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CEMR statutory affairs - 28.04.2009
Wrap-up of CEMR's general assembly in Malmö (22)24 April 2009)
Over 1,000 representatives of municipalities, towns, cities, provinces and regions from 40 countries attended the general assembly of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), from 22 to 24 April 2009, in Malmö.
Delegates have adopted a final declaration and a resolution. The declaration puts forward core principles on the direction Europe should take. The resolution spells out the views of local and regional authorities on a number of issues such as climate change, demographic changes, international relations and gender equality (see link to declaration and resolution at bottom of this article).
The president of the Committee of the Regions, Luc Van den Brande, at the closing ceremony, said that local and regional authorities must take the leadership to tackle the economic crisis and climate change, and to address the challenges born from globalisation. The acting president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, Ian Micallef, regretted that local authorities, though making up to two thirds of public investments and having shown a better handling of the crisis - are not listened to enough on this issue. The mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu, insisted on the role of local and regional governments in the post-Kyoto era. He told delegates that Malmö has already achieved the goals set by the Kyoto protocol in 1992. Finally, the European Commission representative, Marc Jorna, called on local elected representatives to promote the forthcoming European elections.
"Thriving or surviving" was the title of the forum on 22 April. The Swedish Minister for European Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, stated that climate is the main challenge and that the EU must keep working on this despite the economic crisis. According to the mayor of Bonn, Bärbel Dieckmann, despite the crisis, local and regional authorities must invest more in sustainability, because this is the only way for us to find solutions. The director general of Gallup Organisation Europe, Robert Manchin, advised against trying to find one catch-all European solution: each country brings something different.
Democracy, governance and inclusion
Speakers at the session on participation and inclusion stressed on the importance of making sure that the crisis do not push the issue of gender equality away on the sidelines. The deputy mayor of Rennes, Jocelyne Bougeard, presented the tools created by CEMR's Committe of women elected representatives of local authorities, which she chairs, to help signatory local authorities implement CEMR's charter on the equality of women and men.
Participants to the 2d session on social inclusion agreed on the importance of social inclusion strategies in these times of economic crisis, and on the key role played by local and regional authorities. However, better results can only be achieved through better cooperation between all levels of government, civil society and the private sector. The mayor of Almere (NL) Annemarie Jorritsma, stressed that social inclusion goes beyond social well-being: it is about giving each citizen the chance to participate to society according to everybody's skills.
The second session on local and regional authorities facing changes was chaired by the director general of AFCCRE Christophe Chaillou. Participants agreed that whether towns are faced with changes, reforms or crises, the key is to involve citizens in the setting-up of strategies or plans. The mayor of Reykjavik, Hanna Birna Kristjansdottir, explained how her town responded to the financial crisis: A crisis can act as a catalyst to launch new forms of cooperation. The unemployment rate shot up from 1% to 9%, this called for a strong reaction. We have had to rethink the way we think.
Demographic change and public services
The first session on public services focused on the impact of demographic change on public services. The mayor of Nynäshamn (Sweden), Ilija Batljan, stressed that local and regional authorities must keep but also recruit senior people in order to address demographic change, while the deputy director general of DG Employment of the European Commission, Lenia Samuel, highlighted the importance of volunteer work by older people in order to use their experience. The secretary general of the European federation of public service union (EPSU), Carole Fischbach-Pyttel, favoured "age management" as an approach already adopted in Finland.
But how to measure and assess the quality of public services? This is also a matter of culture, agreed participants to the second session on public services. In Sweden, a high number of local authorities take part in "open comparison" of their services (health, education, safety...). The director general of the Swedish association of local and regional authorities, HÃ¥kan Sörmann, stressed that it is important that such exercises are transparent and that result be made public. The mayor of Sceaux and executive president of AFCCRE, Philippe Laurent, emphasised that in France this is a political issue and that local leaders can choose how to evaluate the quality of their public services.
What about cohesion policy?
One of the most crucial debates was about the future (and not only financial) of cohesion policy. Cohesion policy should be open to all regions, said the European Commission representative David Sweet, because there are poor areas in all European regions; I am also against the urban-rural division. His views were echoed by the president of AFCCRE Louis Le Pensec: we use a new word in France, "rurbanisation", to illustrate the fact that urban and rural areas become increasingly intertwined. Eurocities secretary general Paul Bevan too agreed that making the distinction between urban and rural areas is not always ideal.
The concept of "territorial dimension" does not limit to territories within the EU. As DuÅ¡ica Perisic from the association of local authorities of the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) put it: pollution does not stop at the EU borders; local and regional authorities must cooperate to solve regional problems. Participants agreed that issues such as climate change, increasing poverty and unemployment need a better cooperation between local and regional authorities from the EU and elsewhere in Europe.
New roles and partnerships in international development
Participants to the session on development cooperation agreed that the role of local and regional authorities is increasingly acknowledged in international documents and European programs. They called for the "re-politisation" of development and for local authorities to become full partners in this field. They also called for partnership between local/regional authorities, civil society and states, and stressed the importance of the European platform of local and regional authorities for development, whose secretariat is managed by CEMR.
Climate and local and regional authorities
Local and regional government can contribute to tackling climate change. That is one of the conclusions of the session on this issue. The other is that the international agreement that will succeed to the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 must acknowledge the role of local and regional authorities. Participants called for an ambitious agreement as well as for local authorities across the world to mobilise to convince national governments and international organisation to involve towns and regions in the definition of future strategies, and to support the latter in the implementation of climate policies. The mayor of Naestved (Denmark) and CEMR rapporteur on climate Henning Jensen, called on participants to see climate change as an opportunity to move closer towards a sustainable, greener economy.
The president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, Jeremy Rifkin, told delegates that local and regional authorities must, in order to tackle the crisis, lay the foundation stone of the "third industrial revolution": that revolution will only start when we will have created decentralised systems to use renewable energies. Our public buildings will then become mini power plants able to produce but also to redistribute energy. You have the expertise, the future belongs to you!
Finally, the general assembly included a special session on the 20th anniversary of EU funding to town twinning. As the crisis badly affects Europeans, our citizens unceasingly see their local authorities as a beacon, a haven in which the feeling of belonging to Europe can grow through town twinning, said the mayor of Valladolid, Francisco Javier León de la Riva. According to the European Commission representative Risto Raivio, town twinning can help make the difference vis-à-vis the challenges ahead. The European Commission and CEMR are currently working at adapting the EU program on town twinning to today's needs, twenty years after its launch, and 50 years after the first town twinnings in the wake of WWII. The 20 year old twinning between Aalborg (DK) and Riga (LV) was described as an example of a successful twinning.
The speeches and presentations at CEMR's general assembly (Note: this document is VERY heavy and may take several minutes to download)