By Jan Olbrycht - 7th October 2012
Today, twinning is a long-term partnership; a commitment between public administrations and citzens
Cooperation between Europe’s urban centres is an enriching process that can help develop future strategies of regional development, writes Jan Olbrycht
Nowadays, the competition between cities and towns is not the most important element of the interrelations between them. The approach has evolved over the years. Cities and towns build partnerships, focus on networking and exchanging experience to learn from each other on how to address challenges, adapt to new conditions and solve problems of a different nature.
The analysis of the previous experience as regards the interrelations between villages, cities and towns is very enriching. It is worth having a closer look at it and using the lessons learnt while creating future strategies towards regional development.
The bridges of trust between different communities in Europe started being built with the city twinning movement already in the 1950s from the 20th century. City twinning focused, and still focuses, on creating contacts between people across borders, not only within the European Union. Twinning evolved over the years, from a movement that mainly had at heart the interrelations between people, creation of links between inhabitants, for example in such fields as culture. Twinning became a tool for exchange of experience and cooperation between public administrations focused on concrete thematic issues.
Today, twinning is a long-term partnership; a commitment both between public administrations and citizens. It may involve different types of relations and cover a variety of issues such as culture, public services, youth, local development or social inclusion. It may connect small villages and big cities. It can also be supported by the EU budget. The number of existing twinning links in Europe is estimated at 20,000. This impressive number is confirmed on boards announcing, when entering a territory, not only the name of the village, city or town, but also the names of communities with which it is ‘twinned’.
The next form of cooperation between local authorities is the participation in different international organisations, such as Eurocities, Energy-Cities or the Council of European Municipalities and Regions; the last one being “the” organisation promoting the previously mentioned twinning in Europe. Such organisations are a fixed element of the cooperation between local (but not only) partners and aim at working on and pushing forward common positions presenting the interests of their members. As a result, the involved partners speak with one voice in Brussels.
The EU itself also promotes the cooperation between local authorities. The INTERREG community initiative and now the INTERREG IV programme supports the cooperation by the implementation of different projects in a number of thematic areas. The URBACT programme reinforces the exchange of experience and aims at collecting good practices related to the implementation of EU funded projects on the local level.
The different possibilities constitute a very interesting, and constantly complemented offer for Europe’s towns and cities. It allows them to choose from a wide range of actions they want to be involved in as part of their local strategies. If today, regional development ought to be innovative, it is worth utilising the possibilities of cooperation, as they have proved to be cost-efficient and very successful at the same time.
Jan Olbrycht is a member of the European parliament's regional development committee