Congress of the Council of Europe
The logo of the Congress
Member states of the Congress
|Formation||January 12, 1957|
|47 European states|
|Herwig van Staa|
President of the Local Chamber
President of the Regional Chamber
|Council of Europe|
|Affiliations||European Union, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe|
|Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe|
The Congress of the Council of Europe (in full, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe) is an institution representing local and regional authorities from the forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe. It has two chambers, the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions. The Congress holds its plenary meetings at the Palais de l'Europe in Strasbourg, where its permanent Secretariat is located.
- 1 Summary
- 2 History
- 3 Role
- 4 Structure
- 4.1 Bureau
- 4.2 Chambers
- 4.3 Statutory Forum
- 4.4 Committees
- 4.5 The Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government
- 4.6 Secretariat
- 5 National Delegations
- 6 Activities
- 7 Cooperation programmes and projects
- 8 Partners of the Congress
- 9 Observer status
- 10 References
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is a pan-European political assembly, the 636 members of which hold elective office (they may be regional or municipal councillors, mayors or presidents of regional authorities) representing over 200,000 authorities in different states
It strives to promote local and regional democracy, improve local and regional governance and strengthen authorities' self-government. It pays particular attention to application of the principles laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It encourages the devolution and regionalisation processes, as well as transfrontier co-operation between cities and regions.
The present Congress of Local and Regional Authorities was established on 14 January 1994 with the Statutory Resolution 94(3) of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The history of the Congress reflects the already fifty-year history of the development of local and regional democracy in Europe.
The Conference of Local Authorities of Europe was first established at the Council of Europe in 1957. It held its first session on 12 January 1957 in Strasbourg presided by the prominent French statesman Jacques Chaban-Delmas, who was President of the Conference from January 1957 to January 1960. In 1975 the Committee of Ministers established the Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe that brought together also representatives of European regions, not only local authorities, thus replacing and enhancing the Conference of Local Authorities. In 1979 it became the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. Six years later, in 1985, the Standing Conference adopted the European Charter of Local Self-Government, recognizing the increasing role of the development of local democracy, which has become one of the most important achievements of the organisation. The Charter was opened for signature in 1985 and has since been signed by all Council of Europe member states. In 1994 the Standing Conference asked the Committee of Ministers to further enhance its statute, and the Standing Conference was transformed into the present Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Council of Europe. In 2005, during the Warsaw Summit, the Heads of State and Government of the member states of the Council of Europe reasserted the importance of local and regional democracy for Europe and underlined the major role of the Congress in its mission, again supporting its mandate.
In October 2010, the Congress adopted a comprehensive reform of its structures and activities meant to increase the impact of its action and make it more effective and more relevant to European citizens and their elected representatives. The new priorities are focused on 5 areas: monitoring of local and regional democracy, observation of local and regional elections, targeted post-monitoring and post-observation assistance, the local and regional dimension of human rights and streamlined thematic activities.
In particular, the structural changes include the creation of three new committees, to replace the existing previous four: a Monitoring Committee, a Governance Committee and a Current Affairs Committee. Moreover, the Statutory Forum was set up, the mandate of Congress members extended from two to four years, and the 30-per cent requirement for women’s representation in national delegations applied also to substitute members. The role of the Bureau as the executive body of the Congress was strengthened, and the adopted texts subject to a clearer and more concrete follow-up procedure.
In the light of this reform, the Committee of Minister adopted a revised version of the Statutory Resolution and the Charter of the Congress in January 2011. The Congress adopted its new Rules of Procedure in March 2012. The most recent priorities were established in 2013 by the Congress.
The Congress is the voice of Europe’s 200,000 regions and municipalities, it works to strengthen democracy and improve services at local and regional level. The Congress adopts recommendations and opinions on the issues of its concern and presents them to the Committee of the Ministers and/or the Parliamentary Assembly. It also adopts resolution and carries out monitoring of the local and regional authorities in member states. The Congress fulfills its objectives with the participation of partners: national associations, international associations, observers and other partners. Within the framework of its mission to monitor local and regional democracy monitoring mission, the Congress prepares different kinds of reports: monitoring, thematic and election observation reports.
Priorities of the Congress 2013-2016
- Improve the quality of local and regional democracy and human rights
- Help cities and regions fight the economic and financial crisis, as well as foster democracy
- Develop partnerships and cooperation
The Priorities can be found here.
Dialogue with governments
As part of its monitoring of regional democracy in Europe, the Congress maintains a regular dialogue with member states of the Council of Europe. The Committee of Ministers, which includes the 47 Foreign Ministers of these states, the Conference of Ministers responsible for local and regional authorities, as well as its Steering Committees - like the one on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR) - are partners in this regard. Several times a year, the President and the Secretary General of the Congress provide the representatives of the member states in the Committee of Ministers with a record of its activities and hold an exchange of views. The Congress also has direct contacts and exchanges with national governments, in particular, on the occasion of official visits in the member states, or during follow-up visits or observation of local and regional elections. More information on dialogue with governments can be found here.
The Bureau of the Congress, which consists of the members of the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions under the leadership of the Congress President (Herwig van Staa), is responsible for the plenary sessions, the coordination of the work of the two chambers, the committees, as well as the budget.
- Herwig van Staa, Austria, President of the Congress, EPP/CEE
- Jean-Claude Frécon, France, President of the Local Chamber, SOC
- Nataliya Romanova, Ukraine, President of the Regional Chamber, ILDG
Chamber of Local Authorities
The main task of the Chamber of Local Authorities is to observe the situation of local democracy and elections based on the European Charter of Local Self-Government. This Charter allows a dialogue between the communities, and gives them a common voice. The Chamber of Local Authorities also handles social issues and supports the cooperation of European cities, such as intercultural dialogues, e-democracy, or multiculturalism. It also endeavours to promote the principles of local democracy outside Europe, inter alia through Euro-Arab dialogue between cities and Euro-Mediterranean co-operation. At its meetings that take place twice a year during the Plenary Sessions, the Chamber of Local Authorities adopts recommendations, resolutions, or decisions. If necessary, the Chamber of Local Authorities can also require a member to write a report to a relevant question of his or her expertise. The Chamber of Local Authorities must examine issues that are relevant to its jurisdiction, namely substantive and current issues relating to the local dimension in Europe, and if necessary may raise a debate in Congress. A list of the members of this Chamber can be found here.
Chamber of Regions
The Chamber of Regions consists of representatives of authorities that act between the local and central levels of government. The authority must have either self-governing or state-like powers. It must effectively be able to take full responsibility for a substantial share of matters of public concern, in the interest of its community, and it has to take into account the principle of subsidiarity. The members of this Chamber can be found here. The Chamber of Regions deals with the role of regions within the member states of the Congress, regional democracy, inter-regional cooperation, and regional economy.
With the adoption of the revised Charter of the Congress on 19 January 2011, the former Standing Committee was replaced by the Statutory Forum. This Forum is composed of heads of all national delegations together with the members of the Bureau of Congress. The Forum acts on behalf of the Congress between sessions and may be convened at any time by the President of the Congress, as he deems necessary.
Along with the formulation of priorities for the 2011-2012 period in October 2010, Congress also created three new committees: the Monitoring Committee, Governance Committee, and the Current Affairs Committee. The Committees prepare most of the reports which are submitted to the Plenary Sessions.
The Monitoring Committee was established to respect the commitment and obligations of the member states to the European Charter of Local Self-Government; they are responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Charter. The Monitoring Committee also supervises institutional changes in the regions of Europe and drafts reports on the situations of the local and regional democracy. They encourage states to evaluate their situation, in relation to the charter, and identify the obstacles that prevent them from implementing it. Who is a member of this Committee can be found here.
The Governance Committee is responsible for affairs relating to the Congress’ statutory mandate. These include public finance, cross border and inter-regional co-operation and e-democracy as well as co-operation with intergovernmental bodies. The site of the Congress contains a list with the members of this Committee.
Current Affairs Committee
The task of the Current Affairs Committee is to study the role of regional and local governments in light of the challenges of modern society. Among other things, this Committee also deals with thematic issues, such as social cohesion, education, and sustainable development, from the point of view of the core values of the Council of Europe. The members of this Committee can be found on the site of the Congress.
The Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government
The Group of Independent Experts helps over the three statutory committees to carry out their responsibilities in local and regional democracy in regards to the European Charter. The experts are recruited from universities and other research centers based on their expertise in law, economics, or political science and have a renewable term of four years. Who is part of the group can be found here. The Group of Independent Experts is mandated to assist the Congress, which includes:
- Preparing reports on the condition of local and regional democracy within the member states (monitoring reports)
- Preparing reports about specific aspects of the Charter within a member state, or a group of members states (specific monitoring reports)
- Preparing reports on a specific point in the Charter, which poses problems regarding compliance with the Charter(research reports)
- Preparing reports on issues of concern for local and regional authorities
- Preparing reports on the promotion of local and regional democracy
The Congress Secretariat is headed by the Secretary General, who is elected for five years by the plenary meeting of Congress. Currently the Secretary General is Andreas Kiefer (since March 2010) and is supported by the Congress Director, Manuel Lezertua. The Secretariat of the two chambers of Congress will be occupied by two executive secretaries, who are appointed by the Secretary General after consultation with the Congress. The Chamber of Local Authorities is currently led by Executive Secretary Jean-Philippe Bozouls (since 2005), and the Chamber of Regions is led by Executive Secretary Denis Huber (since 2012).
There are 47 countries represented in the Congress and each help make up the different delegations. The Congress is formed of representatives of local and regional authorities of the member states of the Council of Europe, who are either directly elected or are politically accountable to a directly elected assembly. The membership of each member state’s delegation ensures a balanced geographical distribution of territories, equitable representation of the various types of local and regional authorities and political forces within these authorities of the member states, and equitable representation of women and men. Each member state has the right to the same number of seats in the Congress as in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Apart from representatives (full members), the member states also send the same number of their substitutes (substitute members) to the Congress, who work in the same capacity. A list of the national delegations and their member can be found on the Congress site.
Members of Congress
According to its statute, the Congress consists of 318 representatives (and 318 substitutes) from each member state, as follows:
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||5/5||Bulgaria||6/6||Croatia||5/5|
|Switzerland||6/6||Republic of Macedonia||3/3||Turkey||12/12|
As at 2013, more than 500 of the 636 members of the Congress have joined one of its four political groups:
- SOC – Socialist Party: 169 members 
- EPP/CCE – European People’s Party / Christian Democrats: 221 members
- ILDG – Independent and Liberal Democratic Group: 90 members
- ECR – European Conservatives and Reformists: 29 members
Members of the Congress are not affiliated to a political group: 127 members
The Congress meets twice a year for the plenary sessions, which are held in Strasbourg during May and October. The sessions for each Chamber are held during the plenary sessions. Every two years, the Congress appoints a President from among the representatives, or full members. The current President of the Congress, since October 2012, is Herwig van Staa, from Austria.
See the Congress site for recent information on the political groups.
Monitoring of local and regional democracy
The Congress monitors the compliance of the Member States with the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the basis of regular inspections (every five years). The Congress has adopted a resolution on the procedure to be followed. The inspection is carried out by a delegation that is sent to the state, which subsequently produces a report on the current situation. The monitoring done by the Congress sets a basis for further activities and constructive dialogue with the Member States. The Congress also creates general reports which provide an across-the-board analysis of the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in member states of the Council of Europe. Within the framework of the general obligation to inform about the application of the Charter in the member states, the Congress prepares transversal reports. A report results in a resolution and/or recommendation, which is presented to the session for adoption. More information and examples of recently adopted texts in this area can be found here.
Observation of elections
The observation of the local and regional elections is an effort to strengthen local and regional democracy is an important aspect of the tasks of the Congress, which complements the monitoring activities. The missions are conducted at the official request of the national authorities concerned; then the Congress will set up a delegation responsible for observing the election, between 10-15 people. The delegation is proportional to the representation of the political groups in the Congress and gender to ensure fair representation of members. At the close of the observation a report that includes an analysis of the election campaign, voting day, and recommendations/improvements to be made will be published, as well as a preliminary statement by the Congress delegation. The Congress collaborates with institutions of the Council of Europe such as the Parliamentary Assembly and the Venice Commission. In a Congress resolution the details of the procedure are set out. More information on the observation of elections can be found on Congress site, as well as recently adopted texts on observations.
Post-monitoring and post-observation dialogue
In March 2013 the Congress adopted Resolution 353(2013) on post-monitoring and post-observation of elections. The aim is to develop a political dialogue with Member States and relevant stakeholders after a monitoring or election observation visit, in order to reach an agreement on a roadmap for implementing Congress recommendations. The expected result is, on the one hand, a strengthened political dialogue with national authorities, and, on the other hand, an enhanced impact and effective implementation of the recommendations and resolutions adopted after these visits.
Cooperation programmes and projects
In its Priorities 2013-2016, the Congress decided to further develop co-operation and partnerships in order to achieve concrete results in the field. Already in 2011, the Congress decided to develop programmes with the overall objective to consolidate and advance territorial democracy in the Council of Europe member states and in its immediate neighbourhood. These activities help to further ensure the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the Congress recommendations. The Congress offers its expertise, in the field of local and regional democracy in several areas, based on the needs, its members being a pool of practical and political experience:
- Assessment of the legal and institutional framework
- Drafting of new legislation and policies
- Exchange of good practices - peer-to-peer exchanges and interactive seminars
- Sessions on leadership for local and regional elected representatives
With regard to the co-operation with Council of Europe member states, the Congress develops projects that are included in the chapter on Democracy in the Action Plans for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. These projects, co-financed through voluntary contributions of member states and international partners, aim at strengthening local government structures and their associations, and improve co-operation of local elected representatives and their capacities as leaders for change. Moreover, the Congress is active in the neighbourhood policy of the Council of Europe. This policy is aimed at helping neighbouring regions with improving democracy, the rule of law and human rights protection. Priorities for co-operation in Morocco and Tunisia include local governance.
In the past the Congress has been active in strengthening local democracy and trans-border co-operation in Europe. It has encouraged the creation of associations of local authorities and created several networks which have now evolved independently and which are privileged partners of the Congress. Examples of these Associations are the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA), the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS) and the European Network of Local and Regional Training Establishments (ENTO). More information on this co-operation activity can be found on the website of the Congress.
During the 24th session of the Congress in March 2013 the “European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion” was launched after a test phase including two events on housing in Madrid, and education in Budapest. In 2013-2014 the Alliance is planning to implement the first stage of the project named ROMACT, which will offer two types of participation for the participating cities. Around 30 cities and regions are planned to be engaged in activities with active participation in the policy cycle on Roma inclusion, consisting of preparation work, including data collection and analysis, and followed by a set of thematic workshops, study visits, consultative work and final conference.
Next to that there will be activities, which will include exchange of information, opportunities for networking and developing partnerships. ROMACT, the first project of the Alliance will end in late 2014 with a major evaluation conference of cities and regions as well as local, national and international stakeholders. The Alliance has its own website with more information on its activities.
ONE in FIVE
The ONE in FIVE Campaign of the Council of Europe sets out to promote the signature and ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, also known as the Lanzarote Convention. The Campaign’s goals are to make children aware of the gravity and different types of sexual violence and abuse, and to prevent them. The Congress is responsible for the local and regional dimensions of the Campaign and has launched a Pact of Towns and Regions to Stop Sexual Violence against Children. The Pact proposes the ‘four Ps’ approach: to prevent abuse, protect victims, prosecute perpetrators while ensuring the full participation of children in the entire process.
Partners of the Congress
Committee of the Regions of the European Union
The cooperation between the Congress and the Committee of the Regions of the European Union (CoR) is in place since the creation of the CoR in 1994. A ‘Contact Group Congress/Committee of the Regions’, that meets twice per year, has been established in 1995. The Contact Group coordinates the two institutions’ efforts and endeavours and complements their activities. The Congress and CoR members exchange views and prepare and implement common strategies. The cooperation is based on complementarity and they respect each other’s’ visibility. Since 2006 it is possible for members of the CoR to be part of an elections observation mission of the Congress. Nowadays, this happens systematically and members of the CoR are involved in the whole observation process. More information on the cooperation between the Congress and the COR can be found on both the site of the Congress and on the site of the COR.
European organizations and associations of European municipalities and regions
Since the Congress has developed an institutional partnership with the Committee of the Regions (CoR) of the European Union, regular meetings and coordination between the respective members and secretariats take place. The Congress also pursues an active cooperation with the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) and the Conference of regional organisations and local authorities for the Eastern partnership (CORLEAP), both established by the CoR in order to enhance the relations between the EU and its neighbouring countries in the area of local and regional self-governance. The neighbouring states involved are often Member States of the Congress and the Congress is involved in activities of these entities, as well.
The Congress is also involved with several organisations and associations of European municipalities and regions so as to enhance local democracy in a more effective way by developing joint activities. Examples of these organisations are the Assembly of European Regions (AER), the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) and the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE). The Congress can be represented at meetings or events of these organisations and make its policies and priorities known, in particular when they fall within the scope of these organisations’ fields of activities.
National (and European) associations of local and regional authorities play a role in promoting local democracy which is vital to the work of the Congress of the Council of Europe. They relay information about Congress activities across to their countries, particularly by lobbying their governments. They also, in some cases, play a part in the procedure whereby their country's national delegation to the Congress is designated. As well as serving as a peaceful counterweight, they contribute know-how, experience and expertise which enhances the value of the Congress’ work. National associations play an active part in implementation of the provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, complaining about abuses and possible violations and thus acting as an "early warning system", showing where monitoring and intervention by the Congress are needed. The site of the Congress contains more information on national associations.
International associations of local and regional authorities which have a consultative status with the Council of Europe also have observer status with the Congress. Observer status may also be granted to other associations on application to the Bureau of the Congress. Which associations have observer status can be found here. This status gives them the right to take part in the work of the Congress, submit memoranda and comment on issues discussed at plenary sessions, but not to vote. One or more representatives of organizations with observer status may be invited to attend meetings of the Statutory Forum, the Bureau, the Committees or ad hoc working groups.