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General Assembly - 15.05.2006
Wrap-up of CEMR's general assembly (Innsbruck, 10-12 May 2006)
Over 1200 participants representing municipalities, towns, provinces and regions from 36 European countries,.three days of sessions and workshops on financing public services, the role of local and regional government in tomorrow's Europe, women and men equality in local life, town twinning and local and regional governments in South East Europe...That was CEMR's 23d general assembly, held in Innsbruck from 10 to 12 May 2006.
CEMR's policy committee met ahead of the general assembly, on 10 May. Amongst its main decisions were the adhesion of CEMR's first Romanian members (National Union of County Councils of Romania et Association of Romanian Communes), the adoption of the European charter for equality between women and men in local life, and the election of Ake Hillman (Sweden) as the chair of CEMR's employers' platform.
The policy committee also authorised the secretary general to signe the lease for a "house of European municipalities and regions" in Brussels; the building, a stone throw away from the European Parliament, will host CEMR and various representations of its member associations.
Opening ceremony and debate on Europe
The opening ceremony included a message from the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. CEMR's first vice president and mayor of The Hague, Wim Deetman, informed the delegates that never has CEMR's general assembly brought together representatives from so many countries: CEMR's strength comes from its wide geographical representation, its capacity to bring together all spheres of government, and the quality of its wide scope of policy work. The speaker of Austria's parliament, Andreas Kohl, insisted that Europe is a bottom-top process, staring from local governments.
The second highlight of the day was the session on the role of local and regional government in Europe. The European Constitution must not be considered as abandoned, said CEMR president and mayor of Vienna, Michael Häupl. The mayor of Bonn, Bärbel Dieckman, followed suit: Despite its difficulties, Europe is in very good shape. Our children do not even remember that until recently identity cards were needed at border! Polish MEP Jan Olbrycht stressed the importance of local and regional government: The most important partnerships for the European institutions are the municipalities and regions. The debate on Europe should not be left to the experts alone!
Six workshops on the future of public services
In all, six workshops on public services took place. The first ended on the agreement that municipalites and regions need to share best practices to face the challenges of demographic changes in Europe. Andreas Fischer, Secretary of State from Saxony, stated that though there is no single solution to these changes, a global approach must be put in place and various concepts must be set up, tested and monitored with the view of applying them across Europe.
Two types of social models were reflected at the workshop on access to public services: the more Anglo-Saxon and the French. The mayor of Almeira, Ms. Jorritsma, said that public services are delivered to consumers, and that public servants must work accordingly. The deputy mayor of Rennes, Ms. Lefrançois, would rather talk about users than customers, whereas the mayor of Malmö, Mr. Reepalu, recalled that the European social system is considered a model outside Europe, and that it must be safeguarded.
How to address the needs of the most vulerable? That was the theme of the third workshop. participants agreed that the principle of solidarity must not be compromised by budgetary constraints and competitivity. They also expressed their concern at the new trend whereby national governments play a more active role in setting up national quality standards, this being a potential threat to the principle of local self-governance.
Participants to the workshop on financing public services agreed that there is a need to adapt the funding of services to the ageing of the population. They also agreed that the division of responsibilities between spheres of governance, transparency and the communication towards citizens still need to be improved.
Monitoring systems of performance and cost-effectiveness of public services are spreading across Europe. The mayor of Evora, José Ernesto D'Oliveira said that local governments need to develop new management models based on good governance, democracy and accountability to citizens. With this view, participants insisted on the need to exchange best practices at the national and European levels. Others highlighted the need to do performance benchmarking between local and regional government across the EU. Finally, Jon Bloomfield presented his new study produced for CEMR on central governments' policy approaches towards local government on the issues of performance and cost-effectiveness.
The last workshop was on strategies to deliver services. Keith Withmore, from Greater Manchester council said that there is no universal strategy on this issue: It is about finding the right balance between in-house services, outsourcing, public-public partnerships and public-private partnerships, and even selling or transferring services to another supplier. Participants asked CEMR to keep its active role in the defence of local public services.
South East Europe, twinning and Millennium Objectives
The session on local and regional governments in South East Europe was chaired by the mayor of Rhodes, Georgios Giannopoulos. Delegates agreed that it is important for local authorities from that region to become our partners. The president of the local chamber of CLRAE, Yavus Mildon, stressed the excellent cooperation with CEMR, whereas the vice president of the association of Ukrainian cities and communes, Mykola Fedoruk, stated that We are witnessing the creation of a new Europe, we want to be part of this Europe. The network of local governments from South East Europe, NALAS, was represented by its executive director; Ginka Tchavdarova said that NALAS is some sort of CEMR since it facilitates exchanges of experience and information in the region.
Getting together while preserving our respective roots, this is one of the aspects of European construction to which town twinning contributes. These were the opening words of the chair of CEMR's working group on twinning, Anders Knape, at the session on town twinning. Several examples of successful twinning projects were presented including one on integration of immigrants and another on improving healthcare.
Finally, the session on international perspectives was chaired by the mayor of Malmö, Ilmar Reepalu. He recalled that the Millennium Development Goals are within our reacg, and that local government's role in reaching them is crucial. The secretary general of United Cities and Local Government (CGLU) Elisabeth Gateau, stressed the constant struggle for the UN to aknowledge the importance of local government towards the Millennium Objectives, and Heinrich Hoffschulte reminded participants that though 10 years ago, local government was virtually absent on the international stage, today it plays an active role on it.
At the round table that followed, the mayors of Setubal and Stuttgart, Carlos Barateiro Sousa and Wolfgang Schuster, and the president of the Piedmont region, Mercedes Bresso, presented the achievements of their municipality or region in this field. Eveline Herfkens, executive co-ordinator for the Millennium Objectives campaign, called on local government to get involved in the campaign: We cannot succeed without your help, she explained.
At the same session, participants heard the vocal messages recorded by mayors in the framework of the campaign against poverty.
More CEMR press releases on its Innsbruck general assembly (including on the launch of the European Charter for equality of women and men in local life)
Pierre Vander Auwera
Adviser – Communication
Tel. : + 32 2 500 05 41
Skype : pierre_vda