20TH PLENARY SESSION OF THE
CONGRESS OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL AUTHORITIES
OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
ADDRESS BY MR YAVUZ SELIM KÖŞGER,
DIRECTOR GENERAL OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES, MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR,
ON BEHALF OF THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
Distinguished members of the Congress,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is indeed a pleasure for me to address the Congress of Local and Regional
Authorities on behalf of the Turkish Chairmanship of the Committee of
This is an important time for the Council of Europe. Review, reform and
renovation are actively underway within the Organisation. The aim is to
make it more efficient, more relevant and more visible in a contemporary
Europe so that it becomes an organisation able to further respond swiftly and
efficiently to the challenges with which the member states and 800 million
Europeans are faced. This is one of the priorities of Turkey’s chairmanship
The Committee of Ministers welcomes the commitment of the Congress to
this reform process, and the prompt and important decisions it has already
taken with regard to its own structure, functioning and priorities. Whilst
enhancing its most crucial tasks, such as monitoring the implementation of
the European Charter of Local Self-Government and observing local
elections, the Congress has also looked to streamlining its thematic activities
to ensure that they contribute to our core objectives.
These developments, together with the determination to foster dialogue,
synergies and cooperation with the Committee of Ministers’ itself, are a clear
indication of the Congress’ readiness to actively contribute to increasing the
standing and credibility of the Organisation.
Bringing forward the reform process is one of the priorities of the Turkish
Chairmanship, together with the reform of the European Court of Human
Rights, strengthening the independent monitoring mechanisms, accession of
the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and
addressing challenges of multicultural European societies.
These priorities closely espouse those of the Committee of Ministers as well
as the vision and strategy of the Secretary General for the Organisation. In
line with these priorities, the Chairmanship welcomes the particularly
pertinent agenda of your session this week. This again is evidence of the
Congress’ efforts to focus on our common objectives. The members of the
Congress will also discuss the state of local and regional democracy in four
countries including Turkey.
I would now refer to some issues of particular importance for the Committee
of Ministers, some of which are under discussion this week;
The first is the debate which took place yesterday, with the participation of
the Human Right Commissioner, on human rights action at the local and
regional level. Those discussions were one further step in the Congress’s
reflection process on the role of local and regional authorities in furthering
human rights protection for Europe’s citizens. Human rights at local level
was also the theme of this year’s European local democracy week. Raising
awareness and interest in the meaning of human rights on the local level is
indeed essential. For knowledge is empowerment, It is only in knowing
what human rights are about, that authorities and citizens can seek to
protect or enjoy them.
I would also like to mention in this context a particularly useful exchange of
views which Mr Lars Molin, the Chair of the Congress’ Monitoring
Committee, had only just last week with the Committee of Ministers
Rapporteur Group on Human Rights. This too was a good opportunity to
discuss the role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of
human rights, and will hopefully assist the Congress, within its remits, in
defining an approach in this area, in synergy with the rest of the
It is in our local communities, our villages, towns and cities that elected
representatives must respond to expectations with regard to health,
education, employment or housing. At the same time they must show
vigilance with a view to protecting the more vulnerable so that inclusive,
participate, tolerant and non-discriminate societies could be cultivated.
These are heavy responsibilities, and not always easy ones, particularly
under the current social and economic pressures from which few are spared.
But they must be assumed, if we are to cultivate the type of society to which
we all aspire – socially responsible and based on human rights, democracy
and the rule of law.
This brings me on to the second theme to which I should like to refer, that
concerning the situation of Roma in Europe. As you are aware,
implementing the Strasbourg Declaration, adopted last October following a
high level meeting on Roma, is a political priority for the Committee of
Ministers. Roma are the most marginalised group in Europe, very often
excluded or poorly treated in schools, housing, health care and employment.
They face discrimination and racism. They are frequently victims of hate
speech, harassment and even violence and abuse. It is absolutely imperative
that the situation of Roma in member states be improved in real terms. Our
ambitions to improve the lives and protect the fundamental rights of Roma
must move forward from theory into practice with concrete projects.
But to do that, the active contribution and commitment of local and regional
authorities are crucial, particularly with regard to social inclusion. Raising
the question of Roma amongst the priorities of the Congress’ is therefore a
welcome development. The Bureau’s recent exchange of views with the
Secretary General’s special representative on Roma issues is another
positive step on behalf of the Congress. It is also a good opportunity to
show how the Organisation can have a real impact on the ground when all
its sectors work each in their own capacity, but in a transversal manner,
towards the same goals.
The third topic which I should like to mention concerns inter-faith and
intercultural tensions at local level. As I already mentioned, challenges of
multicultural European societies is one of the priorities of our Chairmanship.
Multicultural and multi-religious societies – together with the contributing
factors such as migration, mobility and globalisation – are an inherent part of
In this respect, we are all witnesses of the fact that Europe is now facing
resurgence of intolerance and discrimination. Over the past few years, all
Council of Europe member states have been affected by deteriorating social
ties, radicalisation and polarized perceptions and bias towards other cultures
or faiths within our societies. These are worrying developments and cannot
be ignored, since they cause fault lines to emerge. Again, it is also at the
local level that authorities have to meet and address the problems arising
from intercultural tensions. Where solutions need to be found to foster
integration and promote tolerance amongst citizens of different cultural,
ethnic or religious backgrounds.
Ladies and gentlemen,
To address challenges such as these, the Turkish Chairmanship believes
that the Council of Europe has a particularly important role to play. I would
like to recall that a “Group of Eminent Persons” chaired by Mr. Joschka
Fischer, the former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany, has been set up.
The group is expected to bring a new perspective to current problems and
offer a new concept of “living together” and to prepare a report as a basis for
possible future Council of Europe action. The report will be examined at the
ministerial session which will take place in Istanbul in May. I am sure that
the report and any resulting decisions that may be taken with regard to its
follow-up will be of particular relevance and interest to the future work of the
I would now mention a fourth and final issue, which concerns the Council of
Europe’s neighbourhood policy. So far, relationships with neighbouring
regions have developed largely on ad hoc basis. The recent changes in the
Southern Mediterranean, where people have shown the determination for
their freedom and their rights, and the potential impact on Council of Europe
member states call for a more coherent neighbourhood policy to support
democratic reforms in these regions.
The Committee is therefore currently looking to develop a coherent and
focused neighbourhood policy which would govern future relations and
cooperation with neighbouring states, be it in the Southern Mediterranean
and the Middle East, but also in the Central Asia. In that sense, Foreign
Minister Davutoğlu and Secretary General Jagland’s visit to Tunisia last
month has been timely and pertinent both to the making of this policy and to
show that the Council of Europe does not remain indifferent to the
developments in the neighbouring regions.
The Committee of Ministers encourages the Congress, within its remits, to
cooperate with our neighbouring countries in order to promote the values of
The Council of Europe is at an exciting juncture. The dynamics of the
Organisation are changing. The objective is to reaffirm its raison d’être by
refocusing on the things it does best, and which are relevant and of added
value. The Committee of Ministers is encouraged by the fact that each
sector of the Organisation, including the Congress, has brought its own
contribution to this process. It hopes that these efforts will bear fruit and
that the Council of Europe’s crucial role in the European architecture will
be preserved and strengthened. Thus, we believe, the Council of Europe
will mean even more to the 800 million Europeans.
I wish you very constructive and innovative debates this week and thank
you for your attention.