Rethinking Integration: Opening speech by Benedetto Zacchiroli

Opening speech of ECCAR president Benedetto Zacchiroli at the first online workshop of the "Rethinking Integration" online seminar series as part of the EMBRACIN project

"Hello everyone and welcome to all participants from all European countries. Before we start, let me thank the organizers of this series of workshops and those who have supported and collaborated in this European project over the years.

It is a must and a good thing that resources of the European Union are put at the service of city networks. As the European Commission itself recalled in the Anti-racism action plan 2020-2025: “Local authorities have a lot of experience in developing effective strategies to combat racism and in building networks (...). This work can also draw on cooperation with the network of major European cities (EUROCITIES) and the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR).”

Our ECCAR network stands and works for the same goals. It is about exchanging good practices on the one hand, and on the other also about sharing visions and actions that create an environment to build welcoming communities which have diversity and inclusion as their guiding principles.

We all know that ideas cannot be improvised. Their creation needs time, relations, commitment, study, responsibility and open minds. This is what ECCAR stands for and what should be also realized within the EMBRACIN project. Moments of reflection and exchange that help all people who work in cities to act better and in a more coordinated way, we could say an embraced way.
Cities should be places of welcome. Of course, at a European level, when we talk about refugees and migration institutions often speak about numbers and unfortunately rarely about people. But we all know that when people arrive in Europe, they arrive in cities. Cities are the spaces where they live and meet.

We still have a lot ahead of us to transform European cities into welcoming places where all people can find an environment that enables them to live a fulfilled life. To transform our cities in educative communities in which diversity forms a save public environment for everyone. The active shaping of public spaces and the conducting of debates are important educational tools in this context.
The recent time is one example that shows terribly clear that there is still a lot to be done in this respect. It is unacceptable that referring to the war in Ukraine there were and are made differences in the reception of Ukrainians and people with a different origin who fled Ukraine to find refuge in Europe. As ECCAR we have made our position clear and we how much is still to be done for an European home following the principles that founded it.

Perhaps this is precisely one of the points on which we - who want to be the welcoming ones - need to reflect and educate ourselves. Welcoming is not always easy, it is tiring and means questioning oneself. It demands a real understanding of all the tons of words with which we have filled during centuries our declarations on human rights and which we often use to define ourselves as "civilization". It is a constant work that never ends.
We are the first to have to build an environment in which these principles and these rights are studied and applied - otherwise they are just empty words. Education is not only a task for those arriving in Europe, it is a task for all European citizens who engage in politics and occupy representative positions in institutions, from a European level to a local one. It is for those who teach in schools, for those who work in public spaces as officers or on a voluntary basis. This is the point on which we must insist.

Seeing and understanding each other as a society of different people. Europe already is, we just have to tell each other and deepen the richness that lies in our diversity. Build public spaces in which the voice of diversity can be heard. Our diversities have an intrinsic value that is strengthened and enriched in the encounter and in life together. This is the Europe that we want to be ever more united.

This is exactly what we want to strengthen by participating in projects such as EMBRACIN, a small project, but which combined with other small projects can transform Europe to a greater place, closer to what it originally wanted to be and what it must be today: one common space for all people, where aspirations and dreams can be shared for the common good. A space where we give newcomers a voice and listen to their different perspectives. We need to continuously work on building an inclusive society where no one feels excluded and left behind and where everyone can be a protagonist.
European integration must be thought of from this point, from the education of European citizens.

I wish all of us to be an active part in this effort that sees us as important players in a process of rethinking European integration that must be continuous, starting from the bottom, from the cities, to the top, becoming a good European practice, the result of the voice of all.

I wish you all an inspiring time to exchange and learn from each other and I thank you all for your patience in listening to me. I wish all of us a fruitful event."