Democracy, equality, non-discrimination 19.5.2016
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Finland’s democracy praised by local government monitors

The rapporteurs Artur Torres Pereira (on the right) and Karim Van Overmeire

The rapporteurs Artur Torres Pereira (on the right) and Karim Van Overmeire

It can be stressful when outside experts take a look at your work, but it is also a great opportunity to display your skills and learn how to improve. That is how the monitoring visit of the delegation to Finland from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is being approached.

The two rapporteurs in the delegation are Artur Torres Pereira of Portugal and Karim Van Overmeire of Belgium. Their job is to meet with local Finnish officials and judge the health of municipal governments and local democracy.

“We start with more questions than answers,” says Van Overmeire.

“Each country is different,” Pereira explains. “They have their own history, own problems and local situation. It is a puzzle to put together.”

Finland is a signatory to the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which requires countries to guarantee the independence of local authorities. Overall the rapporteurs say that local government and democracy is doing well throughout the world.

“There is a very positive evolution,” says Van Overmeire. “Throughout central and eastern Europe – even globally – the Council of Europe has played an important role.”

“Yes, you can check other countries, and benchmark your own practices with others’ experiences,” Pereira agrees. “You can experience other methods and systems. Methods, in particular, are essential.”

If all goes well the report and recommendations could be adopted by the Congress in March 2017.

Adopting good ideas

The last monitoring visit to Finland highlighted a few problems which resulted in recommendations being adopted by the Congress. They were worried about the indebtedness of certain municipalities and equality of basic services throughout the country.

Yet they also had much praise. They noted that local democracy was a cornerstone of democratic life in Finland. They also pointed out that Finns have the right to appeal against decisions by local authorities and wished other European countries would copy Finland’s example.

“We have to take into consideration a country’s cultural and historical framework. There is no uniformity,” continues Pereira. “However, some solutions can be useful elsewhere. Many places have the same problems, and it can be helpful to adopt best practices.”

Van Overmeire says another practice he would like to see more widely adopted is the Nordic style of consensus-building.

“The Finnish style is collective decision making is a great model,” he says. “It is an example for other countries, like my home of Belgium. In Finland and all of Scandinavia you have this culture of compromise. It is very inspiring.”

Infobox

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is a pan-European political assembly. The 648 members hold elective office as regional or municipal councillors, mayors or presidents of regions. They represent over 200,000 authorities in 47 European states.

Their role is to promote local and regional democracy, as well as to improve and strengthen governance. One of their most important jobs is to monitor the application of the principles laid down in the European Charter of Self-Government, which includes visits to each signatory every five years.

The Charter is the first internationally binding treaty which guarantees the rights of communities and their elected officials. Signatory states undertake to respect a core of basic principles, such as the right of communities to have their own competences, administrative structures and financial resources.

A key principle is subsidiarity, the transfer of competences and financial resources to local communities. This allows for the decentralisation of power towards the level closest to the citizen.

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