In what has become an annual event, the EU’s Committee of the Regions organises a week-long series of seminars under the banner “Open Days”.This year, I made the effort to attend, particularly because one of the scheduled seminars hosted by the European People’s Party Group, “City diplomacy: A tool for building measures of confidence”, included participants from our Forum for Cities in Transition: Lellos Demetriades and Mustafa Akinci. This seminar was chaired by Isidoro Gottardo (President of the EPP/CoR). I was flattered for all of us in the Forum for Cities in Transition, when he thanked for Forum for its partnership in preparing for this event. First speaker was Eleni Loucaides (Municipal Councillor of Nicosia), who make the prescient point, “We live in a time of unpredictable changes and ever more frequent conflicts, which do not afford us the luxury of isolation and unilateralism.”:
David Robinson (Good Relations Officer, Belfast City Council) described how his council’s good relations programme has helped provide a more stable environment to deal with sensitive matters. However, he also reminded the audience of the many challenges that remain:
Mustafa Akinci (former leader of Turkish-Cypriot community, Nicosia) made the argument that success for inter-community dialogue is dependent upon a mutual interest. Furthermore, the success of joint collaboration on Nicosia’s sewerage system (“underground cooperation”), provided a positive context for broader projects, such as the Nicosia Master Plan (“above the ground cooperation”):
Lellos Demetriades (former leader of Greek-Cypriot community, Nicosia) described his working relationship with Mustafa. He also made the point that you don’t wait for the big solution (you could wait forever), but rather pursue those objectives you think are right, that you can achieve with cooperation of the other side, but that you don’t wait for official approval (just make sure it won’t be furiously attacked when discovered). Here, he used an analogy of a fox:
Dubravka Suica (Member of the City Assembly of Dubrovnik) made the case that “the secret of the triumph of the Dubrovnik Republic was the recognition that the key to prosperity lies in the balance between the independence and alliances”:
Kyriacos Charalambous (EU PEACE programme Desk Officer) underlined the importance of city diplomacy in Northern Ireland. He explained that the European Commission provided money to projects on the ground in order to build measures of confidence:
Transcripts of presentations are available on the Forum for Cities in Transition website, under “FCT Events Public” folder.Earlier in the day, I attended another seminar, “Empowering Cities: Local responsibilities in cohesion policy programmes?” The presentations were not so engaging. I was glad to learn about Eurocities though. And the presentation by Liverpool City Councillor, Flo Clucas, was very interesting: “Liverpool’s experiences of urban regeneration: Benefits and lessons learnt”. In her presentation, she cited the significance of Liverpool having Objective 1 status and the role of EU Cohesion Policy; how the partnership approach Liverpool established purposefully controlled the operations of the agreed programme (yet reduced from 52 to 35 partners). A Programme Monitoring Committee had elected reps from the voluntary and community sector within it. She underlined how the partnership made the difference. She said success was due to the integrated nature of what they wanted to do (across multiple sectors). Described the role of culture in the case for economic regeneration, and gave the example of when Liverpool was the European City of Culture in 2008. At the end of the day, after dumping my paperwork back in hotel, a quick catnap, and a freshen up, I met up with Nicholas again. First port of call was the Office of the Northern Ireland Executive for a reception. Plenty of canapes and drinks flowing. But my goodness can they cram so many people into an ordinary sized room! Great to see friendly associates, and the networking was good, but alas we couldn’t stay as we had another port of call: dinner with the Brussels branch of the Liberal Democrats. I didn’t know such a thing existed. I was more tagging along as Nick’s guest, and I didn’t know what to expect. It was a well mixed crowd, young and older, male and female. For example, I was summoned to take a handshake photo between Sarah Ludford and John Szemerey (which I understand Sarah wanted for local publicity). And I had a very interesting conversation with Sean O’Curneen about Liberal and regionalist/nationalist politics in Spain. All in all, a worthwhile one-day endeavour. There’s been good follow up work that I’m excited about.