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Positive experiences of autonomous regions as a source of inspiration for conflict resolution in Europe
Recommendation 1609 (2003)

Doc. 10205
8 June 2004

Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 886th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (3 June 2004)


1.         The Committee of Ministers has considered with interest Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1609 (2003) on Positive experience of autonomous regions as a source of inspiration for conflict resolution in Europe.  It wishes to inform the Assembly that it has brought it to the attention of the governments of member states.

2.         Whilst fully recognising that autonomous regions (“with powers to pass laws and to enforce them in the autonomous territory”) exist in a number of member states and, in appropriate cases, play a useful role in the protection of national minorities, the Committee of Ministers points out that this is but one of several models of regions existing in Europe. The Committee of Ministers also shares the position of the Parliamentary Assembly that the positive experience of autonomous regions could be a useful source for the resolution of conflicts while respecting the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty of states. The CDLR, which was consulted on the Recommendation (its opinion is appended to this reply), has indeed identified six basic models.

3.         The draft legal instruments on regional self-government currently under discussion are aimed to cover from the outset all types of regions and not exclusively autonomous regions as Recommendation 1609 seems to imply. These instruments should be compatible with fundamental principles and standards of democracy

4.         With regard to the remark contained in paragraph 3 of the Recommendation whereby “a convention on regional self-government must stipulate that the exercise of powers devolved to autonomous entities shall comply with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly the principles of equality, non-discrimination and secularism”, the Committee of Ministers recalls that the European Convention on Human Rights is legally binding on all member states and as such applies to the full territory of member states, subject to any territorial reservations that have been made. Accordingly individuals can invoke their rights under it, also where regional authorities allegedly violate them.  States appearing before the European Court of Human Rights cannot defend themselves on the ground that a violation was committed by a territorial authority, nor can they invoke a lack of legal domestic competence over a territorial authority as a defence.  Thus such a provision, as recommended, would be legally redundant.

5.         Moreover, if, as a result of the division of competences between autonomous regions and the central authorities, it may be difficult as a matter of domestic law for central authorities to impose certain duties arising from international treaties (including the European Convention on Human Rights) on autonomous regions, the introduction of a further international obligation as proposed would do nothing to redress this problem.

6.         As regards the Helsinki Declaration (paragraph 4 of the Recommendation), the Committee of Ministers recalls that the European Ministers responsible for local and regional government adopted it and that this Declaration was already given attention by member states at the time of its adoption.

7.         Finally, as regards the nature of the legal instrument to be adopted, the Committee of Ministers recalls that differences of views still exist between member states.

Appendix to the reply

Comments of the Steering Committee on Local Democracy (CDLR) on Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1609 on Positive experiences of autonomous regions as a source of inspiration

for conflict resolution in Europe

1.         The CDLR has noted with interest the content of Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1609.

2.         Whilst fully recognising that autonomous regions (“with powers to pass laws and to enforce them in the autonomous territory”) exist in a number of member states, the CDLR points out that this is but one of several models of regions existing in Europe. The CDLR recalls that in the course of its work on regional self-government it identified six basic models that were presented to the Committee of Ministers and the Ministerial Conference in Helsinki.

3.         In the work currently being undertaken on draft legal instruments on regional self-government, the aim has been from the outset to cover all types of regions compatible with fundamental principles and standards of democracy. It is therefore unfortunate that Recommendation 1609 by linking this work only to the notion of autonomous regions inadvertently gives rise to misunderstandings as to the scope of a possible legal instrument on regional self-government.

4.         As concerns the recommendation set out in paragraph 3 that “a convention on regional self-government must stipulate that the exercise of powers devolved to autonomous entities shall comply with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly the principles of equality, non-discrimination and secularism”, the CDLR respectfully disagrees.

5.         First and foremost it recalls that the ECHR is legally binding on all member states and as such applies to the full territory of member states, subject to any territorial reservations that have been made. Thus individuals can invoke their rights under the ECHR also where regional authorities allegedly violate them.  States appearing before the European Court of Human Rights cannot defend themselves on the ground that a violation was committed by a territorial authority, nor can they invoke a lack of legal domestic competence over a territorial authority as a defence.  Thus, a provision, as recommended by the Parliamentary Assembly, would be legally redundant.

6.         Secondly, if, as a result of the division of competences between autonomous regions and the central authorities, it may be difficult as a matter of domestic law for central authorities to impose certain duties arising from international treaties (including the ECHR) on autonomous regions, the introduction of a further international obligation as proposed would do nothing to address the matter.

7.         As regards the Helsinki Declaration (paragraph 4 of the recommendation), the CDLR recalls that the European ministers responsible for local and regional government adopted it and that this Declaration was already given attention by member states at the very time of its adoption. It would, therefore, seem superfluous for the Committee of Ministers to draw member states’ attention to it.

8.         As regards the nature of the legal instrument to be adopted, the CDLR notes the preference of the Parliamentary Assembly for a convention.  For its part, the CDLR recalls that the question of the nature of the legal instrument to be adopted is not part of its current mandate to prepare draft legal instruments of different types. I t also recalls that substantial differences of views exist between member states on the nature of the legal instrument to be adopted.