Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Council of Europe - Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

At the end of March I was at the Council of Europe - Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. I'm one of 18 UK delegates to the Congress.  We are drawn from all parts of the UK.   Our delegation is 'gender balanced' and also draws its representation from all mainstream political parties.

The Council of Europe was established by the 1949 Treaty of London.  This was largely through the initiative of Winston Churchill who had the aim of fostering democracy, the rule of law and human rights throughout Europe.  Every country in Europe can be a member.  At the moment there are 47 member states.  In fact every country in Europe is a member with the exception of the Vatican and Belarus.  Even when the UK leaves the EU it will remain a member of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe operates through:

  • Secretary General;
  • Committee of Ministers - the Foreign Ministers from each of the Member States;
  • Parliamentary Assembly - a representative number of MPs from each Member State;
  • Congress of Regional and Local Authorities - a representative number of councillors from each Member State;
  • The European Court of Human Rights;
  • The Commissioner for Human Rights; and
  • Conference of NGOs  

The Council of Europe looks to pass resolutions and through a combination of persuasion, good practice and its various treaties and charters it encourages its member states to protect and enhance democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

I participated in several debates.  Here is a link to the official Congress website relating to a debate we had on the situation in Turkey:

http://www.coe.int/t/congress/newssearch/Default_en.asp?p=nwz&id=8119&lmLangue=1

This debate was important as it gave the Congress an opportunity to comment on the situation.

You can find a link to the webcast of the entire debate at the above link.  If you want to see my contribution (I was the only UK delegate to speak) you can link to it here:
https://vimeo.com/213683519  assuming you don't want to watch all 2 hours of the wider debate.

We also had a debate about the pressure of digital democracy and the pressures that, that can bring.  I took the view that the real issue isn't so much receiving information from all the digital platforms - rather the challenge for all levels of government is showing that it is listening and taking into account the views of its citizens.

This is a link to my contribution to the debate...
https://vimeo.com/213683741

and if you listen to what I said in that debate -  I really had just raised a blocked culvert issue in Frodsham with CWaC officers just before I spoke!

And finally - just before the session finished I raised diversity as an issue for the Congress to consider.   Whilst we have rules about diversity of gender - each delegation can have no fewer than 40% of delegates from one gender - our rules don't cover other aspects of diversity that we recognise in the UK - such as orientation, origin, race etc.  I think it is time they did.