Free European cities in democratic alliance
In 2019, the mayors of the central and eastern European cities of Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava signed the so-called “Alliance of Free Cities”. Reflecting the existing Visegrad coalition between Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the four capitals forged an alternative regional alliance promoting “democratic and pro-European” values.
“The Free Cities Alliance” aims to fight the climate crisis, the rise of right-wing populism and the crisis of liberal democracies. Negotiations are underway with Brussels for these cities to receive EU funding directly, that is to say to eliminate their national governments as intermediaries, and to bypass national envelopes.
In this way, Bratislava, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw challenged the foreign policies of their own countries. “The capitals of Visegrád do not want to be penalized and persecuted for the fact that the government of this country or another breaks the laws, hijacks EU subsidies or denies the climate crisis,” Hřib said.
Slawek Blich was in conversation with the mayor of the Prague Pirate Party, Zdeněk Hřib, to Krytyka Polityczna ( see the Polish version here).
Slawek Blich (SB): What was your reaction to the results of the Polish presidential election announced in July?
Zdenik Hřib (ZH): I was naturally disappointed.
SB:You have expressed your support for the Democratic opposition candidate Rafał Trzaskowski. You did a video where you said in Polish and Czech that your fingers crossed.
ZH: Our political position is not the only thing Trzaskowski and I have in common. We also share common values and worldviews. I said that Poland needs political change. But unfortunately the illiberal forces that Rafał and I oppose won by a very small margin.
SB: What did you hear about this electoral campaign in Poland? What sort of information has reached political circles in the Czech Republic?
ZH: Much has been said about how Trzaskowski was treated by state media. I couldn’t believe it until I saw with my own eyes that your public television did air an article titled “Will Trzaskowski Respond to Jewish Demands?” “. This is completely crazy.
We also heard the news of “LGBT-free zones”. Overall, this paints a general picture of the deranged and illiberal forces ruling Poland today.
SB: After signing the Alliance of Free Cities, Trzaskowski said: “When some governments undermine the foundations of liberal democracy or claim that the climate crisis does not exist, we have to take matters into our own hands. “
ZH: The initiator of the Pact, and at the same time a great political inspiration, was Gergely Karácsony, the mayor of Budapest. In Hungary, the political situation is even worse than in Poland. However, for Karácsony’s victory, it was necessary to unify the forces of the democratic opposition. This process has been terribly difficult and painful for many. But the result was worth it. A similar conversation awaits today all the countries of Visegrád.
SB: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said your initiative was “just for fun”.
ZH: For a long time, a strange coalition of Central and Eastern Europe has been trying to get noticed: from post-communist Czech businessmen-oligarchs, to Polish clergy-fascists, to Slovak political mafiosi involved in the murder of Ján Kuciak, to conservatives Hungarian nationalists.
For us, city mayors, it was about showing that capitals and their citizens follow opposing values and have different opinions on key political issues.
SB: Like what for example ?
ZH: We have a different vision of democracy, human rights, cultural diversity or the rule of law.
SB: What concrete results have you obtained in the six months following the signing of the Pact?
ZH: We work closely with the mayors of the V4 and have participated in several common initiatives based on green, liberal and progressive values. In June, for example, we sent an open letter to the European Council stressing the need for a green recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic and declaring our full support for the European Green Deal. In July, we sent a similar letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
SB: You urged the EU to make funds more directly available to cities by bypassing central governments.
ZH: As for the upcoming negotiations on the next EU financial framework for 2021-2027, our aim is to secure the funding mechanisms for cities directly from the EU budget, which is essential for the implementation of a ambitious climate policy. We are looking for ways to enable our partner cities to receive European grants directly. So outside the national envelopes.
SB: Can you get around the envelopes?
ZH: Mechanisms and programs aimed directly at the regions already exist. Our proposal is part of the efforts made so far by the largest European urban network EUROCITIES, as well as with the European Committee of the Regions. The national envelopes will of course remain and we are not seeking to remove them. What we are trying to do is improve the legislation underpinning the EU funding mechanisms in order to decentralize funding regimes in the future EU multiannual financial framework. We are working to expand cities’ access to funds and resources without unnecessary intermediaries.