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Governance and citizenship

Citizenship & twinning - 01.10.2011

Day three of CEMR's European Congress on Citizenship and Twinning
On 1 October, the last day of the Congress on Citizenship and Twinning workshops, participants discussed topics such as ways to promote active citizenship, diversity as an opportunity and a challenge, and Europe open to the rest of the world.

The Congress is organised by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), in partnership with the Association of Polish Cities, a CEMR member association, and the City of Rybnik, with the financial support of the European Commission and under the patronage of the Polish EU presidency.
 
The active citizen's toolbox

'A growing lack of confidence on behalf of citizens vis-à-vis their political representatives at all levels has highlighted the need to reinforce participatory citizenship, which can be facilitated via social networks and modern communication tools." Such was voiced by Keith Whitmore, president of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, when discussing the value of e-governance when encouraging participation in the decision-making process. Geoffroy Coomans de Brachène, member of the municipal council of Brussels, pointed out that 'by 2012, people will be spending more time on the internet than in front of the television. This is a trend which cannot be ignored when considering that citizens can dialogue with their politicians online, one-on-one and for free". The Treaty of Lisbon also opens up new prospects for participation what with the establishment of the citizens' right of initiative vis-à-vis the European Commission. 'Petitions allow for citizens to provide feedback and express their views and interests, thus better involving them in the European legislative process," explains Reinder Rustema, initiator and manager of the national petitioning website 'Petities.nl" and teacher in new media at the University of Amsterdam.

Diversity, an opportunity and a challenge for Europe

While the twinning movement contributed to the reconciliation of populations torn apart by war at the beginning of the European unification process, today it can help the integration of immigrants and promote an intercultural dialogue between populations. Indeed, as Bashy Quraishy, secretary general of the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion, stated: 'Europe is for all, not for -them and us', and integration is a two-way street". However, 'in order to define successful integration strategies, we must actively involve migrants," underlined Ayse ézbabacan, coordinator of the European network of Cities for Local Integration Policies for Migrants (CLIP). Furthermore, participants underlined that while migration policies are managed at the national level, their impact is felt at the local level. Thus, allowing local and regional authorities to take direct action to promote successful inclusion was mentioned as being important.

A Europe open to the world

'While local and regional authorities are participating more and more in global meetings and conferences, there is still much work to be done for them to be better accepted and implicated in international affairs," explained Christophe Chaillou, director general of the CEMR's French section (AFCCRE). Betty De Wachter, coordinator at VVSG international, expressed the need 'to elaborate a common vision on international action led by municipalities and regions and its concrete impact". Managing director of SKL International, Hakan Gustafsson, however underlined 'the difficulty local authorities have to get involved in cooperation what with the economic crisis as they need to justify their international action to the public opinion".
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