‘I am tired’, Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan warned at the start of the 5th Dialogue between Mayors and City Makers in Pakhuis de Zwijger on 21st April. He had every right to be, after a whole day of hosting the 5th Direct Dialogue between Capitals Mayors and the European Commission. ‘A lot of languages and a lot of issues’, Van der Laan summarised the day. And a result: A network of Solidarity within the capital cities of Europe.
One of the European mayors accompanied Van der Laan on the couch for the evening programme – his colleague Giorgos Kaminis. He emphasised the importance of involving citizens when addressing the issues the mayors talked about during their meeting: clean air, mobility and transportation, affordable housing, radicalisation and the integration of refugees.
The main focus of the night was on the issue of migrants – a very acute problem in Athens, where thousands of refugees are living in camps. ‘Europe has been traumatised by the way it has been dealing with the influx. You see countries building fences and barriers and refusing to collaborate. It goes against the European idea of participating, collaborating and sharing responsibility.’
Both mayors were very pleased to announce they reached an agreement with all of their European colleagues, despite the great differences in approach of the refugee problem by their national governments. In the so-called network of solidarity the mayors are committed to solving the problem of refugees, either by offering shelter or by waiving a part of their European subsidies, so other countries can use it to help refugees.
Examples of how migrants can be helped – with added benefits for the society – were given by two City Makers: a Syrian but now Amsterdam-based entrepreneur who had set up a venture fund in order to financially support starting businesses by migrants. ‘These people are resilient and motivated. They don’t want to take money – they will pay the investments back. This way they are creating jobs and being active and productive members of society, instead of doing nothing and developing psychological problems.’
Another City Maker told about a successful housing project in Amsterdam – they managed to convince a housing corporation to provide a vacant building to house 30 refugees from an Amsterdam camp. ‘These people now have their own households; they cook, clean, ride around the city. They no longer feel dependent; they flourish and feel part of the community. The neighbourhood is very supportive – they help out and show sympathy.’
The mayors were impressed by these bottom-up initiatives. ‘Although these solutions cannot be applied to all of the refugees’, Van der Laan pointed out. ‘You still need governments and political solutions because of the large number.’ Kaminis showed optimism. ‘Citizens are being part of the decision making in cities. This renews the idea of our democracy in Europe. Citizens are at the heart of the cities. I am hopeful about these European projects.’ To which he added: ‘Of course you have to be hopeful if you’re the mayor of Athens.’ He showed great optimism about the European projects.