Congress of the Council of Europe
The logo of the Congress
|Formation||January 12, 1957|
|47 European states|
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 Local and Regional Authorities is the pan-European political assembly representing local and regional authorities from the forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe. Its role is to promote local and regional democracy, improve local and regional governance and strengthen authorities' self-government, according to the principles laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It is made up of two chambers, the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions and holds its plenary sessions twice a year at the Palace of Europe in Strasbourg, where its permanent Secretariat is located.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities assembly is constituted by 648 members which hold elective office (they may be regional or municipal councilors, mayors or presidents of regional authorities) representing over 200,000 authorities in different states. It encourages the devolution and regionalization processes, as well as the trans frontier co-operation between cities and regions The Congress conducts regular monitoring visits to all member states to appraise their implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, observes the functioning of local and regional elections in its member states and creates international treaties that lay down common European standards to protect local authorities’ rights.
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. However, the history of the Congress reflects the already fifty-year history of the development of local and regional democracy in Europe.
The Congress’ predecessor, 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 organization. The Charter was opened for signature in October 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. 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. In particular, the structural changes included the creation of three new committees, to replace the existing previous four: a Monitoring Committee, a Governance Committee and a Current Affairs Committee. Moreover, a 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. In October 2012 it adopted its priorities 2013-2016. These 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.
As political Assembly of local and regional elected representatives, the Congress is the voice of Europe’s 200,000 regions and municipalities. It promotes the strengthening of local and regional democracy in all Council of Europe member States. The Congress carries out monitoring missions of the local and regional authorities in member states and prepares reports on the situation in the State concerned. These reports and the draft resolutions and recommendations they contain are submitted to the plenary sessions which debate them in the presence of high representatives of the governments before adopting them. The recommendations are then forwarded to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe which gives them the appropriate follow up whenever needed. It also observes local and regional elections. After an observation mission it drafts a report and a recommendation which are also submitted to the sessions for adoption.
Furthermore, it prepares thematic reports which, together with a recommendation and/or a resolution, are debated during its sessions.
To fulfill its objectives the Congress cooperates with various partners: national associations, international associations, observers, civil societyand other institutional partners such as the Committee of Regions of the European Union.
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 - are the main 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, during the plenary sessions, or during follow-up or post-monitoring visits in the country itself. 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 (French Senator and counsellor Jean-Claude Frécon since October 2014), is responsible for organising the plenary sessions, the coordination of the work of the two chambers and the committees, as well as organising the monitoring and election observation missions, the budget and all questions that need to be treated in between two plenary sessions.
- Jean-Claude Frecon, France, President of the Congress, SOC
- Anders Knape, Sweden, President of the Local Chamber,EPP/CCE
- Gudrun Mosler-Törnström, Austria, President of the Regional Chamber, SOC
Chamber of Local Authorities
The main task of the Chamber of Local Authorities is to assess the situation of local democracy and observe local elections based on the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The Chamber also handles social issues and supports the cooperation of European cities, such as intercultural dialogues, e-democracy, or multiculturalism. It promotes the principles of local democracy outside Europe, inter alia through Euro-Arab dialogue between cities and Euro-Mediterranean co-operation. At its meetings, which take place twice a year during the Plenary Sessions, the Chamber of Local Authorities holds thematic debates on issues such as the fight against radicalisation, cities against terrorism, migrations, the protection of cultural heritage and adopts recommendations and resolutions.. 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 during a Congress session. 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 Chamber of Regions meets twice a year during the plenary sessions of the Congress, holds debates on issues such as the regionalisation in Europe, and adopts resolutions and recommendations. It deals with the role of regions within the member states of the Congress, regional democracy, inter-regional cooperation and regional economy, among others. The members of this Chamber can be found here.
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.
In October 2010, the Congress set up three committees: the Monitoring Committee, the Governance Committee and the Current Affairs Committee. These Committees prepare most of the reports which are submitted to the Chambers or to the Plenary Sessions.
The Monitoring Committee, chaired by Philippe Receveur (Switzerland, EPP/CCE), was established to follow the implementation of the commitment and obligations of the member states to the European Charter of Local Self-Government;. It organises monitoring visits and drafts reports and recommendations on the situation of the local and regional democracy in the member states concerned. It encourages member states to evaluate the situation of local democracy, in relation to the Charter, and identifies the obstacles that prevent them from implementing it fully. The members of this Committee can be found here.
The Governance Committee, chaired by Tracey Simpson-Laing, 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 Current Affairs Committee, chaired by Farid Mukhametshin (Russia, GILD), deals with the role of regional and local governments in light of the challenges of modern society. It works on thematic issues, such as inclusive societies and citizen participation, education, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, protection of children from sexual abuse, youth participation, integration of migrants, 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 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. The Group of Independent Experts is mandated to assist the Congress in :
1. Preparing reports on the condition of local and regional democracy within the member states (monitoring reports)
2. Preparing reports about specific aspects of the Charter within a member state, or a group of members states (specific monitoring reports)
3. Preparing reports on a specific point in the Charter, which poses problems regarding compliance with the Charter(research reports)
4. Preparing reports on issues of concern for local and regional authorities
5. 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 (reelected in March 2015) 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).
The Congress is formed of national delegations made up of representatives of local and regional authorities of the 47 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, 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 full members, the delegations are also made of substitutes (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 324 representatives (and 324 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||18/18|
The political groups within the Congress ensure an equitable representaion, in terms of political, geographical and gender balance in each delegation. The Congress Charter sets a minimum of representation of 30% for the under-represented sex for each delegation. There are four political groups within the Congress, as well as Congress members not affiliated with any political group: • SOC – Socialist Party • EPP/CCE – European People’s Party / Christian Democrats • ILDG – Independent and Liberal Democratic Group • ECR – European Conservatives and Reformists
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 2014, is Jean-Claude Frecon, from France.
See the Congress site for recent information on the political groups.
Monitoring of local and regional democracy
The core mission of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is the effective monitoring of the situation of local and regional democracy in member states by assessing the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Through this process of monitoring, the Congress contributes, at territorial level, to the main objectives of the Council of Europe, which are to advance democracy and human rights on the continent. Monitoring is also part of an ongoing political dialogue with the different levels of governance in the State concerned.
The Congress undertakes: • regular general country-by-country monitoring missions; • the examination of a particular aspect of the Charter; • fact-finding missions to look into specific cases of concern; Following monitoring visits, the Monitoring Committee draws up reports and recommendations to member states on how to improve the management of municipalities and regions. These recommendations are debated and adopted during the sessions of the Congress. 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 important aspect of the tasks of the Congress, which complements the monitoring activities. The observation missions are conducted at the official request of the national authorities concerned; the Congress sets up a delegation made of Congress members and members of the Committee of the Regions (some 10-15 people). At the close of the observation mission a preliminary statement by the Congress delegation is made. Then a report that includes an analysis of the election campaign, voting day, and recommendations/improvements to be made is prepared and submitted to the session of the Congress.. The Congress collaborates with institutions of the Council of Europe such as the Parliamentary Assembly and the Venice Commission. The details of the procedure are set out in Congress resolution More information on the observation of elections can be found on Congress site,
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 isto develop the political dialogue with Member States and relevant stakeholders after a monitoring or election observation visit, in order to ensure the effectiveness and impact of its monitoring and election observation activities. As follow up to its recommendations the Congress discusses with the authorities of the member State a roadmap to improve local and regional democracy in line with these recommendations. The first roadmap prepared in the framework of this post-monitoring dialogue concerned the decentralisation reform undertaken by the Ukrainian authorities and was signed in May 2015
Cooperation programmes and projects
In its Priorities 2013-2016, the Congress decided to further develop co-operation and partnerships with the overall objective to consolidate and advance territorial democracy in the Council of Europe member states and in its immediate neighbourhood and achieve concrete results in the field. These cooperation 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, based on needs, its members being a pool of practical and political experience. Its activities include:
- Assessment of the legal and institutional framework
- Drafting of new legislation and policies
- Exchange of good practices - peer-to-peer exchanges and interactive seminars
- Training sessions on leadership for local and regional elected representatives
The Congress develops its projects within the chapter on Democracy in the Council of Europe Action Plans for member States. These projects are co-financed through voluntary contributions of member states and international partners.
The Congress is also active in the neighbourhood policy of the Council of Europe. This policy is aimed at helping neighbouring regions to improve democracy, the rule of law and human rights protection. As an example, 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).
The European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion was set up by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities with the support of Special Representative of the Council of Europe Secretary General for Roma Issues. More than 120 cities and regions from over 27 countries are participating in the Alliance. The Alliance aims to achieve these objectives:
- To promote the exchange of know-how and good practices on Roma inclusion among participating cities and regions.
- To enable participating cities and regions to speak with one voice by providing a platform for advocating on issues concerning Roma inclusion at local and regional level.
The Alliance organises national and international seminars for its participating cities and regions in order to facilitate the exchange of know-how and good practices.
One of the key priorities of the Alliance is the promotion of the Roma culture and raising awareness and knowledge about the Roma Genocide during World War II and the international commemoration day on the 2nd of August.
Another important initiative of the Council of Europe, aimed at fighting antigypsyism, is the Dosta! Campaign, run on a national level in the member states. As of 2013, the Alliance is in charge of administrating the Dosta! Congress Prize, awarded biannually to three municipalities for their successful and innovative projects in the field of Roma inclusion.
In 2013-2014 the Alliance implemented the first stage of the project named ROMACT. Around 30 cities and regions were engaged in activities, consisting of preparation work, including data collection and analysis, thematic workshops, study visits, exchange of information, opportunities for networking and developing partnerships, consultative work. Other activities of the ROMACT The project ended 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 ensuring 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. All services and actions must be respectful of children’s rights, put the child’s best interest first, and enable children’s voices to be heard, in order to deliver locally what children and families need to stop sexual violence and sexual abuse, as well as to bring perpetrators to justice. The Congress promotes this Pact with cities and regions and encourages them to sign and implement it in the field.
Partners of the Congress
Committee of the Regions of the European Union
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 cooperation between the Congress and the Committee of the Regions is in place since the creation of the CoR in 1994. A ‘Contact Group Congress/Committee of the Regions’, that meets twice per year, was established in 1995. The Contact Group coordinates the two institutions’ efforts and provides feedback on their activities. The Congress and CoR members exchange views and implement common strategies. 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. The Congress also pursues an active cooperation with the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) and the Conference of regional organizations 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. 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
The Congress is also involved with several organizations and associations of European municipalities and regions enhancing local and regional democracy by developing joint activities. Examples of these organizations 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 organizations and makes its policies and priorities known, in particular when they fall within the scope of these organizations’ 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 deliver information about Congress activities across to their countries, particularly by lobbying in their governments. They also, in some cases, play a part in the procedure whereby their country's national delegation to the Congress is designated. National associations play an active part in implementation of the provisions of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, denouncing abuses and possible violations and thus acting as an "early warning system"and a peaceful counterweight. 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.. 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.