World Refugee Day: 11 mayors call on Europe to tackle “xenophobic” debate

Volunteers pose before a truck which will deliver aid to refugees and migrants living in Calais. Image: Getty.

A coalition of European mayors has called on the continent’s governments to change the tone with which they discuss refugees.

In an open letter published for World Refugee Day this morning, the 11 mayors warn that “there remains a nationalistic, isolationist and at times xenophobic undertone” to many of Europe’s debates about migration.

“We are a continent born out of the ruins of nationalism and war, and we thrive on peace and cooperation,” they added. “Only by working together can we overcome the challenges brought on by war, poverty and persecution in other parts of the world.”

The letter is addressed to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission; Martin Schulz, president of the European parliament; and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council; as well as national leaders.


It is signed by the 11 mayors who make up the executive committee of EUROCITIES. They include the organisation’s president, Johanna Rolland, the mayor of Nantes; John Clancy, the leader of Birmingham city council; and the mayors of Barcelona, Florence, Ghent, Leipzig, Ljubljana, Rotterdam, Stockholm, Vienna and Warsaw.

The letter also calls on the continent to recognise the role cities play in dealing with the ongoing refugee crisis. “It falls to us, the leaders of major European cities, to get integration right,” it argues. “Many refugees and asylum seekers will settle in our cities, and we must ensure that they are given a decent start in our communities.”

You can read the full letter below.

 

Dear President Juncker, President Schulz, President Tusk and national leaders,

World Refugee Day is a moment for us to reflect on our common European values of solidarity, humanity and dignity.

The refugee situation remains a top priority for Europe and for cities. As European city leaders, every day we manage the immediate and long term challenges this poses.

Our experience tells us we need to refocus the debate at European level. There is too much talk of quotas, numbers and borders, and not enough of people. These are people who are fleeing war, persecution and destitution. How we treat them when they arrive in our local communities will determine the success of long term integration and social cohesion in Europe as whole.

The decisions we take at this critical point in time will shape the future of our European Union.

Europe can set an example. We are a continent born out of the ruins of nationalism and war, and we thrive on peace and cooperation. Only by working together can we overcome the challenges brought on by war, poverty and persecution in other parts of the world.

The guiding principles of solidarity, humanity and dignity upon which the European Union is founded should define our approach to the reception and integration of refugees. Particular focus needs to be put on the most vulnerable groups: women, children and unaccompanied minors.

It falls to us, the leaders of major European cities, to get integration right. Many refugees and asylum seekers will settle in our cities, and we must ensure that they are given a decent start in our communities. Many of us have signed up to the EUROCITIES Integrating Cities Charter through which we commit to the principles of non-discrimination and equality in our cities.

We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from civil society, volunteer organisations and businesses in our local communities. Nevertheless, there remains a nationalistic, isolationist and at times xenophobic undertone to some debates at national and European level. This does nothing to support the long term integration of refugees and asylum seekers and only serves to hinder Europe’s social cohesion.

We are determined to counter these narratives with clear, honest and transparent communication with our citizens. We want to set an example at local level that fully embraces our shared European values.

The debates at European level should better reflect the principles we outline here. These are principles that are put into practice every day in our cities, in most cases without direct access to the necessary resources from the EU and national governments.

Now is the time to put our shared European values of solidarity, humanity and dignity to the test. Cities are where the integration of newcomers will succeed or fail. We, the mayors of major European cities, want you, European leaders, to work with us, not only by acknowledging our challenges but also with concrete actions such as direct financial support to cities. Only together can we confront the biggest humanitarian challenge Europe has faced since the Second World War.

Signed: Members of the EUROCITIES executive committee

Johanna Rolland, Mayor of Nantes, President of EUROCITIES

Daniël Termont, Mayor of Ghent, Vice president of EUROCITIES

John Clancy, Leader of Birmingham City Council

Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona

Zoran Janković, Mayor of Ljubljana

Karin Wanngård, Mayor of Stockholm

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Mayor of Warsaw

Burkhard Jung, Mayor of Leipzig

Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence

Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam

Michael Häupl, Mayor of Vienna

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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