The citizens of Europe’s cities and regions are the owners of Europe — its foundation. These urban societies gave and give rise to the European community long before its nation states. Our aim is to bring the constitutive role of citizens and urban societies into view and to clarify and strengthen the responsibility of Europe’s foundation to develop Europe; to show how cities contribute to Europe’s success through many of their local tasks.
The key questions in the debate will be: What responsibility, role and tasks do citizens, cities and regions have in Europe’s success (→ europe.basic)? How exactly might we bolster them in light of current developments such as:
- National populist tendencies
- Growing complexity in European solution mechanisms
- Waning interest in the idea of European unity
- Growing regulatory power/competence at the national level (Council of Ministers) and stronger tendencies towards centralisation (which result in part from the former)
- Minimal efficacy at the parliamentary level despite growing importance of the European Parliament
- in light of a poor understanding of the relationship between the European Parliament and national parliaments
- and weak incorporation of local and regional actors in pro-Europe efforts?
The present concept came into being in the face of a rapidly spreading loss of faith in the European Union’s ability to succeed in future. Political actors clearly can no longer convey with sufficient certainty that they are able to handle things, and this has led to greater doubt in the possibility of the European project succeeding as a whole.
We want to use our basic principles of co-responsibility at the grass roots to counter these developments for the benefit of Europe. We want to bring the citizens of Europe out of the role of anxious observers and into the role of actors who share the responsibility.
Specifically, the concept asks how this responsibility might develop (Wim Wenders: “Let us help Europe ourselves”). How do artists and cultural institutions contribute to Europe’s development? How can their very specific abilities build confidence in Europe and solidify Europe?
For cities and regions: How can the success of Europe’s Urban Agenda be transferred to cultural potential at the local level? How might the active role of cities and regions be advanced within the unification process (especially through their cultural excellence)? How can the “Urban Agenda for the EU” become a “European Agenda by Urban Areas”, meaning a European programme driven by urban citizens? How can input from cities be captured and exploited for the European City of Culture?
People’s own cities and municipalities are their primary basis for action. These local responsibilities relate to tasks that, taken as a whole, determine Europe’s success and advancement. This is true for both the abstract and the physical world: for social cohesion just as for economic development, integration of new people and ideas, and the preservation and use of our historical experience and historical legacy. Unless all of this is done locally, it cannot be considered a European achievement.
As a result, the emphasis does not need to be on additional tasks at Europe’s foundation. The first step should be to understand the tasks that need to be done at the foundation in their European context. And, in the process, to recognise and perceive the additional responsibility for European development.
The consequence would not just be a new perspective or a new standard for local action. It would also open the door to greater cooperation between Europe’s basis areas themselves. Cooperation that strengthens a city or region’s own potential by learning from the experiences of others, while also preparing and enabling them to come together and address the “bigwigs of Europe” with a unified voice. Cities and municipalities would experience and live the European community amongst themselves and with one another.
It has been quite a few years since we founded and developed Cities for Europe, an urban cooperation association in which cities affirm their active co-responsibility for developing the Union. The typical role of cities and regions (which can be seen most easily in the work of the Committee of the Regions in Brussels) focuses on preventing or weakening Commission initiatives that are “hostile to cities”. Our basic positions show that we consider the opposite approach to be necessary: The foundation of Europe, cities and regions and their people, have experiences and knowledge that must be mobilised for Europe’s success. Cities and regions have a co-responsibility to develop the EU.
A coalition like Cities for Europe
- makes this fundamental insight public in the European discourse
- enables cities to share their experience with contributing to Europe
- makes it easier for cities to have a bigger impact in key European institutions. After all, it was the Commission – not the cities themselves – that just formulated the first urban agenda, which still needs to be expanded upon.
It should also be the responsibility of the cities to make more of the brilliant idea that is the European City of Culture.
Volker Hassemer is co-founder of “A Soul for Europe” and President of the Board of Management of the “A Soul for Europe” E.E.I.G. Doctor of laws. Former Senator for Urban Development and Environmental Protection in Berlin, former Senator for Cultural Affairs. Chairman of the Managing Board of “Partner für Berlin” (1996–2002). Chairman of the Board of Stiftung Zukunft Berlin.