Cities gather in Istanbul for democracy

4 January 2023

Eurocities Mayors flew to Istanbul last week, rallying behind Ekrem İmamoğlu, Mayor of Istanbul, after his sentencing by a Turkish court. The panel of mayors, ‘Cities for Growth and Progress,’ made up of Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, Eurocities Secretary General André Sobczak, and the mayors of Athens, Florence, Hamburg, Hanover, Linz, Paris and Utrecht, heard Mayor İmamoğlu condemn attempts to supress democracy.

“Across the world, there are some leaders who are not in harmony with the 21st century, leaders who do not attach importance to democracy and justice. Against these authoritarian governments, local leaders are at the forefront,” İmamoğlu declared.

Mayor İmamoğlu was sentenced to more than two years in prison and banned from participation in politics on charges based on deprecatory remarks he made about the election council in which he called them “fools.”

An extreme year for mayors

Some have called the sentencing a cynical attempt by Turkish President Recep Erdogan to cripple his strongest opponents in the months before the next elections. Indeed, a statement released by Eurocities upon the sentencing called it, “nothing more than a politically motivated attack on a member of the opposition.”

2022 was a year that saw extreme treatment of mayors standing up for democracy, most notably in Ukraine, with the Russian military’s illegal detention of the elected mayors in several Ukrainian cities. EU mayors were quick to condemn these actions, and to offer ongoing political and practical support to Ukrainian cities.

Even within the EU, mayors like the signatories of ‘The Pact of Free Cities’ in the Visegrad Four countries have vowed to support progressive values in the face of what they see as conservatism and backsliding at the national level.

The sentencing of Mayor İmamoğlu must therefore be seen part of a worrying trend, and one of which Europe’s mayors are all too keenly aware.

Ideology versus pragmatism

At ‘Cities for Growth and Progress,’ Nardella applauded the “great strength and passion” of Mayor İmamoğlu in governing “the largest city of our continent,” calling him “a source of inspiration” to both European and non-European mayors.

Nardella and the other mayors, gathered in Istanbul on 28 December, emphasised the historic and ongoing role of cities in strengthening democracy and rule of law.

The speakers noted conditions that make local leaders more likely to embrace and perpetuate democratic values, including proximity to local people, and therefore a deep understanding of their needs; a practical, rather than an ideological approach to problem-solving and shared goals; and hands-on experience of delivering services.

Sobczak congratulated the mayors on the strength of their solidarity, citing the event as evidence of the vital role of mayors not only within their own cities, but in European and global politics.

He said that mayors’ responsibility, “needs to be recognised by national governments and by the European and international institutions,” calling for cities to have a seat at the table with such bodies. “This is what Eurocities fights for!” Sobczak declared.

Hope for democracy

Mayor İmamoğlu reiterated the importance of local leaders in cementing justice and democracy. He underscored the shared pragmatism that unites local leaders, saying, “no matter which party they are from, mayors are always more willing to collaborate and find consensus for practical solutions.”

Ending on a hopeful note, İmamoğlu insisted, “Europe and Turkey and Istanbul will see democracy prevailing – I wholeheartedly believe in this.”


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer