Congress of the Council 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.
The Congress 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 ratified by almost 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 statutory committees, to replace the existing previous four: a Monitoring Committee, a Governance Committee and a Current Affairs Committee. Moreover, the Congress’ Standing Committee was replaced by a Statutory Forum, 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 in January 2011 a revised version of the Statutory Resolution and the Charter of the Congress and adopted these new rules of procedure in March 2012. The most recent priorities were established in 2013 by the Congress, they wish to implement these changes by 2016.
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 resolutions, presents them for local and regional authorities of Europe and applies itself to the local and regional election monitoring 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, general and observation reports.
Main Objectives Inlcude 
- Defending territorial democracy
- Putting regional democracy on a legal footing
- Enhancing participation of citizens
- Building partnerships in territorial matters
Priorities and Reform 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
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.
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 for the two chambers, the statutory committees, as well as the budget.
Bureau Members 
- Herwig van Staa, Austria, President of the Congress, EPP/CEE
- Jean-Claude Frecon, France, President of the Local Chamber, SOC
- Natalia 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. Based on the 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, and if necessary may raise a debate in Congress.
Chamber of Regions 
The Chamber of Regions consists of representatives that act between the local and central governments. To qualify for the Chamber of Regions, the region must manage themselves or have state legislature or other similar skills. In addition, an authority that covers a vast territory also has the right to join the Chamber of Regions. 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.
Statutory Forum 
With the adoption of the revised Charter of the Congress on January 19, 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 upon decision of the Bureau.
Statutory Committees 
Along with the formulation of priorities for the 2011-2012 period in October 2010, Congress also created three new committees, including: the Monitoring Committee, Governance Committee, and the Current Affairs Committee.
Monitoring Committee 
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 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 following and implementing it.
Governance Committee 
The governance Committee is responsible for affairs relating to the Congress’ statutory mandate. These include public finance, cross boarder and inter-regional co-operation and e-democracy as well as co-operation with international organizations.
Current Affairs Committee 
The task of the Current Affairs Committee is to identify the role of regional and local governments in light of the challenges of modern society. Among other things, this Committee also deals with social cohesion, education, and sustainable growth factored into the core values of the Council of Europe. The committees are obliged to monitor the texts adopted by the Congress on the basis of their reports. They monitor both the international activities of Europe and the committees of the Parliamentary Assembly. In addition, the committees monitor all matters pertaining to their jurisdiction, but may also address other topics if they consider this to be relevant. This does not necessarily lead to a report or a conference.
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 Secretariat Jean-Philippe Bozouls (since 2005), and the Chamber of Regions is led by Secretariat Denis Huber (since 2012).
Delegations and Groups 
There are 47 countries represented in the Congress and each help make up the different delegations. According to the new Charter of the Congress adopted on 2 May 2007 by the Committee of Ministers, 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.
636 Members which are divided up into four political groups 
- SOC – Socialist Party –172 members
- EPP/CCE – European People’s Party –227 members
- IDG – Independent and Liberal Democratic Group–93 members
- ECR – European Conservatives and Reformists –30 members
About 27% of the members are not affiliated to a political group. 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 the representatives. The current president of the Congress is Herwig van Staa, from Austria (since October 2012).
The Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government 
The Group of Independent Experts takes over the Congress’ 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. The Group of Independent Experts is mandated to assist the Congress, which shall include:
- To prepare reports on the condition of local and regional democracy within the member states (monitoring report)
- To prepare reports about a specific aspect of the Charter within a member state, or a group of members states (specific monitoring report)
- To prepare reports on a specific point in the Charter, if it is controversial (research report)
- All activities associated with the promotion and evolution of local and regional autonomy on the basis of the Charter.
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 inspection is carried out by a delegate who 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. Additionally, it allows the Congress to get to know the structures, legal instruments, parliaments and delegates and thus to get a whole picture of the situation. 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 and countries applying to join 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. The reports are discussed in a plenary discussion, which may result in a recommendation from Congress. Along with monitoring the Member States, the Congress also has the task to raise awareness in regards to human rights, especially on the local and regional levels.
Observation of Elections 
The observation of the local and regional elections in efforts to strengthen local and regional democracy is an important aspect of the congress. 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 to ensure fair representation of members and gender. The members of Congress provide extensive preparation, such as: the examination of the political and legal system, media, electoral preparations, etc. 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. Congress collaborates with institutions of the Council of Europe such as the Parlimentary Assembly and the Venice Commission
Recent Missions 
Armenia- January 2013, observed presidential election, the Council of Europe reported that the election was characterized by a respect for fundamental freedoms, including those of assembly and expression.
Macedonia- March 2013, assessment was made to determine whether the elections complied with OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards. The elections were efficiently administered and calm however some procedural irregularities were observed.
Cooperation Programs, Projects, and Thematic Activities 
Cooperation Programs 
Roma Alliance 
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 its first project named ROMACT, which will offer two types of participation for the cities: Around 30 cities and regions are planned to be engaged in an intensive cycle of 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. The extensive cycle open for all the participants in the Alliance, which will include exchange of information, opportunities for networking and developing partnerships as well as a possibility to switch to the intensive cycle. 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.
ONE in FIVE 
This Campaign sets out to promote the Lazarote Convention and to make children aware of the gravity and form of the violence and what can be done to prevent it. The Congress reaches to be responsible for the local and regional dimensions of the Campaign. The first goal is to encourage local and regional authorities to establish appropriate multidisciplinary bodies and mechanisms and to promote a culture with a child friendly environment.
Political Partners 
Relations with the European Union 
- Cooperation with the Committee of Regions
- Citizens commission, governance, the external institutional affairs of the committee of regions
- Monitoring, Observation of elections, and combatting corruption
- Cooperation with the fundamental rights Agency
- Joint projects with the European Commission
Partners of the Congress 
National organizations of European municipalities and regions 
The Congress maintains contact and exchanges dialogue with associations of local and regional authorities from all Member States of the Council of Europe. In France, for example, the Congress cooperates with the Association of French Mayors, Association of French Regions, and the Association of Departments of France.
European organizations and associations of European municipalities and regions 
The Congress regularly collaborates with European associations and organizations, including Eurocities, United Cities and Local Governments, Council of European Municipalities and Regions, Assembly of European Regions (AER), Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE), Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR), Standing Committee for the Euro Mediterranean Partnership of Local and Regional Authorities (COPPEM), and Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP.
Committee of the Regions of the European Union 
The cooperation between the Congress and the Committee of the Regions (COR) began since the COR was created in 1994. The aim of their cooperation is to design and carry out joint activities, as well as exchange ideas on a regular basis. This commitment is based on the will to respect the principles of subsidiarity proportionality complementary to working with one another. Since 2007, the Congress involves members of the Committee of the Regions in its elections observations.
The Congress participates and actively supports projects aimed to strengthen local democracy and cross-border cooperation. The Congress has supported the creation of a number of international organizations such as:
- Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA)
- Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS)
- European Network of Training Organizations (ENTO)
The Congress is working on projects in various parts of Europe. These programs are designed particularly for Member States such as Ukraine, the Caucasus states and the Balkans. The North African countries Tunisia and Morocco also have programs within the framework of the Council of Europe policy towards neighboring regions. The Congress is involved in reforming and improving the capacity of locally elected representatives, allowing a constructive dialogue between themselves, the central authority, and the citizens to occur; the aim to further local and regional democracy.
Observer Status 
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 Standing Committee of the Congress. 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 Standing Committee, the Bureau, the statutory committees or ad hoc working groups.
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|
See also 
- Council of European Municipalities and Regions
- Committee of the Regions
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages