Meeting of the Socialist International Committee on Local Authorities, Cartaxo, Portugal

10-11 September 1999

The Committee on Local Authorities met on 10-11 September in Cartaxo, hosted by the Socialist Party, PS, of Portugal. The meeting was chaired by Philippe Busquin, then Chair of the Committee who took up the post of European Commissioner for Research later that month.

The Portuguese Prime Minister, António Guterres, addressed the participants, stressing that at all levels there existed a 'distinctive socialist way of exercising power' which was seen in the impact on citizens in their daily lives, consequently there was an added importance to promoting social democratic policies and vision at the local level.

Delegates gathered from many regions and the urgent situation of a number of cities in crisis was highlighted. Reporting on the aftermath of the earthquake in Turkey, Sefa Sirmen of the SI-member Republican People's Party, CHP, who is the Mayor of Izmit, the town principally affected by the disaster, and Sule Bucak, Deputy General Secretary of the Republican People's Party, CHP, thanked the international community for the solidarity it had shown and outlined the practical concerns currently facing the town and the country. In response to this firsthand information, the Committee issued a statement on the situation in Turkey and on cooperation between municipalities, calling for decentralised cooperation initiatives to help local authorities in crisis as a result of such disasters. The Committee emphasised that humanitarian aid could be accompanied by technical and material support in the rebuilding of basic infrastructures, such as the provision of water, health and hygiene control, systems for sewerage and refuse and the construction of housing: 'Such cooperation efforts should seek to work in conjunction with action undertaken by NGOs and by the governments themselves', the statement made clear.

Speaking on the situation of cities in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Ivan Vojnovic, of the Social Democratic League of Vojvodina from the city administration of Novi Sad, described the difficulties for democratic opposition at a local level in Serbia. Nikola Dajkovic, Deputy Mayor of Podgorica, of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, a member party of the International, said that international isolation and national repression made local democratic government extremely difficult in his country, where, nevertheless, the majority of communes were led by social democratic opposition. Conny Fredriksson, European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, outlined the Forum's assessment of the situation in the region and called for twinning projects to be started up again. The Committee issued a statement on the Balkans, calling for 'cities thoughout the world to show their solidarity by giving help in the reconstruction and democratisation of the Balkans, particularly by setting up partnerships with local authorities to work for peace, democracy, social justice and the respect of human rights'. The issue of the economic interests of the region was also addressed and the Committee stated the urgent need to take the relevant measures to allow traffic to flow once again on the river Danube.

Aminata Mbenge Ndiaye, Minister for Family, Social Security and National Solidarity and Mayor of Louga, Socialist Party, Senegal, presented the case of Africa where many nations remained affected by conflict and where the practical measures of the international community could be invaluable at a local level.

Zahran Marouf, Mayor of Qualqiliya, Fatah, reported on how the general problems of the Middle East region were reflected locally in terms of infrastructure and provision of services in his border town.

Benito Urrea, Secretary for Municipal Affairs, Democratic Action, AD, gave an overview of the importance of local authorities for the consolidation of democracy in Venezuela. In a statement, the Committee expressed its concern for the effects of the governability crisis on the autonomous and democratic nature of municipalities in Venezuela and reaffirmed its call that the strengthening and legitimacy of local authorities be respected.

A report was heard on the latest developments in East Timor by José Lamego, International Secretary, PS, Portugal. The Committee strongly condemned the terror and violence inflicted in East Timor, deeming the disregard of the will of the people for independence as absolutely unacceptable. The Committee emphasised once again its support for self-government and local democracy and called for the holding of democratic elections of local authorities there as soon as possible.

Turning to ways of organising the Committee to address the new tasks ahead, four initiatives, as outlined at the Second World Conference of Mayors of the International in Fez, were considered. Firstly, the preparation of a Charter of socialist local authorities. Secondly, putting into place institutional mechanisms at all levels for decentralised cooperation. To this end holding a seminar on the issue was proposed. Thirdly, the creation of a network of communication among SI mayors. Finally, support for a Global Charter of local autonomy and for the creation of a single local authorities organisation.

A summary of the proposals will be included in the draft general resolution of the XXI Congress of the International. The Committee also agreed to hold meetings in 2000 in Rosario, Argentina, at the end of March, and in Budapest, Hungary at the end of September.