News - UDiTE
HAPPY 70th BIRTHDAY CEMR!
Defending the interests of local government since 1951
Speaking on importance of local government in Europe, Annemarie Jorritsma, a Member of the Dutch Senate and a former president of CEMR, stressed that local governments should be listened to as the only level of governance which directly engages citizens on a day-to-day basis. “The local level is the only place where people meet ordinary citizens, not only those who represent one interest or another”, she said.
The Mayor of Poitier, Léonore Moncond’huy, is part of a new generation of young politicians who have awakened to the climate emergency. She affirmed CEMR’s importance for knowledge-sharing and advocacy so as to bring the European Union closer to citizens.
The Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo affirmed that cities can play a leading role in tackling the multiple crises – environmental, health, economic and democratic – which our societies are struggling with. “Cities can undertake very practical policies – for example on mobility, construction and housing, or civic participation”, she said. “We are lucky in Europe to have mayors in our cities almost all of whom are engaged on climate issues.” Hidalgo observed that, despite certain polemics in the media, Parisians broadly supported changes in lifestyle such as pedestrianisation and increased cycling.
Fernando Medina, the Mayor of Lisbon, gave an overview of the threats in the postpandemic period. These included economic pressure to revert to an environmentally unsustainable “life as before”, huge economic and social damage, and the rise of right-wing populism. “The big challenge is to make the recovery into a time of change towards much stronger climate action, more inclusion and more democratic participation”, he said.
Medina noted that the EU’s reaction to the pandemic had been much swifter and more positive than during the financial crisis of the 2010s. Lisbon won the coveted European Green Capital award in 2020, something which Medina argued was not merely about recognition of past environmental action, but about building a future-oriented coalition for action on health and climate.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, the 30-year-old European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, highlighted major areas of action to create sustainable societies. He argued for shifting to a no-waste circular economy, investing in zero-pollution technologies and reversing biodiversity loss. The EU’s Climate Pact has been devised precisely to involve citizens, businesses and local governments on these issues and foster the needed collaboration across the whole society. He was optimistic on local governments’ ability to contribute. “Cities are always hubs for green innovations and new technologies”, Sinkevičius said. “They are the places where you can really see lifestyles evolving.”
Bart Somers, the Mayor of Mechelen in Belgium, shared his experience on how he made a success of his now remarkably diverse city. Indeed, while Somers himself is a fourteenth-generation Mechelener, today half of people born there are of a foreign background.
The mayor emphasised three crucial areas of action: investing in police and social services to have a safe and clean city (otherwise residents will not trust the local government and seek a scapegoat); promoting equal opportunities and social mobility; and taking measures to socially mix people and fight segregation. “In a lot of European cities, we live in archipelagos of monocultural environments”, Somers said. “In Mechelen, we try to mix schools and sports clubs, that way people aren’t strangers to each other.”
The Mayor of Gdansk in Poland, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, had recently commemorated the tragic assassination of her predecessor Paweł Adamowicz two years earlier. She said citizens had come together after the tragedy. Despite an intensely polarised national political climate often unfavourable to minorities, Gdansk was seeking to be a distinctly welcoming city. “Every single day we are trying to step-by-step create a city where openness and equal treatment for all are part of everyday life”, Dulkiewicz said. “I want to make Gdansk a place where every person feels at home.”
“Imagine Europe in 2051”
Future strategists from citiesofpeople.com presented an overview of the history of government and how future thinking can enable sound long-term planning. Elected leaders responded with their own visions based on their political experience.
James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), stressed that we are seeing a long-term shift towards decentralised government. This is because citizens tend to trust local governments more and municipalities have been able to rally local communities against COVID and for sustainability. Technology and teleworking would also enable more people to live in smaller communities. “The model of the future is a connected community not a top-down central government”, Jamieson said.
Gunn Marit Helgesen, the co-president of CEMR and vice-president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRA) of the Council of Europe, closed off the proceedings with a positive view of local and regional governments’ future contribution to Europe. “Our political priorities offer great potential for a united, peaceful and democratic Europe”, she said.