Cities need to help rebuild European democracy, says new EUROCITIES President

23rd November 2016 Jonathan Andrews

Daniël Termont, Mayor of Ghent, was elected the new EUROCITIES President on 18 November in Milan during the network’s annual conference. Jonathan Andrews spoke to him about his wish for a ‘Senate of Cities’ within the EU, and how after 40 years in politics he still goes out onto the street each week to talk to people

You said in your plenary speech in Milan that cities need to take a more ‘tiki taka’ football style approach. Are cities not doing enough of this already?

Cities already work together to exchange knowledge and best practices but also to take action. However, today this often happens on an ad hoc and individual basis which makes it more chaotic. I understand that each city has its own political context, and on the national level. We should make better use of each other’s capacity and position. That is why I used the ‘tiki taka’ image; cities should join forces and work together more closely, to rethink our cities and institutions so that we can do what is needed regarding climate, work and migration.

I wouldn’t call Brexit a distraction. I believe it is a very important signal, a wake-up call that a group of British people gave us

Moreover, what’s important in ‘tiki taka’ is the high speed of execution. We should be able respond more swiftly to ‘hot issues’. That kind of co-operation should happen across the borders of the different, often thematic European networks.

What will be your main priorities in your two-year tenure?

Cities should rethink and help rebuild European democracy. Cities are the government level that is closest to the citizens. To be able to remodel democracy in Europe, it is essential that those citizens are actually listened to. Cities can make that happen. How? By setting up an EU task force with cities to rethink European democracy. By discussing the 10-point programme that I presented in Milan with the EU. By organising a festival in all member cities to celebrate democracy and show people how the EU works and how they can have an impact on policy making.

European Commissioners and civil servants as well need to get up from behind their desks and talk to the people, just like we do in our cities

Also, cities EUROCITIES have a role to play on the international level. We need to have our voices heard and to do our part to make the UN Sustainable Development Goals work. That is why we stretch out our hand to international networks in Europe as well as to city networks on other continents.

Will Brexit take up a large amount of your time over the next two years and be a distraction for you from other more, perhaps, larger issues to the network as a whole?

I wouldn’t call Brexit a distraction. I believe it is a very important signal, a wake-up call that a group of British people gave us. We should carefully analyse the story that is behind those red flags. I would like to know why people voted for or against Brexit without labelling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The network will certainly keep a close eye on the next steps in the Brexit procedure.

How will EUROCITIES work with UK members, what about EU funds given to EUROCITIES, would these still be spent with UK members?

We currently work very well together with our UK member-cities and we hope to continue that for as long as we can. We’ll see how things evolve with the Brexit negotiations but I do want to keep the UK cities on board. Which is what the cities themselves want as well, so I’ve heard. We should bind together, like we do in our cities. Moreover, an actual Brexit does not mean that those cities are suddenly no longer in Europe. They will still be European cities.

How is the relationship with European bodies? There was quite a bit of criticism in the open letter sent from Milan, are they listening more, is it just their language that needs to change?

Clearly, we are very grateful for the European Commission’s outreached hand. Via the Urban Agenda for the EU and the Pact of Amsterdam they have put cities on the European agenda. Those instruments make it possible for us to sit around the table together with the member states, members of the European Parliament and the Commission to actually give advice on European policy. But it should go further than that.

European Commissioners and civil servants as well need to get up from behind their desks and talk to the people, just like we do in our cities. It is not Europe’s language that needs to change, it is the way in which the European institutions do things and how they are organised that needs re-modelling. In that perspective, there is a lot that cities can teach Europe. Therefore it is important that cities are considered full partners by the European institutions, to be able to act immediately at all times, in close co-operation.

Termont with Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade
Termont with Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade

Is a Global Parliament of Mayors the answer?

The Global Parliament is just one of many examples that shows in practice that mayors know that working together is the only way forward. Democracy is not only about words, it is also about actions and results. Mayors have to get the job done. Cities have experience in dealing with diverse needs and still they have enough common ground to move forward.

My suggestion of a ‘Senate of Cities’ should be seen in that perspective. I invite everyone to think how the EU can engage cities as a full partner. We are an equal level of government, just like the member states. Why not make that a treaty obligation? Wouldn’t the celebration of the Treaty of Rome [that established the European Economic Community in 1957] on the 25 March in 2017 be the perfect starting point of the discussion?

You’ve been in politics for 40 years and 10 years as Mayor of Ghent, what experiences from that are you bringing to the presidency?

For 40 years now I’ve been going out into the streets to talk in real-life with the citizens. Every Saturday, I still go to meet people all over Ghent so that I know what they think about the city and especially to learn what is the story behind their ideas. Listening to people, learning from them and working together to find answers to the challenges that we face in our cities should be the backbone of our strategy.

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