Fighting illiberalism

13 February 2020

Europe is in crisis. This was the assessment of the new mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, yesterday as he spoke in front of journalists in the European Parliament.

Firstly, we “have a global crisis, and the EU needs to show the rest of the world how to deal with climate change,”* challenged the mayor.

Secondly, there is “also a crisis of democracy.”

Karácsony, who was elected in October last year, represents a sea change in political organisation in Hungary. He was the joint candidate proposed by a coalition of parties, mostly from the left and Greens, that are united in their opposition to the ruling Fidesz party.

Since his election, the mayor has also been making headway in uniting the leaders of Bratislava, Prague and Warsaw into a ‘Pact of Free Cities’ in clear contradistinction to the national leaders of the so-called Visegrad Group.

The mayors already met up for the first time in December on the premises of the Central European University in Budapest, which the Fidesz party of incumbent national leader Victor Orban largely pushed out of the country last year.

On that occasion the mayors first presented themselves as alternative allies for the EU than their often-cited populist national counterparts.

Arriving yesterday in Brussels, the mayors sought to reinforce this message and show their support for EU values, while also appealing to new ways that local and European level politicians could work more closely together.

As mayors, “we have come together to show the other face of this region,” said Karácsony.

For Karácsony, as a green mayor, who nonetheless represents a slightly broader coalition, fighting climate change is high on the agenda, and this is a common ambition shared by all four. However, as the mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, underscored, “unfortunately some of our governments are not keen on treating it seriously.”

With this in mind, the four mayors, who are now gathering support from many other mayors including Berlin, Milan and Vienna, came up with a proposal to ask for EU money to be distributed directly to cities, rather than through national governments where it often gets diverted or blocked based on political criteria.

The mayors see upcoming opportunities in the likes of the Green Deal, the EU Industrial Plan and the overall shape of the next EU budget to reassign the allocation of EU funds to where there is need based on more objective criteria.

“By supporting more the direct funding for cities and regions,” commented Zdeněk Hřib, the Mayor of Prague, during the press conference, “we can bring the EU closer to the people and make the process less bureaucratic.”

Hřib also pointed out that, “if we do not support innovation in the city, we will find ourselves standing aside in global ambitions,” because, he elaborated, “cities are the engine of economic growth in the countries.”

The mayors plan to take their initiative forwards through existing organisations such as EUROCITIES, of which all four cities are already members.

*All quotes of Mayor Karácsony are translated into English from Hungarian


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer