our nations’ diversity and wealth.

The message I want to put across on this formal occasion attended by so many eminent European political figures is the message of local democracy and local self-government. In the past, dialogue between central government and the autonomous local level has not always been easy.
That has changed and I know that all of you understand the importance of local democracy.

Firstly, many of you began your political lives at that level, which is where we served our apprenticeships as practitioners of democracy.

The Council of Europe has had a pioneering role in the evolutionary process that was needed to promote this vital dimension of modern democracy. Our particular focus has been on the necessary distribution of powers and responsibilities between the national, regional and local levels in accordance with the subsidiarity principle.

And indeed that principle was first recognised in 1985, in the European Charter of Local Self-Government whose twentieth aniversary we celebrate this year. Forty-one of our forty-six member states have ratified the charter, an indication of the progress, in terms of intellectual acceptance and actual practice, that local self-government has made as a basic ingredient of democracy.
It is now clear to all of us that there can be no democracy without local democracy, and allow me to add that, in the political context of our democracies, which are plainly undergoing a crisis of change which we can see in the upsurge of extremist movements, the level of electoral abstention and widespread public anxiety about globalisation – in that context local democracy is a key to revitalising our democratic culture.

We are convinced – and here I address the Heads of State and Government present today – that you will decide to fully exploit the potential of the Congress by reinforcing it to meet the new challenges and play its part in implementing the action plan you intend adopting.