Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour to be addressing you on the occasion of the 9th Petersburg International Economic Forum in the prestigious setting of the Tavricheskiy Palace, which bears witness to a long and great history.
This year the themes of the forum are economic effectiveness and the quality of life, with particular reference to such major changes in our society as globalisation and international and regional co-operation.
I preside over a European political assembly that brings together representatives of some 200,000 European local and regional institutions in the 46 Council of Europe member states. The Congress of the Council of Europe, as Mrs Orlova, as the Head of the active Russian delegation knows, does not, strictly speaking, have an economic vocation. However, I accepted your invitation with great pleasure because I wanted to put across to you the importance of local self-government and, in this connection, the values we at the Council of Europe uphold, namely democracy, human rights and the rule of law. On the other hand, I believe that in talking to you about the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and its values, I am addressing issues at the heart of the themes you have chosen for your discussions.
Indeed, there can be no such thing as economic effectiveness and quality of life unless democracy and human rights are scrupulously respected. Today our economies interact all the time. There has never been so much trade in goods and services between our nations, so much cultural exchange, such an intense information and ideas sharing.
There has never been so much human movement from one country to another. This underlying trend in our economies is the result of the spread of democracy. Economic policy-maker should not take the risk of investing in a country that does not respect the rule of law and democratic values.
Democratic security, freedom and confidence in contracts based on the rule of law, all go together to make for a dynamic economy, and therefore for one that can ensure a new quality of life.
In the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe we strive to contribute to the development of local democracy and local self-government.
Governments have understood the importance of local democracy. The Council of Europe was a European trailblazer in ensuring that this principle was firmly enshrined at the heart of modern democracy. A balanced distribution of powers and responsibilities at national, regional and local level is now a prerequisite for healthy democracy in our countries.
I often say that there is no such thing as democracy without local democracy and, in the current political European context, local democracy is being called on to play a larger part in giving our democracies new momentum.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I speak to you in St Petersburg, I will make no secret of the fact that my belief in the importance of local democracy in Europe applies, of course, to Russia, the biggest European country. For some years now we have been engaged in frank dialogue with the Russian Federation in order to encourage the balanced development of local democracy, with due regard for the difficulties stemming from the vast size of the country and the complexity of its legal set-up. A few days ago the Minister responsible for local government, Vladimir Yakovlev, addressed our 12th Session in Strasbourg and informed us of the progress of the reforms under way, and I have the feeling that some of the most recent developments in the Russian Federation point into the right direction.
Furthermore, it is by now obvious that local and regional authorities in Russia, as elsewhere, are more and more active in promoting territorial development and are key partners for investors. This is what is happening in Russia and in this wonderful City of St. Petersburg.
This gives us reason to be optimistic about the future of local self-government. It is good news for Russia, but it is also good news for Europe as a whole.