The debate of the Assembly concerning the implementation of the Dayton Agreements for Peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Doc. 7541
25 April 1996

by Mr RUFFY, Switzerland, Socialist Group


            As the Committee's responsibilities fall under three main areas, I could also have dealt with the parts of the Dayton Agreements which warranted comment by the Committee on matters relating to the environment or regional planning.  However, I have preferred to restrict myself to the area relating directly to the mission entrusted by the Agreements to the Council of Europe, ie implementation of the civilian aspects of the peace settlement.

            In view of the above and the responsibilities of the Committee, the latter's contribution on the matter will be limited to questions relating to local and regional authorities and local democracy.

            In 1993, in its Resolution 251 on humanitarian action and aid to local democracy in former Yugoslavia, the Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) ‑ now the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) ‑ picked up on and supported the concept of Local Democracy Embassies proposed by the Belgian "Causes Communes" and supported by the Swiss "Causes Communes".

            It will be remembered that these NGOs had previously embarked upon a remarkable initiative with the founding of the Romanian Villages Operation, based on a partnership between the municipalities of western Europe ‑ initially primarily in Belgium ‑ and Romanian municipalities, with a view to developing the principles of local democracy in accordance with the principles of the Council of Europe.

            Using the experience acquired and practical results obtained, these NGOs, supported by others such as the Belgian sections of Médecins sans Frontières and Amnesty International, proposed partnership agreements between a municipality located in the territory of former Yugoslavia and a number of European local authorities which were prepared to keep a permanent on-the-spot presence in order to encourage, develop or preserve the democratic process as part of the measures for building confidence within and between the various communities.

            In the same year, under the aegis of the CLRAE, a monitoring committee was set up which clarified the concept and defined the following aims for Local Democracy Embassies (LDEs):

            The activities carried out in order to achieve these aims consist primarily of: Schools for Civil Society whose aim is to organise discussion and training sessions on democracy, human rights, etc; exchanges and activities involving the partner towns; and preparing the ground for the necessary conditions for dialogue between the various sectors of civil society such as universities, the media, political circles, etc.

            The success of the LDEs depends primarily on the extent and conscientiousness of the partnership, the participation under clearly-defined conditions by certain NGOs and a permanent on-the-spot presence which encourages dialogue based on mutual trust and provides an interface between local partners, associate towns, NGOs and the institutional partners (principally the CLRAE).

            The LDAs were initially funded by Causes Communes but are now financed by the municipalities, institutional partners such as the Council of Europe, the European Union, the EBRD, etc and partner NGOs.

            In the period from 1993 to the end of 1995, four Local Democracy Embassies were opened: in Tuzla, Maribor, Osijek and Subotica.  The results obtained have shown that this initiative has had a decisively preventive role by taking practical action and by demonstrating a permanent presence by and on-going support from European towns and cities in the region.  Since then, on 13 March 1996, a 5th Embassy has been opened in Sarajevo, funded and co-ordinated by Barcelona.

            Since the Dayton Agreements, it is clear that the LDAs can be called upon to play another role, thus making them important elements in the process of "institutional" reconstruction assigned to the Council of Europe.

            The activities of the LDEs can indeed help re-build trust among citizens, the foundation for local democracy and a state governed by the rule of law, which is just as necessary for the re-birth of a country as physical reconstruction.

            The Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers has been fully aware of the possible role for LDEs, since under the "Urgent measures" it adopted for Bosnia-Herzegovina and the regions of Croatia affected by the war, it included financial support for these embassies.

            In order to strengthen and optimise the activities of the LDAs it has been proposed that (a) each LDE should extend its activities geographically to neighbouring municipalities and (b) that the five embassies already in existence should be networked to pool their experience.  I believe both these proposals should be encouraged.

            But the LDEs are not the only way in which the Council of Europe can encourage and strengthen local democracy in former Yugoslavia.

            As it has done for a significant number of countries in central and eastern Europe, the Council can also help set up a legislative framework for local authorities and assist with the organisation, holding and follow-up of local elections in these countries.

            In addition, as part of the reconstruction projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, it has been suggested that the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe launch a vast programme for the reconstruction of services in local authorities.  In this connection, and quite rightly so, it has been claimed that it would first of all be necessary to make a clear assessment of the needs.  However, if an assessment were to show there was a real need for such reconstruction, this project should ideally be given considerable priority.

            The Council of Europe can also make a valuable contribution to the democratic, civil and social reconstruction of the region by encouraging trans-frontier co-operation, the driving force behind local and regional democracy, implemented in good neighbourly relations between the countries concerned.  Here too, the networking of the Local Democracy Embassies could prove invaluable.

            These few remarks clearly show that encouraging local democracy in former Yugoslavia must be an integral part of the Council of Europe's mission in the region and

that the activities of the local and regional authorities are essential to support and consolidate the emergence of civil society and democracy.

            It is essential to have the collective and supportive contribution provided by multilateral co-operation, but the bi-lateral commitment of a town or region is just as important and should be complementary.

            Consequently, the Council of Europe should increase its efforts to accomplish the mission entrusted to it as effectively as possible.  But it is also important for our towns and regions to embark upon a process of supportive co-operation and active partnership so that democracy, human rights, peace and mutual understanding in the region can become a firmly established reality.

Reporting committee: Political Affairs Committee (Doc. 7509).

Reference to committee: Recommendation 1287 (1996)

This contribution was approved by the Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities, on 23 April 1996

Secretaries to the committee: Mrs Cagnolati-Staveris and Mr Sixto.

[1] by the Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities