A Call for a European Fund for Municipalities to Welcome Refugees


By URBACT, on June 29th, 2018

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Can cities become a space for a new European conception of transnational solidarity? In this interview by European Alternatives, German politician and professor Gesine Schwan, proposes the idea of a European Fund for municipalities to welcome refugees. This article is an extract from an article published on Politicalcritique.org on 21 June 2018.

You have a very concrete proposal on how to connect a challenge posed at a European level, such as welcoming refugees, with the local dimension of municipalities. Perhaps you can tell us something about this?

Gesine Schwan: It was very frightening to see the lack of solidarity in the welcoming of refugees. Not only solidarity with the refugees, but also solidarity between nation states; caused by mechanism and dynamics which distracted politicians from finding solutions. So my proposal was to create a European fund that municipalities could benefit from, in order to welcome refugees, a way to finance integration, but also a way to access additional funding for their own development. Today we are witnessing a bad kind of competition between the poor living in cities who do not have houses etc., and the poor who arrive to the city. So, because we need investment without corruption, I see the possibility of strengthening municipalities, by creating multi-stakeholder groups organizing civil society – which is already much more organised and committed at the city level – in order to plan strategies for the development of the city combined with strategies for the integration of refugees. These groups would apply for European funding.

This model would also mean more participation on the part of citizens taking part in such committees, and at the same time a more direct involvement in the European Union, that already gives a lot of money to cohesion funds, although people do not perceive this because they are not involved in the decision making processes. If this money were to be given directly to the municipalities, people could actually see that they have the opportunity to develop their cities and do this in a participatory way.

What is also evident today is that we have no networks connecting cities and towns, which could, on the contrary, help each other and share experiences of integration of refugees. During this process of integration, in fact, municipalities gain a first hand experience of – for example – the African community fleeing from war: in this sense such initiatives are able to combine the local and the global level, providing experiences and knowledge, and this would be very helpful.

In Spain, we see giant banners that say “refugees welcome” in the town hall of Madrid or Barcelona, and none of these cities can welcome those refugees because the national government rejects the relocation scheme that the EU has in theory agreed to. Maybe we need to get a bit creative about reformulating competences within the EU?

Yes, exactly, and when you say ‘creative’ it is exactly what I expect from cities, to be creative. Today, from the legal point of view, it is the national government that has to decide whether refugees are allowed to enter the nation state or not. We have to put political pressure on the nation state to give some of this legal competences also to municipal bodies, or at least allow them to take in refugees voluntarily. This would also help the national governments, because at present they are not willing to welcome refugees, they are afraid of doing so, but if they allowed municipalities to decide voluntarily, this would create a form of support that would work in the long term, at a national level.

Watch the full interview:

On the role of cities in welcoming newcomers, URBACT has supported the network Arrival Cities and selected several European Good Practices, such as Refugee Solidarity, in Ghent (BE), and Do Not Feed to Rumour in Amadora (PT), Local Group on Immigration in Aviles (ES), Widepread Hospitality in Forli (IT), and Finding Places in Hamburg (DE).

Cover picture: by Christoph Stark – Refugees’ Kitchen in Oberhausen (DE)

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