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Opening speech of Giovanni DI STASI, President of the Chamber of Regions

Konferenz ьber den verfassungsmдЯigen Status der Regionen in der Russischen Fцderation und in anderen europдischen Staaten- die Rolle der regionalen gesetzgebenden Organe in der Stдrkung der ,,Einheit in der Vielfalt" - Kazan, 11. - 12. Juli 2003

Opening speech of Giovanni DI STASI, President of the Chamber of Regions

Mr President, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me as the representative of the Council of Europe and Vice-President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe to participate today in this important meeting, which we have the pleasure to organise jointly with the State Council of the Republic of Tatarstan.

First of all, I would like to congratulate for the quality of organisation for this event and for the active participation of all authorities concerned with the subject on the agenda. I hope that we will contribute in a very constructive way with our colloquy to the discussions in your country on the future of regional structures and the distribution of competencies between the regional and the national level.

Regions are a current political reality in Europe. They are an active partner in the construction of a democratic society and want to be recognised as a partner in the political decision making process at national as at European level. They found their political platform in the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and became a statutory pillar of European integration since the Treaty of Maastricht of the European Union, with the creation of the EU Committee of Regions.

You might know that the Council of Europe tries to reply to the new challenges in Europe concerning the active participation of regions in political decision making.

The Congress's main task today is to support reforms aimed at establishing local democracy and, in certain countries, regionalisation. It offers its assistance to central and east European countries in drafting institutional acts, based on the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government.

This conference is a unique pan - European forum bringing together major political actors from European countries having special experiences with the functioning of federal structures. Europe and especially the member countries of the Council of Europe are considered to be a community of common norms and values in the field of the state of law and the democratic structuring of our states and its regional components.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe and especially its Chamber of Regions are promoting decentralisation, regionalisation and the building of functional federal structures. In this respect, the Congress is closely working along the lines of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which just two weeks ago discussed a very interesting report on the "Positive experiences of autonomous regions as a source of inspiration for conflict resolution in Europe". In this report, all the advantages of setting up functional autonomous regions with elected self-government bodies within the administrative organisation of the national states are clearly analysed and in the adopted Resolution it is underlined how positive these administrative structures contribute to the harmonious socio-economic and cultural development of a country.

Federal structures in Europe have been developed at different historical stages in the development of the states being today organised in a federal way. The oldest federation is certainly Switzerland where the state was formed by the will of the autonomous cantons. The German and the Austrian federal structures are the result of the 2nd World War and the Belgium federal structures can be considered as the result of the successful negotiations between different cultural entities with the central power. Italy has chosen with its recent reforms the way into future federal structures and in Spain, we can detect also elements for an asymmetric federalism. This very short overview shows that there exists no unique model for the organisation of a federal state in Europe.

In practice, it is difficult to specify in a universally accepted way how powers should be allocated. In all countries there are different schools of thought on how the principle of subsidiarity should be applied in practice.

Prospects for further regionalisation in Europe. Decentralisation and regionalisation are progressing in all European countries. Both in Western Europe as in the new member States of Central and Eastern Europe, we can see that new initiatives are being introduced to strengthen or create regional or decentralised structures. Political and parliamentary debates are under way in this respect, in Italy, in France, in Hungary. The Slovak Republic adopted a new law for the creation of regions and the Czech Republic created regions in January 2001. Regions of different structures, competencies and character are the result. Europe has to live with this diversity, which is its wealth. Decentralisation, regionalisation and federal structures are different steps of the same process, which in its final objective is to bring political and administrative structures nearer to the citizens to strengthen democracy and to respect cultural and ethnical diversity and heritage.

Every State has to find its own way for the organisation of the administrative structures which reply best to the political history and the aspirations for regional self-government of the entities on which the State is built.

The debate on the practical application of the principle of solidarity shows that democracy is a form of public organisation which cannot be set in stone once and for all. It is a process which evolves and is constantly changing, but in order to remain democratic must, nevertheless, comply with certain basic principles.

The Congress of Regional and Local Authorities is giving assistance to all governmental bodies which are interested in learning about European experiences with federal structures, with regionalisation or the policies of decentralisation. To delegate decision-making power from the level of the central government to the level of the regional entities is the application of the principle of subsidiarity which is not only the basis of the Council of Europe Charter for local self-government but it is also the guiding orientation in the discussions on a European Charter for regional self-government and it constitutes also a reference in the discussions concerning the elaboration of a future constitution for the European Union.

The application of all these principles in the constitution of the Federation of Russia and in the organisation of its administrative state structures shows that Russia is today a country completely integrated into the democratic community of European states offering to the population an effective political structure for transparency and political participation. We also hope that the Russian Authorities will support our efforts to have adopted a European Convention in the form of the Charter of regional self-government.

The meeting during these two coming days will permit a detailed discussion on the experiences and the prospects of federal structures in Western and in Eastern Europe. The European cooperation between our member states will in this way contribute to the elaboration of modern and efficient state structures and will also contribute in this way to one of the major objectives of the Council of Europe which is the promotion and the development of the democratic society and the strengthening of democratic stability in our member countries., july, 2003