Implications of the war for local authorities — an emotional debate at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Edustaja Jani Kokko kongressin täysistunnossa.

Image source: The Council of Europe 

The war in Ukraine prompted an emotional debate among municipal decision-makers at the plenary session of the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, held in Strasbourg from 21 to 24 March 2022. Ukrainian Minister for Communities and Territories Development, Oleksiy Chernyshov, and Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko addressed the Congress remotely, speaking powerfully about the current situation in Ukraine. Minister Chernyshov highlighted the need to increase pressure on Russia and strengthen cooperation between European local authorities and their Ukrainian counterparts during the crisis.

Local government representatives from across Europe told the Congress that they were actively offering humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Local authorities have delivered both financial and material aid, and preparations have been made locally to receive and help refugees. Some municipal decision-makers also mentioned that they are volunteering their homes to accommodate Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Russia was expelled from the Council of Europe by a unanimous decision of the Ministerial Conference on 16 March 2022. This means that Russia also ceased to be a member of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

Ukrainian representatives shared their own experiences

The events in Ukraine were recounted by Ukrainian representatives who shared their own experiences.

- The Ukrainians related very touching stories of the fates of people and the destruction of their beloved homeland. One woman had taken her children with her to the session. She said that the war had robbed the children of their sense of security. On arrival in Strasbourg, their first question was: “where is the bomb shelter?” Fortunately, the Council of Europe is united in the view that the Ukrainians must now be helped in many ways,” says Ulla Santti (Greens), a new member of the Finnish delegation.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities calls for an immediate end to the war and for humanitarian corridors to be established for civilian evacuation from Ukraine. Russia's attack on Ukraine violates human rights, the rule of law and democracy, which are the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe.

The Finnish delegation joins the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in strongly condemning the Russian attack and expresses its support and solidarity for Ukraine.

- The Congress and the whole civilised world must now demonstrate solidarity to support the Ukrainians. European cities, municipalities and regions must continue to support Ukrainians to alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe, says Jani Kokko (Social Democratic Party), a Finnish member of the Congress.

A declaration on the situation of Ukraine adopted by the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, on the Council of Europe’s website

Report finds room for improvement in local democracy in Germany

Another item on the agenda besides the events in Ukraine was the report on the situation of local democracy in Germany presented by rapporteur Jani Kokko, Vice-Chair of the Monitoring Committee. The Plenary Session adopted the report unanimously.

- Our report makes positive observations on the situation of local and regional governments in Germany, but there is still room for improvement. It is particularly problematic that Germany has not ratified the additional protocol that would improve the rights of citizens to participate in the affairs of local authorities and to receive information. We are currently holding discussions with the German delegation and authorities to remedy the situation, Jani Kokko concludes.

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is the voice of cities and municipalities in the international arena.

The Council of Europe is the continent's leading human rights organisation. It protects and promotes human rights, the rule of law and pluralistic democracy. The main goal of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is to strengthen the political, administrative and financial independence of European local and regional authorities. Democratic local government promotes the political stability of the continent and supports the human rights of minorities.

Finland has been a member of the Council of Europe and had representatives in the Congress since 1989. The AFLRA has acted as Secretariat of the Finnish Delegation since Finland became a Council of Europe member state.

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