Speech of the ECCAR President Benedetto Zacchiroli in occasion of the ECCAR General Assembly 2020
The year 2020 began with the start of the transfer of the ECCAR Office from Potsdam to Heidelberg, there are four dates that I would like to highlight for this 2020. Four dates that tell us the context in which we are making that transition and in which we will be again next year.
January 24, when the first three cases of Covid 19 were found in France and then gradually in all countries of the continent. For the past 10 months, European cities have been suffering from a pandemic that none of us imagined possible in recent history.
Since those days we have had to learn to live with absence.
Absence of moving where and when we want.
Absence of physical contact with the people we love and also with the people we meet.
Absence of large gatherings such in squares, stadiums, in the halls of a cinema or theater.
We have and are experiencing the absence of many things that I would summarize as the absence of being able to be a local or global community.
Whether it is the family level or the larger one in the city, being a community is the main absence. To the pre-existing poverty were added others, new ones, of people for whom the pandemic meant the end of a job and an income.
In this absence of community, racism and discriminations have worsened, the most fragile people have seen their fragility increase, some groups have been accused of being responsible for the spread of the virus, synophobia has increased together with cases of anti-Semitism, alongside to the racism that we could define (sadly) traditional.
In our cities this situation meant, for us who deal with the issue, an increase in concerns and new emergencies that we have faced in recent months.
As a network, we have done what people do during an emergency: exchange information, try to deepen and learn from each other. We have put at the service of our cities moments of reflection and exchange, trying to adapt as much as possible to the reality that forced us remotely from our homes or offices. Webinar, workshops, online meetings.
Then, another date: on May 25th when in Minneapolis in the United States, the killing of George Floyd brought many people to the streets shouting "I can’t breathe", bringing to the fore the theme of structural racism and the necessary struggle that institutions they are called to fight daily. The reflections arising from those facts have not left our continent indifferent and here, in Europe too, we have begun to talk about structural racism.
Then came October 16th and the news of the beheading of the history and geography professor Samuel Paty, in Conflans Saint-Honorine. Once again Islamist terrorism has hit Europe and we all know what this means in terms of Islamophobia.
I close this list of dates with November 27th and the beating of Michel Zecler in Paris by some policemen with whom in these days, again, the theme of structural racism has taken hold in Europe and many people protesting into the streets.
Pandemic and racism emergency.
These are the fundamental traits in which we have worked and we work so hard. Allow me to thank the efforts made by the city of Heidelberg in recent months. In addition to the transfer of the office, they effectively coordinated the work of the Board which, by meeting once a month, gave new vigor to fruitful and effective collegial action.
Teamwork can be seen, especially if done with the professionalism and passion of the people who sit there.
I could say this: the governance of the network was more participated and participatory than ever. Personally, I must admit that compared to previous years I felt less alone. It is a fact and it shows.
The Board followed everything that happened in the transfer of the Office and started those that we are already starting to reap as the fruits of these months of work. The reflections made during the monthly meetings became decisions and actions. I like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Board for all the work we have done together.
Among all the results obtained in this 2020, I would like to highlight one. The fact of being mentioned in the European Union 2020-2025 Anti-Racism Plan as a "tool" at the local level together with another network such as Euro Cities is extraordinary. It had never happened in our history. The words of Commissioner Dalli at the opening of our General Conference two weeks ago seem to me to have confirmed on the one hand the recognition of our commitment but on the other hand a strong expectation of the European Commission towards ECCAR.
This result is not a result of chance or fate. Just a year ago I was invited to a Euro Cities panel in Amsterdam to talk about Networks and the fight against racism. The two-day agenda included the presence of Tommaso Chiamparino among others. From that panel came the idea of a working group on Islamophobia for which I committed ECCAR to bring its know-how and its voice. After a few months it was Aida from Barcelona, as Vice President, who took part in the first meeting (unfortunately I was at home with a fever: don’t worry, it was just a seasonal flu), which was followed by a regular exchange with Tommaso together with other cities in the network, including Heidelberg and Bologna.
The professionalism encountered in those meetings led to the mention and the burden of responsibility that awaits us for the next few years. The ingredients for the result? I summarize them: a journey of the President participating in a meeting and doing networking, teamwork of the Board and not just the Board. Being in that document will lead to all cities in the network having a direct line with the EU Commission and I think this is just the beginning. (Tommaso Chiamparino, later in the day will give us a taste).
Let me here take some time to speak about our last General Conference held on line form Bologna. First of all let me thanks Lucia and her team for the great work they have done, letting us to exchange ideas and best practice, but also to work together inspired by a really great panel of people invited to the Conference. But also the preparatory level of the working group it were done really professionally, involving more than few city. The feedbacks I received in this days from cities but also from people were attending or speaking at the conference are more then positive, underlining above all the capacity to speck about practical things and not just theoretically.
I close with what I hope will be part of the prospects for 2021, in which I hope, among other things, to have a meeting with the Commissioner herself to be able to explore opportunities and partnerships. We are a small network compared to Eurocities but I think we can do great things.
For 2021, I see two directions for our work, inward and outward. Four points, two on the inside and two on the outside:
- The working groups. They are our way of existing and working. We will vote today on the proposal that tries to give them a structure that allows us to easily make them the modus operandi of the Network, obtaining greater involvement of the cities, of all the network’s cities, and making sure that on the issues we work on we can have small documents to be presented as positions of the network to the outside. Because our professionalism in "doing" must also be communicated. The WG will be the concrete possibility to link cities with the civil society and where experiment an intersectional approach to our works.
- The path that will lead us to have an evaluation system of what cities do on their territory. The works are proceeding quickly and I thank the city of Barcelona that coordinate the works. We will talk about it shortly but we know that it is essential, that if on the one hand we need to have the data, we also need full awareness of the effectiveness about what we are doing in our communities to fight against racism and discrimination. We all felt this need and the results will come here too. I am really confident.
- The rebranding by a professional that will involve all cities. It's not just about the website but about how and what we want to communicate internally. The attempt to be engaging between us and towards us. We will also talk about this later and I will not dwell on it but from the first meeting with the designer Gyor Moore I saw great professionalism and a great desire to help us in this process. Heidelberg will talk about it and I won't dwell on it.
- I think it's time to think about a European-wide communication (advocacy) campaign in our communities in the name of ECCAR. Several times in recent months, whether it was Board meetings or other meetings we have told ourselves that rarely, even our citizens know that their city is a member of ECCAR. I will undertake to propose something to the next Steering Committee (after talking about it in the Board) with the cities that want to help me. I think we can be ripe to work with it and do it in 2022, finding ideas and resources.
All this points will be discussed deeper within the Board in January with suggestions that will come from the other Vice Presidents.
I finished. There is a lot of work ahead of us. We have learned in recent months to work online and we will also continue to do so. I am also convinced that the biannual appointments that we have always had (SC and GA) it is however necessary that they return live as soon as possible, because we know that being together increases the levels of exchanges that online are greatly reduced, especially when there are more than a small group of people. Is not just a romantic idea but a part of our way of being from the first day we start more than a decade ago in Nuremberg.
However, we know that even the most informal time during our meetings brings positive things.
I hope that as early as the next Steering Committee we will be able to see each other again, hoping that there will be some cities that want to put forward their candidacy to welcome us in the coming months.
Thanks for listening and good work to everyone.