Europe Day marks year of city-to-city solidarity

9 May 2021

This Europe Day we want to celebrate some of the incredible solidarity that cities have displayed over the last year of dealing with the pandemic. While nation states have often been slow to reach agreement, cities have remained characteristically nimble, reaching out to each other rapidly and offering the help that is needed.

Financial and material support

This dynamic was very visible in the field of donation, with Frankfurt donating €10,000 to twin city Milan, as well as further afield with medical and humanitarian supplies to its Nicaraguan sister city Granada. While the so-called ‘frugal four’ were still expressing doubts about solidarity, Cologne was finding four cities that it could reach out to with some emergency relief – it sent €10,000 each to Barcelona, Lille, Liverpool and Turin.

Assistance wasn’t always in the form of cash, when Zagreb was caught off guard with a terrible earthquake hitting just as the pandemic was getting into full swing, Vienna reached out with construction materials to support reconstruction efforts. 40 tonnes of wooden slats and spruce boards from Vienna’s forestry department, worth about €20,000 made their way in trucks immediately to Zagreb.

Vienna donation to Zagreb

Belfast honoured it’s long standing connection with Shenyang by reaching out in January 2020 to send masks and other protective equipment – a move that was reciprocated with 10,000 masks send from Shenyang to Belfast when the tides turned on Europe (read more here).

Shenyang is also supplying 10,000 masks, as well as medical kits and valuable information about its experiences with Braga, with which it has a friendship agreement soon to flower into becoming twin cities (read more here). Porto was another Portuguese city that benefited from donations from its twinned Chinese cities (read more here).

Taking in those in need

Not all help could be limited to protection – much of it also had to deal with the sad facts of sickness and death. Florence and Bergamo worked together to respectfully manage bodies during the sudden peek in deaths. At the same time, Mannheim and Baden-Wurttemberg collaborated on patient treatment in each other’s hospitals (read more here), and Hamburg hospitals took patients from Italian and French cities (read more here).

Muenster took advantage of technology to share expertise with smaller neighbouring hospitals, with its university hospital connecting via video link to more than 200 hospitals’ intensive care patients. (read more here).

Not all of last year’s emergencies were covid-related. After the fire at the Moria refugee camp in Greece in September that left up to 12,000 people without shelter, cities across Europe sent out a call that they were ready to take in refugees (read more here).

A direct support for the refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos was carried out by the organisation Télécoms Sans Frontières, Telecommunication Without Borders, based in the French city of Pau and supported by the municipality: a few days after the fires they installed a free Wi-Fi connection – an essential need of the refugees as it enables them to remain in contact with their families, find important information about their situation, and follow the asylum application process (read more here).

The power of exchanging experiences

Sometimes what needed to be exchanged was essential but intangible. Lublin held a competition to invite local government across Europe to present their ideas for facing the pandemic in five categories (read more here). Frankfurt brought together Birmingham, Eskişehir and Milan along with Guangzhou and Philadelphia for a pandemic conference with a truly ‘glocal’ scope. Frankfurt also kept channels open with sister cities Budapest, Krakow and Prague for a continuous exchange of best practices, and even some virtual tourism. In a similar move, Milan opened channels with Barcelona, Sao Paulo and Washington to share best practices in pandemic food supply (read more here).

Through its Europa-Mai initiative, Munich keeps information exchange open with any pro-European organisation that is enthusiastic to share its message (read more here). Meanwhile Karlsruhe’s cross-border info-point for the PAMINA Eurodistrict keeps travellers up to date with vital pandemic information (read more here), and Leuven has shared it’s #OurCityHelps platform free of charge with other Belgian municipalities looking to connect volunteers with those looking for extra help (read more here).

Munich used eTwinning to keep its classes international despite the travel restrictions, paring their students up for teamwork with students in Toulouse and Alcoi. Munich’s ‘Generation Europe’ project took the same online approach to connecting young people from 30 different European cities (read more here), and running its virtual debating project with sister city Edinburgh (read more here), as well as its twin exchange for vocational education and training with 38 other European cities (read more here), its educational exchanges with Barcelona, and its solidarity programme with Kiev’s LGBTQ+ community (read more here).

Knowledge exchange remained strong in other cities too: Kharkiv and Nuremberg embraced the spirit of cooperation around discussion and promotion of human rights amongst local young people; Terrassa explained its cultural policies and programmes more than 40 cultural agents from cities in the EU, UK, Turkey and Canada.

This is just a flavour of the incredible work that cities across Europe and the world are doing to support each other every day, through the hard times as well as the good. Happy Europe Day to all of our readers, and here’s hoping we’ll be able to celebrate together some time soon.


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer