Talks on Urban Diplomacy mit Lina Furch, Leiterin Europa und Internationales beim Deutschen Städtetag

You find an English transcript below the video.


Transcript English of Talk on Urban Diplomacy with Lina Furch, Head of European and International Relations, German Association of Cities (Deutscher Städtetag)


Welcome to another "Talk on Urban Diplomacy". I am delighted that Lina Furch is with us today. She is Head of European and International Relations at the German Association of Cities and thus has a comprehensive view of the topic of urban diplomacy. Let me start by asking you: in your work, in your context, how do you work with the term "urban diplomacy"? What does it mean to you?


Urban diplomacy is a term that needs to be interpreted. We also realize time and again that everyone has their own view of it. We understand urban diplomacy as the activities and relationships of cities worldwide with municipalities, but also with other actors beyond borders. The central point of the story is that we say it is the relationships and the municipalities want to shape them. So there is a kind of idea behind it, an objective: we want to shape international, global processes.


This is also important because we can only tackle global challenges if municipalities are involved. Because this is there where policies have to be implemented. Imagine climate protection without municipalities, that's not possible. That's what's central to it, the will to shape and the point of not only wanting to shape, but also being able to shape, to exert influence and thereby contribute to us having a world that we want, that we can imagine. This is central to urban diplomacy or city diplomacy and in this respect it is essentially a kind of municipal foreign policy. And I think an important point is that foreign policy is, of course, fundamentally a matter for the national government, but together with municipal foreign policy there are many areas where we can complement each other and work together to shape this. This is how we interpret municipal foreign policy or city diplomacy.



Foreign policy is a policy area that is currently being redefined, for example the concept of feminist foreign policy. There have also been various projects to redefine cooperation with municipalities and discuss new approaches. These include, for example, the Urban Diplomacy Exchange project, which is part of Engagement Global. What conclusions do you draw from the discussions that have taken place within these projects?


Urban diplomacy, yes, it's still quite a new word, or a comparatively new word. As the Association of Cities, we have also worked hard to ensure that it is taken up; that it is understood what municipalities are doing; that it is recognized, the commitment, the potential that lies within it. That's why we think it's good that it was included in the coalition agreement. And the question we now have is how it will be interpreted, how it will be implemented. What we actually perceive from our efforts and our lobbying, is that it is right and important that we are committed, that it is included. And it is also important that we continue here, because we are not yet where we want to be in terms of co-design. And in this respect, we are taking with us: further commitment, expanding networks, talking to more stakeholders, clearly promoting what municipalities can achieve. We can see this very clearly in Ukraine, in the Ukraine conflict at the moment, but also in the Middle East, in climate policy - so there are many examples.


What we can take away for ourselves is not to establish strictly formal new networks, but to build on what already exists and to use this energy, to be on the move with many players. That is right and central for us as an association. When I now say which other players are talking with us, from ministries to others, I think it is very important to say that we are in good cooperation with the national ministries, that is the Development Ministry BMZ, the Federal Foreign Office, the Ministry of Construction, etc. It is important that they recognize that we are working together with them. It is important that they recognize this and get there, but as I just said, we are not quite where we want to be.


Because recognition, for example, as President Selenski did with Federal President Steinmeier, who said quite clearly that support from the municipal level is central to supporting the Ukrainian municipalities or Ukraine in its defence campaign against Russia. This has been clearly recognized. What is important now is that we don’t only talk about what municipalities are doing in terms of implementation, but also how they can help shape the processes, how we can get involved in legislative proposals, how we can have our say. And that is something that I think the ministries can take away with them, that we are perhaps not yet on the same level in terms of understanding urban diplomacy, but I am firmly convinced that we are on the right track.



You are traveling to the USA this year with a delegation, and I would be interested to know whether urban diplomacy is now a German movement, how do you perceive it internationally, also in exchange with colleagues from other cities, alliances worldwide?


It’s also great to learn what other municipalities, municipal associations around the world are doing in a wide variety of contexts and also the government structures of a country. No, it's not a purely German movement. We are certainly strong as such municipalities, we also have very, very strong local self-government, we are anchored in the Basic Law etc., also in the decentralized state. But we have clearly learned and continued to learn from other associations, from other municipalities around the world. Cities are networkers, they have always been connected and thus beyond borders, they work with other cities, they work with people. If you take Europe alone as a topic, Europe is actually based on the twinning of cities after the Second World War, which is how it developed. This also shows the creative power that lies within it.


Because you mentioned the example of the USA: We have deliberately said that we are also strengthening links with cities in the United States. On the one hand, of course, there is the sad fact that the elections are coming up and the outcome is currently causing concern everywhere. The cities are once again positioning themselves very strongly by saying that they are able to create a counterpoint if Trump comes back into government, which unfortunately looks like happening at the moment. But also, to act on key issues such as climate change, for example. It was the same under the former Trump administration: withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, for example. Nevertheless, the cities have said: we will continue, we want this, we are committed, it is important to us. And we want to bundle and strengthen this.


And in this respect, it is not a purely German process, but we are working on a wide variety of connections, with the Americans, very strongly with the municipal associations of the G7 countries, the French, the Italians, the Americans, the Canadians and the British. And that's very good, because there's momentum there to get things moving.



You have just mentioned the importance of cities for Europe. We have a European election coming up. We have people on the streets in Germany at the moment in defense of democracy. And this topic of democracy also plays a role again and again in the circles that deal with urban diplomacy, including in the partnership with Ukraine, etc. But specifically for the European elections, where do you see the role of these city partnerships, these municipal relationships within Europe?


When we look at Europe, we are in a similar situation to when we look at the American elections. We have enormous challenges for democracy in particular. We are seeing this in Germany, we are seeing this in the election forecasts for the European elections and I believe that this is a global development at the moment. Cities can contribute a lot because they simply have this cross-border mindset. It's part of their DNA, I would almost say, to talk to each other across borders and not with a national perspective, but with the view that I have challenges, I have to solve something, how can I solve it. The people, the citizens, ask us how we can do it, what do you do? And that's why cities have actually always had this idea that there is a common challenge, how can I develop solutions, and they also like to learn from other cities in Europe. And because of the proximity and the history, it is also a good approach to see where you are heading.


As far as Europe is concerned, and I will say that cities are the core of Europe. I've already mentioned town twinning, which was the first step after the Second World War to say that somehow you bring people together who only a short time ago were standing opposite each other in the protective trench, so that they can talk to each other again and come together. And this whole idea of the European Union was actually developed from these encounters, which continues to be a fantastic achievement.


What is important to us, however, is the connection between the city networks and the partnerships that exist. Of course, we are also organized with associations etc... But I think this coming together, gathering, is important. But the question is, is this reflected in the perception? By perception, I mean the creative power of perception, and this is a point where we can, should and must work on. We currently have a Belgian Council Presidency that has a strong focus on urban issues, urban policy, which is good. There was also the summit declaration in January, as well as various follow-up steps. And the key issue will also be how we can get cities more involved in the legislative processes. And not in a pure good will story, to put it that way, but really in a structured, substantial process and in a sustainable way. Of course, we are involved via the Committee of the Regions, that is true. However, it also has a very large number of state and local representatives, but they only have limited rights to change things. But what would actually be central or important for us: how can we manage to involve cities and their associations in hearings and legislative projects in a structured way, the first consultation rights, participation rights. We can also talk about whether it would not make sense to introduce a local authority review before laws are passed, just as there is an environmental implementation review. What impact does this have on local authorities and how can they implement it afterwards? I think that would send out a very strong signal. This could also be bundled via a city commissioner, who would have a very clear focus on how urban policy can be taken on board. Incidentally, I am not saying this just as our own sake, but because we in the municipalities are close to the citizens. Ultimately, we have to implement everything on the one hand and, on the other hand, we also have the great potential to warm up the citizens for Europe and explain Europe, thereby giving democracy a real boost and stabilizing it.



Now we have talked about the international sphere and Europe. Briefly, perhaps, for the German discussion. You positioned the topic at the last main committee of the Association of German Cities last year. What are your next steps to anchor the topic of urban diplomacy and municipal external relations even more firmly in the long term?


At the international level, of course, the focus is clearly on the USA, but this is not the only one; we are of course also very active in the Ukraine region and in various other regional focal points, which I can’t mention all here. For Germany itself, it is of course important for us to continue to have an exchange with the ministries and ultimately with the legislative bodies, i.e. with members of parliament, etc.. And to look more closely at how we can continue to promote this. Because I just said that the coalition agreement is good, but the question is how it will be implemented. That is, what I would actually like to see at this point, in this exchange, in this discussion: adopting good examples from others is a good thing that works. The Americans, for example, have introduced a special representative for urban diplomacy, for city diplomacy, docked in their State Department. That would be a great thing if we had that too. It would give us a different perspective. That would be what we would actually like to see, that we have a central figure who would focus on this once again. That's one point.


The other is, of course, the question of international processes. This thinking, this automatic self-thinking on the part of the municipal levels, is actually a change in mindset, which is essentially what needs to happen. There needs to be a change in the way municipalities are perceived as partners and as part of multi-level governance, a somewhat unwieldy word, i.e. as partners in the area of the different levels of government, recognized and also integrated in a structured way. So that the declaration also takes implementation into account. That would actually be the wish to do this with someone who has the focus, but I believe that this must be a cross-cutting issue throughout all projects.


Good luck and we look forward to seeing what happens next. Thank you very much, Lina Furch, Head of European and International Relations at the Association of German Cities.


Translated with DeepL.com (free version)

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