“No Europe without citizens, means no Europe without cities,” says Dario Nardella, mayor of Florence, to highlight the strong link between citizens, cities and the European level. And because citizens should be at the centre of concrete decisions that will impact their lives, policy makers should listen first!
However, citizens’ participation is hindered by a lack of knowledge. Many people don’t really know how Europe works and to what extent its policies can have a very tangible effect on their lives. “We must talk to people and explain how important the activity of the European Union is for concrete and also simple aspects of citizens’ lives,” insists Mayor Nardella “like transport, waste, public services, education, health.”
Florence has some experience in bringing people and the European Union closer together, namely through the Festival of Europe and its State of the Union conference. The Festival of Europe is a biennial event that transforms the city into a space for reflection on Europe, its citizens and its future. Everyone is invited to join in in tackling political, economic, social and cultural issues.
During the event people get to know how the EU is organised, how it works, and how it can contribute to making their lives better. “We organised many meetings to explain to citizens how we received funding from the European Commission to make an important infrastructure that changed the life of the city,” says Mayor Nardella, referring to Florence’s two new tram lines.
Most people participating in the activities were surprised to find out the extent to which the European Union could have an impact on their routines. Once they do realise how important Europe is though, they start participating, for example by joining debates about the future of Europe.
In the future, Mayor Nardella believes Europe should keep putting the people at the centre of its policies, and Florence can have a say in the innovation of the European institutions by proposing new participatory models and new democratic instruments.