Strengthening social cohesion is the main challenge ahead, say mayors and officials from seven European local and regional authorities

Nice, France, October 2021 – One of the highlights of Efus’ 7th Security, Democracy and Cities conference (Nice, 20-22 October) was the panel of European mayors that brought together representatives of the cities of Białystok (Poland), Lomme (France), Mannheim (Germany), Matosinhos (Portugal), Prato (Italy), Vilvoorde (Belgium), and the Government of Catalonia (Spain) for a direct dialogue between cities on promising practices and common issues of concern.

Moderated by Efus President and Mayor of Liège (Belgium), Willy Demeyer, and First Deputy Mayor of Nice, Anthony Borré, the panel revolved around the topics of migration and the adverse economic, social, and political consequences of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as calls to address inequalities and to increase national and EU support for European cities.

Highlighting achievements since the last conference in 2017

The mayors and elected officials opened the panel by highlighting urban security practices and policies initiated by their cities in the past four years.
To name a few, Oriol Amorós, Secretary General of the Ministry of the Interior at the Government of Catalonia, said that the Catalan Police teamed up with the Ombudsman to carry out an internal police audit.
Christian Specht, Vice-Mayor of Mannheim and Vice-President of Efus, underlined the fact that international conflicts have become a source of local urban tensions and presented his city’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism.
Mayor of Lomme and President of the French Forum for Urban Security (FFSU), Roger Vicot highlighted his city’s efforts to raise awareness of social media-linked security challenges amongst youth.
While the Mayor of the City of Białystok and President of the Union of Polish Metropolises, Tadeusz Truskolaski, drew attention to the humanitarian crisis orchestrated by neighbouring Belarus at the nearby Belarus–Poland border.
Hans Bonte, Mayor of Vilvoorde, exemplified his fight against radicalisation through the transformation of a formerly abandoned military building into a community space.
Matteo Biffoni, Mayor of Prato and President of the Italian Forum for Urban Security (FISU), prioritised cultural mediation and combating discriminatory violence. Similarly, the Mayor of Matosinhos, Maria Luísa Salgueiro, took pride in her city’s increased efforts to support victims, including LGBT+, of domestic and other types of violence.

EU and national support remains essential to address future challenges

When asked about future security challenges, several participants referred to the issue of social cohesion. Hans Bonte said that the pandemic had had a “destructive” effect on social cohesion, which he said is “the main challenge” facing local authorities for the years to come. For his part, Tadeusz Truskolaski blamed his government for polarising Polish society. “It is holding its citizens hostage. But we, local Polish authorities, are part of the European community and we need more EU support,” he said, calling for solidarity.
Oriol Amorós argued that, although “nobody is brave enough to tell the truth” about migration, it is inevitable and institutions have to adapt accordingly by introducing universal healthcare, basing education on the principles of equality, and promoting intercultural learning amongst public sector officials. Echoing these thoughts, Matteo Biffoni reminded that cities cannot be the sole responsibility bearers of migration-related challenges – EU support is essential. Similarly, Maria Luísa Salgueiro claimed that national support is also lacking.
Amongst other challenges, Christian Specht named climate change and its links to urban security, an issue that was this year featured for the time at the Security, Democracy and Cities conference. Additionally, Roger Vicot reflected on the importance of co-producing security policies and redefining the role of the private sector, while Oriol Amorós called for the feminisation of the security domain.
These exchanges, along with the other debates organised throughout the conference, fed into the Security, Democracy and Cities Declaration adopted at the end of the three-day event and will complete Efus’ eponymous Manifesto.