Strasbourg, 11.04.2006 – “I very much welcome the report on relations between the EU and the Council of Europe, prepared by Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, and I congratulate Prime Minister Juncker on the excellent work which he has done,” Giovanni Di Stasi, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, stated today.
“This report opens a new chapter in cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe, including the Council of Europe Congress,” he said. “I welcome in particular the positive assessment given to the role of the Congress in reinforcing territorial democracy in Europe,” continued President Di Stasi.
“I am particularly pleased to see that Prime Minister Juncker supported the Congress’ recent initiatives, namely the creation of the Adriatic and Black Sea Euro-regions and the establishment of a Council of Europe Centre on inter-regional and transborder cooperation in St Petersburg,” said the President. “I am also pleased that Mr Juncker has a positive view of the possible joint action of EU and the Congress in South-East Europe and South Caucasus,” he added.
“I am sure that the recommendations contained in the report will give a fresh impetus to the cooperation between the Congress and the EU Committee of the Regions, and will serve to strengthen inter-territorial cooperation in Europe and advance local and regional democracy on our continent,” concluded Giovanni Di Stasi.
Mr Di Stasi’s statement followed the presentation of the report by Mr Juncker to the spring session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. Prime Minister Juncker was entrusted with preparing this report, in his personal capacity, by the Summit of Council of Europe Heads of State and Government, held in Warsaw last year.
EXCERPTS FROM JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER’S REPORT
…The complementarity we want must be based on continuous strengthening of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in a Europe of 800 million people. It will involve revitalising democratic practices, and giving the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, parliamentary bodies and Congress a bigger role. Increased civil society involvement will be another aspect.
…The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities gives the Council of Europe an instrument which it can use to promote decentralisation of powers, increased local autonomy and a better deal for regional and local communities. This is one of the promising paths towards the necessary revitalisation of democracy.
The Council and the EU have already started to work together in this field, particularly under the Co-operation Agreement between the Congress and the EU’s Committee of the Regions. This co-operation must be continued and intensified.
Several potential areas of co-operation can already be discerned:
1.The development of new-style “Euroregions”, covering regions in both EU and non-EU countries, on the lines of the Adriatic Euroregion, which was launched in February 2006. The establishment of such “Euroregions” on the Black Sea and Baltic will make for closer political and economic ties between local, regional and national authorities in EU and candidate countries, and Council of Europe countries outside the EU.
2.The establishment of the Centre for Inter-Regional and Cross-Border Co-operation. I fully support the siting of this Centre in Saint Petersburg, Europe’s flagship city. It should encourage the development of local and regional autonomy, particularly by monitoring the new “Euroregions”, and open up opportunities for co-operation between local and regional authorities in Europe. I also recommend that the EU, and the relevant Council of Europe institutions, consider how it could participate in this.
3.New networks of local authority associations. Following the establishment of the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS), joint EU/Council of Europe programmes might support similar networks in the South Caucasus and Western Balkans.
4.The Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA) in South-Eastern Europe, founded by the Congress to promote local democracy and confidence-building measures in countries affected by the recent Balkan wars, should also be supported by the EU, particularly since they may eventually join it. This initiative could be extended to other European regions.
5.European society is regularly hit by urban, social and community crises. The Congress might serve as one platform to promote the inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue which is vitally needed at local level. It might, for example, draw up codes of conduct for managing inter-cultural conflicts, and also take action to promote integration and participation of immigrants and foreign residents.
-At the same time, it should be agreed that ad hoc meetings will be held, as necessary, by the various Council of Europe bodies and agencies (Secretary General, Committee of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly, Congress, Commissioner for Human Rights) and the Commissioner(s) and Council representatives directly concerned by the matter at issue.
…The European Union and the Council of Europe should together devise machinery to promote and strengthen democracy. They should make full use of the Venice Commission’s expertise. They should make the new Forum on the Future of Democracy a central body for reflection and the making of proposals on citizen participation. They should make gender equality a central part of both projects. They should use the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities to strengthen local and regional democracy, for the purpose of associating Europe’s 800 million people closely with the work of our organisations.
…Co-operation might focus on: constitutional problems, citizen participation on all levels of the political process, gender equality, citizenship and identity, “sustainable communities”, local and regional government as a place for the exercise of democracy, participation in politics by immigrant communities, and inter-cultural dialogue. The field for discussion is a vast one, and nearly all of it is central to the Council’s work.
…What can an intergovernmental organisation like the Council of Europe do to help promote citizen participation, which is falling away at national, regional and local level? How can we rekindle people’s interest in that formidable integration project, the EU?
…These basic values can be differently invoked at national, regional or local level, and inter-cultural dialogue modulated accordingly. But they cannot be relativised without jeopardising the efforts made in the last sixty years to turn Europe - until recently a highly violent continent - into an area which, though still imperfect, is gradually coming under the sway of shared values, promising peace and stability.
…The important thing for the Council of Europe is, first of all, to focus, with the EU, and via its governmental, parliamentary, local and civil society relays, on a pan-European inter-cultural dialogue which leads to sharing of our fundamental values by all members of European societies, regardless of their origin, and cultural, ethnic and religious affiliations. Europe must be able to absorb its differences through its own efforts, relying on the authority of its values and arguments, and, above all, the conviction reflected in its actions.
…Great importance must continue to attach to the two organisations’ joint programmes in the Council of Europe’s areas of excellence: democratic institutions (including those at local and regional level), human rights promotion, and independence of the judiciary.
…The joint programmes agreed concluded with EIDHR  , TACIS and CARDS  covered, among other things: […]
-the development of new local and regional democratic institutions; […]
…There are few fields where national and regional authorities exercise their sovereignty more rigorously than they do in education. However, national or regional confinement is incompatible with the basic aims of all education, i.e. to transmit, disseminate and create knowledge. For knowledge to be transmitted, disseminated and created, teachers and students must also circulate, and their experience and skills must be recognised and developed.
1.European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights
2.Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Democratisation and Stabilisation
Division de la presse du Conseil de l'Europe
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