Openingswoord als co-chair van de Policy Council van de UCLG (Engels)

Dear fellow members of the policy council ‘Opportunities for all, culture and city diplomacy’, dear colleagues, dear Emilia, dear friends, I miss you all and wish you all the best,

It is my pleasure to meet you all again today, for a more in-depth discussion on topics which lie close to my heart: city diplomacy, international solidarity, sustainable development and the peace agenda. In the current global pandemic, the worst crisis we are living in since the world wars, it seems even more relevant to work on these topics together and help each other – we are all in the same boat, and together we stand stronger. As our UCLG Decalogue states, international solidarity is a beacon of security during these difficult months, and we need to harness it as we move forward. The road ahead of us will not be easy, dear colleagues. COVID-19 is causing deeper inequalities in our societies and less opportunities for all, instead of more. All of us here know that culture and city diplomacy are keys to sustainable development and peace, and yet these topics might receive less attention in the coming years due to financial constraints on local governments and communities. However, I trust that everyone on this Policy Council and in the broader UCLG family will do their best to keep peace, solidarity and decentralised cooperation on everyone’s agenda, as we have always done.

As you might know already, VNG has been actively involved in international cooperation between local governments since the beginning of the 90s. For all of you, who feel as if that’s still yesterday, that’s 30 years ago. In these 30 years, support for international activities of local governments has fluctuated but lately, I see that support is growing. That more and more actors and donors see the added value of working with the local government sector when dealing with various societal challenges. Despite this positive trend, we need to carry on with our advocacy, especially now that the context is changing. Also in 2021, VNG will provide building blocks for this advocacy, through our work with the Capacity and Institution Building Working Group (CIB) ànd through our work in the field of peace building and conflict prevention.

As the current crisis has made evident more than ever, local governments around the world are struggling to help their citizens as good as they can. Solidarity, sharing of experiences and building the capacities of local governments have been and will remain to be a vital point on which we as UCLG can make a difference, and the Capacity and Institution Building Working Group contributes to this. This year, CIB will contribute to revising the UCLG policy paper on development cooperation & local governments, to make sure it is reflects the current context, developments, agendas and challenges. In doing so, CIB will of course closely cooperate with UCLG regional sections and other important partners, such as DeLoG and PLATFORMA. Ánd with this policy council, as the paper needs political backing and support for it to be of real value.

Moreover, we will also be very active on the Peace agenda, as we have been in previous years. I see the topic of peace as cross-cutting in our policy council, and I see culture, city diplomacy and opportunities for all as instrumental ingredients for achieving sustainable peace. It is important that we seek alignment with all the interesting initiatives that are there for local governments and peace, both within the UCLG membership and beyond that. By strengthening synergy and collaboration between these initiatives we can further build a more effective agenda. A people-centred agenda, as our Durban Political Declaration states, calls for harnessing the potential of intergenerational dialogues and peace. Cities are important vectors of peacebuilding: addressing inequalities and ensuring that conflict in our neighbourhoods does not become violence is one of our critical duties, and the reason why we are necessary in the global conversations around peace. This year’s launch of the third edition of the UCLG Peace Prize, our instrument celebrating strong peace initiatives by local governments, and the Geneva World Forum on Peace are excellent milestones to work with in this regard.

Moreover, it is our joint responsibility to continue advocating for Culture as a critical element in the recovery of the crisis we find ourselves in. It is critical to ensure that culture is seen as an integral element of our daily lives, and that all people have the opportunities to access it equally, as a core component of local identity.

My dear colleagues, this is just the beginning of the list of things happening within the topics associated to this policy council, and there are many other issues critical for the future of our Council. I did not yet mention topics such as the future of work and the role of local and regional governments in transforming our consumption and production patterns, for instance, which are both also at the core of the agenda. I look forward to hearing more from all of you on your plans and priorities. Please speak up and share your visions, even if we are not always in agreement, as this is the space to do it and to have constructive dialogues. In my view, this Council is the space to be proactive and provocative. Last but not least I want to recall that this is also the space to align our work with the Pact for the Future that our World Organization is currently developing; the strategig priorities for 2022-2028. I stand ready to help create “the bigger picture”, as co-chair of this policy council, and invite you all to do the same. I am convinced that our exchanges today will strengthen our joint work and bring new insights to this Policy Council. Thank you. And please stay healthy.