THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe seeks to develop throughout Europe common and democratic principles based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of individuals. It is based in Strasbourg. The members of the Council of Europe are 47 European countries and 5 observer states (Holy See, US, Canada, Japan and Mexico).
Its aims are as follows:
- to defend human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law;
- to promote awareness and encourage the development of Europe's cultural identity and diversity;
- to find common solutions to the challenges facing European society, such as discrimination against minorities, intolerance, bioethics and cloning, terrorism, the slave trade, organised crime and corruption, cyber criminality, and violence against children;
- to consolidate democratic stability in Europe by backing political, legislative and constitutional reform.
The Council of Europe functions through the following bodies: - the Committee of Ministers, - Parliamentary Assembly, - Congress of Local and Regional Authorities - Secretariat.
Areas in which the Ministry of Territorial Policy participates in the Council of Europe
- European Conferences of Territorial Policy Ministers
- Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR). Forum for the Future of Democracy
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
Furthermore, Spain has 24 representatives on the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
· Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government
Held every two years. They discuss issues pertaining to the mechanisms of participation and consensus between different levels of central, regional and local government. In Spain this position is fulfilled by the Minister of Territorial Policy. The last meeting took place in Utrecht (Netherlands) in November 2009, and the next one will be held in Kiev (Ukraine) in 2011.
At the 16th Conference of Ministers held in Utrecht on 16th and 17th November 2009, participants focused on the signing of the additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government about the right to participate in the affairs of local collectives, and Protocol No. 3 to the European framework convention regarding cross-border co-operation between territorial collectives or authorities relating to European groupings of territorial co-operation (EGTCs). At this meeting, Spain was also called upon to follow the agreements contained in the “Utrecht Declaration”, until the next Conference of Ministers takes place in 2011.
· Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR)
Established under the authority of the Committee of Ministers and affiliated to the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Democratic Institutions. It is the CoE body responsible for dealing with all matters pertaining to local and regional institutions: it analyses, plans, coordinates and monitors the activity of member states in terms of strengthening democratic practices among local and regional governments. Its work focuses on the publication of reports and guidelines for the adoption of recommendations and agreements by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
Two steering meetings and two plenary sessions are held a year. The Committee acts in the periods between the sessions of the Council’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and works on matters referred to it by said Congress.
At its meetings, participants examine current affairs relating to local democracy and compare national experiences in each area, with a view to establishing common guidelines to draw up EU policy.
A representative of the Directorate General of Regional Co-operation takes part in this Committee.
This Committee is responsible for supervising and approving the work carried out by the three subordinate Committees of Experts that report to it:
1. Committee of Experts on local and regional government institutions and co-operation (LR-IC).
2. Committee of Experts on good democratic governance at local and regional level (LR-GG)
3. Committee of Experts on local and regional finance and public services (LR- FS)
· Forum for the future of Democracy
Forum for reflection affiliated to the Council of Europe, which aims to strengthen freedoms and citizen participation. All the main stakeholders take part (Council of Europe Institutions, Governments, Parliaments, academics and civil society). Annual meetings are held, hosted by a different country and focusing on a specific theme each time. So far, four meetings have been held: Warsaw (2005), Moscow (2006), Stockholm (2007), Madrid (2008), and Kiev, (2009).
· European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was drawn up by the Council of Europe and signed on 5th November 1992. Subsequently, since it was an international treaty, it was ratified by Spain on 9th April 2001 and entered into force on 1st August 2001.
The Charter Preamble states that the protection of these languages “contributes to the maintenance and development of Europe's cultural wealth and traditions”, and that the right to use one of these languages “in private and public life is an inalienable right”, conforming to the principles embodied in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and according to the spirit of the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
In the specific case of Spain, the Declaration made with the ratification is particularly important, included in the first paragraphs of the instrument of Ratification, specifying the scope of application, since a distinction must be made between two different levels of protection:
1. Languages that are recognised as official in the Statutes of Autonomy for the regions of the Basque Country, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Galicia, the Region of Valencia and Navarre.
2. Regional or minority languages protected and safeguarded by the Statutes of Autonomy in territories where they are traditionally spoken:
- Bable or Asturian in Asturias.
- Aragonese in Aragon.
- Leonese and Galician in Castilla y León.
In accordance with article 15 of the Charter, Member States that have signed up to the Charter must present periodic Reports about the internal policy followed in compliance with the obligations accepted. Following the first submission, subsequent Reports must be presented “at three-yearly intervals”, as Spain is doing.
In 2010, the Ministry of Territorial Policy drafted the third country report for Spain (2006-2008). In the process of drawing up the third country Report for Spain, particular attention has also been paid to the second level of protection mentioned previously (Bable in Asturias, Aragonese in Aragon, and Leonese and Galician in Castilla y León). Furthermore, the level of protection afforded in Spain to languages covered by the Committee of Experts and the Committee of Ministers in its comments and recommendations about the second country report for Spain is being monitored: Catalan in Aragon, Galician in Asturias, Portuguese in Olivenza, Arabic in the City of Ceuta, Berber in the City of Melilla, Romani and Caló.
It should also be pointed out that the Official Languages Council, created through Royal Decree 905/2007, which has held two meetings, on 28th January 2008 and 23rd July 2009, can help to facilitate, within its sphere of competence, the fulfilment of requirements derived from the European Charter of reference.
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities
In 1994, the European Congress of Local and Regional Authorities was set up as a consultative body to replace the former Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. It works on the basis of Statutory Resolution (2000) 1 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
The Congress comprises two chambers: the Chamber of Local Authorities and the Chamber of Regions. The two-chamber assembly has 315 full members, each of whom is an elected representative from one of over 200,000 local and regional authorities in the Council’s member states.
Today it is a consolidated institution alongside the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. The tasks carried out by the Congress include initiatives such as the Framework Convention on cross-border co-operation, the European Charter for Local Self-Government and the Landscape Convention, legal instruments that today form the basis of local and regional democracy in the Council of Europe and the European Union.
The Congress appoints its President from the members of each Chamber on an alternating basis. The President remains in office for two ordinary sessions. The Congress meets once a year in Strasbourg when it also welcomes delegations from accredited European organisations and some non-member states as special guests or observers. The Standing Committee, drawn from all national delegations, meets between the Congress plenary sessions during the Autumn and Spring Sessions with the different Committees.
The Congress is the voice of Europe’s regions and municipalities in the Council of Europe. It:
1. Provides a forum where local and regional elected representatives can discuss common problems, pool their experience and express their views to governments;
2. Advises the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on all aspects of local and regional policy;
3. Co-operates closely with national and international organisations representing local and
4. Organises hearings and conferences at local and regional levels to reach a wider public whose involvement is essential to a working democracy;
5. Prepares regular country-by-country reports on the state of local and regional democracy in all the Council’s member states, and monitors in particular the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government; and
6. Helps new member states with the practical aspects of their progress towards establishing effective local and regional self-government
The Congress divides its work up amongst four statutory committees.
Spain has 24 members on the Congress; 12 representing the Autonomous Regions and 12 representing local governments. The designation of these members is governed by the agreement adopted by the Senate’s General Commission of the Autonomous Regions on 24th March.