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

 
 
 
 

Businesses need less office and retail space than ever. So what does this mean for cities?

Boarded up shops in Quebec City. Image: Getty.

As policymakers develop scenarios for Brexit, researchers speculate about its impact on knowledge-intensive business services. There is some suggestion that higher performing cities and regions will face significant structural changes.

Financial services in particular are expected to face up to £38bn in losses, putting over 65,000 jobs at risk. London is likely to see the back of large finance firms – or at least, sizable components of them – as they seek alternatives for their office functions. Indeed, Goldman Sachs has informed its employees of impending relocation, JP Morgan has purchased office space in Dublin’s docklands, and banks are considering geographical dispersion rather concentration at a specific location.

Depending on the type of business, some high-order service firms will behave differently. After all, depreciation of sterling against the euro can be an opportunity for firms seeking to take advantage of London’s relative affordability and its highly qualified labour. Still, it is difficult to predict how knowledge-intensive sectors will behave in aggregate.

Strategies other than relocation are feasible. Faced with economic uncertainty, knowledge-intensive businesses in the UK may accelerate the current trend of reducing office space, of encouraging employees to work from a variety of locations, and of employing them on short-term contracts or project-based work. Although this type of work arrangement has been steadily rising, it is only now beginning to affect the core workforce.

In Canada – also facing uncertainty as NAFTA is up-ended – companies are digitising work processes and virtualising workspace. The benefits are threefold: shifting to flexible workspaces can reduce real-estate costs; be attractive to millennial workers who balk at sitting in an office all day; and reduces tension between contractual and permanent staff, since the distinction cannot be read off their location in an office. While in Canada these shifts are usually portrayed as positive, a mark of keeping up with the times, the same changes can also reflect a grimmer reality.  

These changes have been made possible by the rise in mobile communication technologies. Whereas physical presence in an office has historically been key to communication, coordination and team monitoring, these ends can now be achieved without real-estate. Of course, offices – now places to meet rather than places to perform the substance of consulting, writing and analysing – remain necessary. But they can be down-sized, with workers performing many tasks at home, in cafés, in co-working spaces or on the move. This shifts the cost of workspace from employer to employee, without affecting the capacity to oversee, access information, communicate and coordinate.

What does this mean for UK cities? The extent to which such structural shifts could be beneficial or detrimental is dependent upon the ability of local governments to manage the situation.


This entails understanding the changes companies are making and thinking through their consequences: it is still assumed, by planners and in many urban bylaws and regulations, that buildings have specific uses, that economic activity occurs in specific neighbourhoods and clusters, and that this can be understood and regulated. But as increasing numbers of workers perform their economic activities across the city and along its transport networks, new concepts are needed to understand how the economy permeates cities, how ubiquitous economic activity can be coordinated with other city functions, such as housing, public space, transport, entertainment, and culture; and, crucially, how it can translate into revenue for local governments, who by-and-large rely on property taxes.

It’s worth noting that changes in the role of real-estate are also endemic in the retail sector, as shopping shifts on-line, and as many physical stores downsize or close. While top flight office and retail space may remain attractive as a symbolic façade, the ensuing surplus of Class B (older, less well located) facilities may kill off town-centres.

On the other hand, it could provide new settings within which artists and creators, evicted from their decaying nineteenth century industrial spaces (now transformed into expensive lofts), can engage in their imaginative and innovative pursuits. Other types of creative and knowledge work can also be encouraged to use this space collectively to counter isolation and precarity as they move from project to project.

Planners and policymakers should take stock of these changes – not merely reacting to them as they arise, but rethinking the assumptions that govern how they believe economic activity interacts with, and shapes, cities. Brexit and other fomenters of economic uncertainty exacerbate these trends, which reduce fixed costs for employers, but which also shift costs and uncertainty on to employees and cities.

But those who manage and study cities need to think through what these changes will mean for urban spaces. As the display, coordination and supervision functions enabled by real-estate – and, by extension, by city neighbourhoods – Increasingly transfer on-line, it’s worth asking: what roles do fixed locations now play in the knowledge economy?

Filipa Pajević is a PhD student at the School of Urban Planning, McGill University, researching the spatial underpinnings of mobile knowledge. She tweets as @filipouris. Richard Shearmur is currently director of the School, and has published extensively on the geography of innovation and on location in the urban economy.