The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities both celebrate their 25th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, a ceremony was held in the the CoR's June plenary session. It was followed by a joint conference on “The Added Value of Local and Regional Authorities in the Unification of Europe". The aim was to highlight the synergies between the two institutions in their joint work toward the strengthening of local self-government and local/regional democracy.
Speaking in plenary session on the occasion of the anniversary ceremony, CoR President Karl-Heinz Lambertz, said: "Although being part of two distinct wider organisations – the European Union and the Council of Europe– and having slightly different missions, both the Committee and the Congress are essential cornerstones of local democracy. The synergies between our two institutions have led to many successes in defending local self-government and regional democracy. We both have developed valuable tools that we can use, often jointly, to protect the rights of elected representatives when under threat, to fight corruption, and support local leaders in the integration of migrants – just to give a few examples. Our message is clear: any violation of local democracy, or of the rights of elected representatives, cannot be tolerated. We will continue do our duty to defend these rights and freedoms in these troubled times."
The President of the Congress, Anders Knape, said: "Our two institutions undeniably complement each other, sharing the same issue of defending public proximity policy in Europe. There are two distinct but equally important roles when it comes to working towards the same end: what governments have dubbed 'subsidiarity' and what I prefer to call 'shared democracy."
Referring to tangible achievements in defending territorial democracy, Anders Knape mentioned in particular the European Charter of Local Self-Government, a binding legal instrument ratified by the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe on which the Congress bases its monitoring of the state of local and regional democracy in the Member States of the Council of Europe.
The President of the Congress stressed the need to continue cooperation and complementarity between the two institutions in the face of the dangers faced by European authorities: the tendency towards recentralisation, lack of central government consultation, populism, abstention and lack of trust in the institutions.
Addressing members of the Congress and the CoR during the conference on "The Added Value of Local and Regional Authorities in the Unification of Europe", President Lambertz insisted on the urgent need to re-building trust in the European project.
The CoR President identified two main paths to do so: "Firstly, EU action can be strengthened through the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity and through a better involvement of cities and regions. This new way of working for the EU was among the conclusions of the Subsidiarity Task Force. It is needed if we want EU decisions to better respond to citizens' needs. This renewed approach to decision-making, termed as 'Active Subsidiarity', would better ensure the European added value of EU policies. Secondly, the link between the Union and its citizens should be reinforced through more channels of democratic participation. That is why, together with the President of the European Economic and Social Committee, we have proposed an EU permanent mechanism for structured consultations and dialogues with citizens. Engaging with citizens on a constant basis is essential to ensure greater ownership of the European project".
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