The body set up by Italian law to support and protect the rights of Italians living outside the country’s
Italians in the Czech Republic now also have their own Comites
by Roberto Franzoni
What is the Comites?
The Comites – Committee of Italians Abroad – is a body set up by Italian law to support and protect the rights of Italians living outside the country’s borders and to represent them in their relations with diplomatic and consular bodies. The Comites is an electoral body and therefore Italians living in the Czech Republic can form lists, stand as candidates and vote for their representatives in the same way as in political elections in Italy, with the only difference being that while in political elections the ballot paper is automatically sent to the Aire member, for the election of the Comites it is necessary to make an express request. It was possible to have a Comites in the Czech Republic because the number of Italians registered with Aire was at least 3,000, which is the minimum threshold for having such an institution. The last elections were held in December 2021, so our Comites is about to celebrate two years of activity. The 12 elected Comites representatives serve for five years and are unpaid. They elect a president, a vice-president, an executive committee and a secretary. These are the first elected Comites in the Czech Republic: in the previous elections, although there were already more than 3,000 Aire members, no list was presented and therefore no vote took place.
Purpose of Comites
The role of the Comites is to identify the needs of the Italian community and to promote cultural and social initiatives. These can be organised in collaboration with the Embassy and Consulate and other institutions. Initiatives may concern youth, equal opportunities, social and educational assistance, vocational training, recreation, sport and leisure.
The Comites collaborates with the Consular Authority, particularly in the protection of the civil rights and interests of the Aire members, and in the dissemination of Italian history, tradition and language. It is also the duty of the Comites to give an opinion on requests for contributions made to Italian institutions by the local media or by organisations carrying out social, cultural and welfare activities for the benefit of the Italian community. The Patronato must also periodically inform the Comites of the general activities carried out.
What the Comites Czech Republic has done in this first two years
As we said, this is the first Comites in the Czech Republic, so it had to start from scratch. First of all, the Comites had to draw up its own statute to regulate its functioning. Secondly, since the Comites is an Italian organisation, it had to be organised according to Czech law in order to be able to act as a legal entity capable of receiving funds, issuing invoices, signing contracts, and so on. An association (spolek) was therefore created, also with its own statutes, designed to be used in the future by the representatives elected in the next elections, who would replace the current ones, an association that would therefore provide for the automatic exit of the previous members and the entry of new ones. Not exactly a simple matter.
In order to carry out its work more effectively, four working commissions have been set up: Education and Culture, Social Affairs, Information and Communication and Institutional Relations; each member of the Comites can be a member of several commissions and these can also involve outsiders.
The activities of the Comites are mainly financed by contributions from the Farnesina. An annual budget is then drawn up and, on the basis of the funds received, it is decided how they should be distributed. For 2022, the Comites received 4.949 euros. This did not allow the Comites to have their own operational headquarters, staff and equipment. It was therefore decided to allocate the ministerial contributions mainly to the creation of the website so that, together with the Facebook page, it could reach and provide useful information to Italians in the Czech Republic. The website, which has just been launched, is still lacking in content, but will be enriched from time to time with the aim of making it a point of reference for compatriots. In this respect, it is very important for the Comites to reach as many Italians living in the Czech Republic as possible, in order to widen the audience, to know the main problems and to act accordingly. Everyone is therefore invited to register on the Comites website.
In the social field, the Comites, aware of the importance of pension issues among the Italian community, met with the Head of Patronage in the Czech Republic in order to assess the critical issues identified and to implement cooperation in terms of information.
Among the activities carried out in the cultural field is the cooperation with the Eleutheria Foundation in the organisation of the photographic exhibition ‘Resilent’, which was staged at the Czech Parliament and the Italian Cultural Institute.
All the activities of the Comites are public and are summarised in the minutes of the meetings, which are also published on the website.