City-to-city cooperation has taken on new meaning following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February of this year. Long established twinnings, cooperation through networks such as Eurocities, and friendships between mayors have provided a basis for cities to demonstrate their ability to be diplomatic actors.
Millions of Ukrainian refugees have found food, shelter, kinship, schooling and jobs in Europe’s cities. Emergency support has been disbursed to provide people in Ukraine with everyday items and medical equipment. In March, more than 150 European cities held public demonstrations in support of Ukraine. And in August, led by the Mayor of Florence, an international delegation of mayors from the rest of Europe undertook a mission to Kyiv to speak with President Zelenskyy and sign a political agreement to support the sustainable rebuilding of Ukrainian cities.
And today, the mayors of Florence, Gdansk, Kyiv, Lyon and Riga, met with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission to underscore the necessity for collaboration between cities and the EU for a sustainable rebuilding of Ukraine, as well as in a coordinated response to the current energy crisis.
EU cities have done a lot for 🇺🇦, welcoming refugees and providing aid.
And they will be key to the reconstruction efforts.
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) October 13, 2022
The Eurocities mission of mayors to Kyiv on 19 August 2022 not only reinforced Eurocities’ support to and relationship with its Ukrainian partners, such as the Association of Ukrainian Cities chaired by Vitali Klitschko Mayor of Kyiv, but set a precedent for that collaboration going forward, which has already led to plans to match at least 10 EU/EEA cities with Ukrainian cities in a Eurocities coordinated project, funded by the European Climate Foundation, focussed on sustainable rebuilding in Ukraine.
This speed of action, and ability to act on the ground, is something that President von der Leyen remarked on in her meeting with the mayors: cities are practical actors, able to quickly put in place workable solutions, which is something very much needed at the current moment.
For example, the cities of Gdansk and Riga have sent buses to Lviv and Kyiv respectively because the Ukrainian cities lost several during the Russian attacks. And, following a request from Brodyanka saying that their water supply had been affected, Gdansk was able to send material aid, including repair kits and power generators to help repair the damage.
In addition to immediate reconstruction support and commitments to support a sustainable rebuilding of the cities destroyed by the war, the mayors also wanted to confirm that they intend to coordinate with other emerging initiatives, including the EU’s RebuildUkraine – which President von der Leyen invited the mayors to take part in via the forthcoming Berlin conference – and the European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Ukraine, coordinated by the European Committee of the Regions, which Eurocities is represented in.
“Thanks to this new commitment we will work together at operational level,” said Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence. “This meeting focused on three very important points. Firstly, a new alliance between the European Commission and European mayors. Secondly, we underscored the collaboration between European and Ukrainian mayors. Thirdly, collaboration between Eurocities and European Commission to face tough challenges, such as the energy emergency.”
Keep hope alive
When it comes to reconstruction the mayors stressed their commitment to a sustainable rebuilding – a sentiment that was shared by the Commission President.
Referring to his time in the Kyiv region, as part of the aforementioned mayors’ mission, Mārtiņš Staķis, Mayor of Riga, shared that, “in Kyiv, Borodyanka, Irpin, I saw the same kindergartens we have in Riga. It’s the soviet style buildings. We know them so well, we can repair them within 6 months, make them energy efficient. We have companies in Riga that have done tens of projects like this for us.”
And there is a special place for cities in rebuilding. One crucial element that a network such as Eurocities can provide, is gathering examples of failure – as the best way not to end up replicating mistakes that other cities have made in the past when it comes to rebuilding – something that the Commission President was keen to hear more on.
Above all, however, the mayors were keen to focus on hope for the future. Hope both for Ukrainians in Ukraine, and for many of the millions of refugees currently residing in their own cities, many of whom express a strong desire to return to Ukraine.
“Rebuilding is necessary to keep up hope,” stated Nardella, who also authored an Opinion on Ukraine for the European Committee of the Regions this week. “If you don’t reconstruct schools and houses it is impossible for these people to come back to Ukraine.”
Grégory Doucet, Mayor of Lyon, noted that “reconstruction is already happening,” recounting for instance that, “during our mission to Ukraine, we took a train to the city of Bucha, and on our way we saw that a bridge bombed a few weeks before was already under reconstruction. It’s very important for the morale of the population to see things like this happening, and that’s definitely an area where we can help.”
This coming winter
Linked to the war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living may come to a head this winter, and the mayors relayed short messages on the impact of and potential solutions for the energy crisis in Europe’s cities.
Energy poverty, which before the war already affected around one in ten Europeans, is now rising fast in many cities. The public transport sector, which was hard hit by the Covid19 pandemic, is now facing significant increases in running costs. Similarly, inflation puts local SMEs in severe difficulties, and public facilities, such as cultural institutions and sports institutions are closing or only partially kept open as a step to save energy and reduce costs. Consequently, many cities have taken urgent measures to prepare for the winter ahead:
- Amsterdam has kicked off a campaign to reduce gas consumption by 15% before the upcoming winter, and has already achieved 5% savings;
- Berlin has a new energy savings package in place, where the city aims to save at least 10% of public sector energy consumption; and
- Warsaw aims to reduce 35% of electricity consumption annually by replacing 52,600 lamp bulbs with LEDs in the city districts.
At the same time, as outlined in the RePowerEU proposal, cities have “the biggest potential to support urgent energy savings action.” In this way, the mayors were able to relay to the Commission President that cities are partners to the EU in meeting its goals on reducing energy consumption, creating new sources of renewable energy, for example through local energy communities, and communicating to people the need for buy-in.
And, as was brought home by Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, Mayor of Gdańsk, “we are also leaders for our local community. Of course, we will continue finding solutions for greener energy, but prices of electricity and gas are going higher and we need to be very clear to our citizens why this is. Ukrainians are fighting for all of us. They are fighting for independence of Europe from Russia, and for European values.”