Daphne Büllesbach, Germany & Giuseppe Caccia, Italy (European Alternatives)
One of the major setbacks of a fully developing transnational democracy is probably the immense challenge of bridging locally rooted experiences of where one lives to the transnational level of far away institutions that aim to cater for those local needs (as well as other needs, of course). The European narrative has tried to capture this challenge and build this bridge but continues to be in search mode. The narrative of peace no longer holds for many, the narrative of open borders and freedom of movement is seriously strained.
Civil society actors have also entered this challenge in their own ways: by building transnational networks of activists that connect their often local struggles in pan-European debates or networks and hence achieve a sense of transnational collectivity. Also on the level of city governments attempts are made to network European-wide on the basis of common value sets and a strong political sense of wanting to go beyond nationally bound policies. This is the case for instance around the question of how we integrate refugees/ newcomers into our cities and our homes, very literally. Beyond the symbolism of ‘refugees welcome’, cities such as Barcelona, Lampedusa, Naples, but also Gdansk and other smaller cities have taken initiatives forward very often based on the pressure of their citizens such as the ‘shelter cities’ initiative by some of these cities, also sometimes going against their national government stance. We also see on the city level attempts to involve citizens into decision-making through digital platforms (e.g. Decide Madrid) or by opening up public data for open access (e.g. transport data in the city of Vienna).
Are these initiatives the seeds of an alternative vision for Europe, of a cosmopolitan Europe that values diversity, inclusion and offers citizenship beyond national belonging? What innovations are emerging from the level of the city across Europe that foster democratic participation locally while being part of a larger European narrative and context that makes clear that those challenges we are dealing with (reducing CO2 emissions for example) cannot be dealt with neither on the local, nor the nation state level but only through transnational cooperation? At European Alternatives, we have worked on the networking of ‘rebel cities’ for the past few years (here is a link to our articles online). We are currently developing an online map of those initiatives that foster democracy and participation and would offer this tool as a starting point for the workshop at Praxis Europe.