On 25 February, our chair of the Social Affairs Forum and deputy mayor of Malmo, Sedat Arif, together with EUROCITIES secretary general, Anna Lisa Boni, and senior policy advisor, Bianca Faragau met with Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, to discuss how cities and the European Commission can work together to strengthen inclusion and equality.
During the meeting, EUROCITIES presented how cities are working to foster inclusion and equality at local level and how we are committed to doing more together with the European Commission to make equality and inclusion a reality for all people.
Anna Lisa Boni presented how cities work together in the EUROCITIES network to create a better future where people take part in an inclusive society. She emphasised how we put people first in all our work with cities and how we mainstream equality and inclusion in our work in social affairs. This is best proven by EUROCITIES campaign ‘Inclusive Cities for All: Social Rights in My City’ that engages city mayors to pledge on taking concrete measures for equal opportunities, gender equality or inclusion of people with disabilities in order to deliver the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights at local level.
Sedat Arif shared with the Commissioner that the top social challenge in all cities in Europe is rising inequalities. He exemplified how inequality has a territorial dimension as people living in deprived areas have fewer opportunities and develop into vulnerable groups. Sedat explained how cities work on tackling inequalities in an integrated way by combining people-based measures (active support for education, training, work) with place-based solutions to improve infrastructure and regenerate deprived urban areas.
Role of cities in fighting discrimination
The Commissioner was interested to know what cities are doing in terms of tackling discrimination. Bianca Faragau referred to the evidence collected from cities that shows the key role of cities in equal treatment and non-discrimination, most of cities having shared competences with national government but many going beyond their legal responsibilities to respond to the increasing needs for actions on the ground:
- Some cities are drafting non-discrimination legislation, but most cities are implementing national laws for non-discrimination, but in doing so, their municipal policies often go beyond the minimum provisions set by the national law, e.g. non-discrimination grounds also cover socio-economic status
- Cities set up anti-discrimination offices in cooperation with equality bodies.
- Cities are providing tailored support to target groups at risk of discrimination, e.g. people with migrant or ethnic backgrounds
- Cities apply equal access when acting as an employer, service provider and as a buyer of goods and services in public procurement
- Cities invest in capacity-building (training) of municipal staff to apply equal treatment to ensure equal access for all people to all public services
On tackling poverty and social exclusion of Roma, more than half of cities have a local strategy for Roma inclusion. Other half of cities include Roma as part of their mainstream strategies to tackle poverty in their cities. Nearly all cities have in place structures for dialogue with Roma (local platforms or Municipal Roma Councils) to engage Roma in developing and implementing local policies. Yet, most initiatives for Roma inclusion at local level are funded from municipal budgets while only a few receive national or EU funding.
On inclusion of people with disabilities, cities work hard to ensure barrier-free access for all people equally. Cities mainstream accessibility across their municipal policies – education, employment, mobility, housing, participation etc. – while also ensuring tailored support to people with disabilities. Some cities have adopted action plans to implement the un Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.
On gender equality, cities are a good example on how to mainstream gender equality in municipal strategies, how to introduce gender budgeting in all policies and programmes while at the same time ensuring targeted support for women to address the barriers they face, in particular targeted measures for women from most vulnerable groups. Many cities have also introduced gender clauses in public procurement and most have also invested in capacity building of their municipal staff and public awareness campaigns at local level.
Working together on equality and inclusion
Speaking about the role of cities, Sedat Arif said: "We, city authorities, are committed to work with you Commissioner to strengthening Europe’s commitment to inclusion and equality in all its senses and to make this a reality at local level. We are keen to continue our work on fighting inequalities and fostering the participation of under-represented groups in society. We are ready to do more, but we need the means to do it."
Commissioner Helena Dalli said: "Cities have the potential to translate EU objectives for equality and inclusion into concrete actions on the ground. I am willing to work with cities and to visit cities to see the reality on the ground and to work together towards concrete outcomes". The Commissioner accepted the invitation to join some of our upcoming study visits to cities and learn from good practices for equality and inclusion at municipal level.
Following on from the meeting, EUROCITIES will invite Commissioner Dalli to attend our Social Affairs Forum meeting in Zagreb on 27-28 May as well as some of our policy transfer study visits to cities, such as on Roma inclusion, inclusion of migrants, or accessibility. This will be a good opportunity for the Commissioner to see how cities are delivering EU objectives on the ground, and how cities can be trusted partners in advancing EU policies.