An inspiring conversation with Mr. Kiefer

ožu 18, 2021

EU values and Enlargement

ALDA interviewed the Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

ALDA interviewed Mr. Andreas Kiefer – Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe – earlier this week. It goes without saying that this online exchange was of great interest, and inspired us to pursue our mission and daily commitment in supporting citizens’ participation and local democracies.

Those more familiar with our world will notice, by reading this interview, how many common key aspects and guidelines there are between the work of the Congress and the one of ALDA. Not surprisingly, given that ALDA is an emanation of the Council of Europe (CoE) itself, and its mission in supporting citizens’ initiatives and local authorities can be anything but far from CoE’s activities and consequentially also from Congress’ commitments.

At the outset of the conversation, Mr. Kiefer gave us a general overview on the role of the Congress. The latter is based on five main pillars: from being a forum of exchange and discussion among members; to having a consultative and advisory role for the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Furthermore, the  Congress has  a monitoring function for the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government in the 47 member states, including citizens’ participation and  observation of local and regional elections. On a more practical side, the Congress acts as an operational secretariat on the ground, implementing concrete projects: a shared aspect with ALDA’s work. Finally, the Congress contributes to the distribution of Council of Europe policies and campaigns, like on gender equality, preventing corruption, and promoting ethical behaviours, among others.

Going deeper into the Congress’ strategic plan for 2021, Mr. Kiefer explained five further areas to be discussed later this year. All of them have a key word in common: society. In fact, the latter has been tackled from different angles so that to respond to its complexity and multiple dimensions. Beginning with resilient societies, the will is to define concrete and effective responses to the current crisis, while also drawing lessons for the future. In addition, the present situation has – to some extent – made inequalities come to the surface, highlighting how essential is the need of creating more cohesive societies. Moreover, the Congress has noticed how, in order to have a higher impact in facing inequality, local authorises have to be included into the policy-making process: from analysis, to drafting and implantation.

The Congress is working in order to safeguard the “quality of representative democracy and citizens participation”, spurring also for a further development of an education to democratic citizenship

Moving towards another facet of society; during the last couple of years especially, underlined Mr Kiefer, we have been experiencing an increased awareness of environmental issues. In this way the Congress – within a multilateral approach of CoE – is also working towards the constitution of sustainable societies, encouraging people to take responsibilities, while working together to make an impact in this realm. In addition, considering the era of technology in which we are, the Congress is addressing its commitment to digital societies, proposing itself as a platform of exchange and support of local authorities within this sector, without forgetting to focus on the meaning that digitalisation has for the citizens as well. Mentioning citizens leads us to the fifth aspect: democratic societies. On that feature, the Congress is working in order to safeguard the “quality of representative democracy and citizens participation”, spurring also for a further development of an education to democratic citizenship.

Listening to Mr. Kiefer’s words one will easily notice how many common and recurring words there are also within the work of ALDA – be they democracy, resilience or citizens’ participation – guiding us daily, and linking us to the European level perspective.

Discussions about Europe go hand in hand with the ones concerning the European Neighbourhood. Thus, in the wake of the recent opening of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in Ukraine, a country where we both are very active, Mr Kiefer cherished ALDA’s active role on the field and the Local Democracy Agencies’ grassroot actions in supporting local authorities and organisations in the decentralisation process.

Talking about the LDAs, and in line with ALDA’s plan to develop the network, we highly appreciated Mr Kiefer’s words saying that he, and the Congress “hope there will be future ones, [wishing] to extend our existing cooperation in the framework of what the Congress does, trying to get young people on board, trying to get women on board, trying to further involve the population”.

Finally, in the light of the new ALDA strategic views – which focus on achieving a full empowerment of local resilient communities in a long-lasting sustainable and inclusive way in the whole Europe and beyond, by strengthening the capacity of local authorities and the level of citizens participation – we asked the Secretary General about the Congress’ expectations and main plans for the involvement of the civil society in a sustainable development of communities.

First of all, Mr. Kiefer recalled the importance of the European Local Democracy Week as a forum of participatory democracy, while suggesting how “including citizens in taking responsibilities for their own activities but also to demand to put democratic pressure on those who have the responsibilities to decide” is fundamental. Then he illustrated the Congress’ plan to increase a proactive role of young generations in their initiatives, for example through the establishment of “Youth Delegates”, who participate in all  47 national delegations. In addition, special attention is given to children. The Congress is thus preparing a “handbook for children on how they can take their future into their hands and contribute to the discussion on sustainable development”. Last but not least, together with other actors within the Council of Europe, the Congress is working on a digital platform on which NGOs, regions and cities interested in participatory process can find useful information and inspiring good practices. As mentioned by Mr. Kiefer: “we think no theoretical concept can be as convincing as a good project that has been implemented with all the good and bad experiences made. […] This inclusive and concrete hands-on approach”, he further explained, “complements our political work”.

Thankful to Mr Kiefer and the whole Congress’ availability, ALDA is more motivated than ever to take up the challenges and proposals to increase our cooperation in Europe and its neighbourhood, strong of our shared values and also motivated by Mr. Kiefer’s final remarks: “the message was clear: yes, we are complementary; yes, we can work together. […] We are looking forward to continuing a very good cooperation”.