City Diplomacy and the Future of Multilateralism
Text by Banu Pekol
The city diplomacy session, facilitated by Annegret Warth, brought together GDL members involved in conventional, national diplomacy and city-level international activities as well as a variety of external network partners to discuss the contribution of cities to the future of multilateralism. It aimed to develop a common understanding of city diplomacy within the GDL framework and to discuss how GDL members can engage in this emerging diplomatic area. Cities have a key role to play in the context of national contributions, for example in climate change. Thus, diplomacy must evolve to include cities. At the same time, cities should also learn how to engage with diplomacy.
Achim Schkade, Head of Climate and Environment Foreign Policy at the Federal Foreign Office, addressed how conventional diplomacy integrates and activates the voices of cities. He talked about the fact that the Federal Foreign Office has been working on a new approach to city diplomacy for the past two years. In this context, one important question relates to definitions: is urban diplomacy a question of diplomacy by cities, or is it diplomacy vis-à-vis cities? Cities are arenas and actors of global challenges, and the FFO aims to convey ideas on global political challenges to cities. One way to achieve this is the inclusion of civil society in projects.
Onur Eryüce, Counsellor to the Mayor at Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, Secretary General of the Association of Social Democratic Municipalities in Turkey, drew attention to how diplomacy is about increasing the connectivity of individual cities with rest of the world. Connectivity leads to interaction as cities have begun collaborating on a multi-national scale. Onur Eryüce argued that legal and formal institutional structures and global institutional reform are needed, as well as the recognition of the global strength of cities. He also shared his perception that the current multilateral governmental system is outdated, with failed global governance taking its toll, and stressed that cities had stepped up as important actors, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic.
Max Bouchet, a Research Analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC shared his view of the landscape of city networks, and on measuring the effective influence of city diplomacy. He talked about how city diplomacy does not usually connect with conventional diplomacy. However, he contended, as the world faces the COVID-19 crisis, the multilateral environment appears to be weakened by the renewed unilateralism of major powers and the gridlock of international cooperation (such as the G7, G20 and the UN) over migration, global health and climate change. He therefore raised an important question: is the global order using the right tools? Bouchet argued that these tools are slow and that cities are stepping up. Mayors and local governments, on the frontline of most of these challenges, have been filling the gap by connecting across borders in city networks such as C40 and the Urban 20 (U20) to coordinate their efforts and advocacy to influence global agendas. There are examples of great leadership at the city level today, as Max Bouchet pointed out. Local governments are becoming not spectators, but actors. However, at the same time he stressed the need to question whether cities can indeed do everything, and what new responsibilities might mean for organising city diplomacy and channelling the impact of cities.
Adva Vilcihinski, Consul for Public Diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate General in New York City, talked about her experience transitioning from the NGO to the governmental sector and the insights this change offered. She also touched on how the Israeli Embassy is working to share the heritage of NYC and how its aim – to have a social impact – is important in this context. She explored how the Consulate General is working to encourage Israeli NGOs to collaborate and partner with various governmental organisations and how it is working with different generations in ongoing projects, as people relate to the city in very different ways depending on their age and experience.
With numerous questions from the participants relating to the practice of city diplomacy, the session was most interactive. Participants were interested in the challenges encountered in the relationship between cities engaged in diplomacy and MFAs, and in how MFAs could engage with local actors who become relevant in diplomacy to strengthen their capacity and stay connected to national foreign policy objectives. Another discussion centred on how rapid and effective communication via the internet allowed remote cities to be more connected at the level of governance than ever before. Today, cities are able to share information and experiences globally on their existing networks. This change has increased their capacity, learning from best practices at the international level.
Further discussions in break-out rooms enabled smaller groups to share personal experiences and develop ideas on how to engage in city diplomacy as GDL members. The questions discussed in the break-out sessions were as follows:
What is the potential of city diplomacy? What can city diplomacy achieve?
What opportunities does it create for the GDL? How could the GDL as an innovative global network and think tank support city diplomacy?
The session provided many insights, and participants agreed that more webinars and forums like this should be organised. Initiatives relating to city diplomacy have great potential because they can contribute to solving both local and global problems and bring positive changes to communities. The GDL has the potential to transcend boundaries and to be a platform lending a voice to both popular and less known cities. The GDL can connect cities by strengthening civil society with its capacity to bring together civil changemakers and city diplomats from around the world.
The upcoming GDL regional Lab Global Leadership and the SDGs: What Role for Local Communities? will connect GDL members and local stakeholders in order to come up with solutions that will enable local communities to become more prominent in global partnerships to achieve the SDGs – this could be a point of departure for the GDL to continue its work in the emerging arena of city diplomacy.
Dr Banu Pekol works on architectural conservation projects to develop creative and research-based results, specialising in cultural diplomacy, heritage interpretation and innovation. She works to find concrete ways for communities to embrace and preserve heritage, regardless of the ethnic or religious community that built it. She is a co-founder of the Association for the Protection of Cultural Heritage (KMKD), which was established in order to respond to the urgent need to protect and preserve cultural heritage at risk. She currently works as cultural heritage and capacity-building manager at KMKD.
Banu has worked as a full-time assistant professor and has a decade of experience with different cultures at numerous heritage sites. She serves on the Elected Advisory Council of the Global Diplomacy Lab and the Board of the Robert Bosch Cultural Managers Network, and is a BMW Responsible Leader.
She is a founding member of Europa Nostra-Turkey, and her areas of research include architectural conservation, energy-efficient conservation, the reuse of historic structures for new purposes, and the conservation of contested heritage sites.
She won the Salzburg Global Seminar Fellowship on Conflict Transformation through Culture: Peace-building and the Arts; the Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Technology, Science, and Art Award; a Hellenic Ministry of Culture Grant; the Otto Gründler Award; and grants from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Bodossaki Foundation.
Annegret Warth is an educational scientist focusing on international comparative youth and youth welfare research. As a Mercator-IPC fellow she is inquiring the status of networks between local civil society and municipalities in Turkey, with a specific focus on youth work and policy. In her doctoral thesis, she is exploring heterogeneous manifestations of the youth phase in Turkey. Prior to that, she worked as a project leader of the German national network “Research and Practice in Dialogue” fostering innovation in youth exchange and as a research and teaching fellow at the Goethe University of Frankfurt.
Since 2010, Annegret has been active at the intersection of research and practice in the field of youth work and youth exchange with a focus on Turkey. She is active as a consultant for stakeholders of youth exchange including the German-Turkish Youth Bridge, the International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (IJAB), and Stiftung Mercator. From 2008 to 2010 she worked as a youth worker and project coordinator at the Centre for Civil Society Studies at Istanbul Bilgi University.
Onur Eryüce has worked to strengthen political and cultural ties between Turkey and the European Union in defiance of a challenging political environment.
In 2011, he played a pivotal role in the foundation of the Association of Social Democratic Municipalities (SODEM), which was set up to foster strategic partnerships among Turkish municipal leaders and their European counterparts, thus bolstering the position of Turkish municipalities in the EU accession process. Under Onur’s management, the organisation has grown to 130 member municipalities, representing more than 15 million people, and has successfully contributed to EU-Turkey collaboration on issues at the municipal level.
He is responsible for setting up and furthering political, social, cultural and economic dialogue between the member municipalities and their European and international counterparts.
Max Bouchet is a research analyst at the Brookings Institution, affiliated with the Metropolitan Policy Programme and the Global Economy & Development Programme. He conducts research on building stronger and more inclusive city-region economies. He also stewards the SDG Leadership Cities network to help local leaders implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Over 2018-2019, Max Bouchet combined his analysis on global cities with a Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship (Global Governance Futures 2030). Connecting with scholars, diplomats, business and community leaders from countries of the Global South and North, he researched the role of cities in addressing global challenges. Previously, Max was chief analyst of Conway, Inc., an Atlanta-based economic consultancy firm.
He graduated from the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po, France) with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and a Master’s degree in Public Affairs. Max Bouchet is fluent in English, French, Spanish, and conversant in Mandarin Chinese after studying at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Read more about his vision on city-to-city diplomacy here.