HEARING ON LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN AZERBAIJAN – CHALLENGES AND POSSIBILITIES – WHICH ROAD FORWARD? (Brussels, 13 December 2012)
On December 13, 2012 ALDA together with the Congress of the Council of Europe organised a hearing on Local democracy in Azerbaijan. The hearing took place at the Committee of the Regions in Brussels. The hearing was a follow-up to the monitoring report on Local and Regional democracy in Azerbaijan that was adopted by the Congress of the Council of Europe on October 17, 2012.
In the report, the Congress stressed the virtual inexistence of local self-government in Azerbaijan and invited the Government of Azerbaijan to take the necessary measures to adopt an action plan in order to implement the Congress’s recommendations and to fulfil Azerbaijan’s commitments as party to the Charter of Local self-government that Azerbaijan joined in 2002.
The hearing gathered relevant stakeholders to discuss the perspectives of developing local self-government in Azerbaijan and the role the Council of Europe and EU can play to support these efforts. In particular, the hearing aimed at identifying specific actions and policy initiatives that could be taken to develop local and regional democracy in Azerbaijan. Key experts such as representatives from the European Commission, the European External Action Service, the Committee of the Regions and BINA - an important NGO from Azerbaijan as well as one of the Rapporteurs of the Congress monitoring report on contributed to the event.
Local and regional authorities (LRAs) in Azerbaijan are faced with a series of challenges. First of all, they have very small budgets with only about 3.5 EUR per capita per year which results in a lack of capability to provide social services to the public. Furthermore, the municipalities are strongly supervised by the central government and have very limited authority. Another issue is that the capital city Baku is governed by an executive authority that is only accountable to the president and not by a democratically elected council.
The participants at the hearing agreed to closely observe the follow up to the Congress’ monitoring report. The EU institutions acknowledged that they will need to pay more attention to the development of local democracy in their work with Azerbaijan. Mr. Per Vinther, ALDA governing board member, stressed that the follow-up or lack of follow-up by the Azerbaijani government should be seen as a very clear indicator of whether we can have a meaningful dialogue with Azerbaijan and expressed his hope that we will see there is basis for dialogue. A first step to see if the Azerbaijani Government will follow up on the recommendations in the monitoring report is the expected participation of the Minister of Justice of Azerbaijan at the 2013 spring session of the Congress of Council of Europe.