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Graphic Recording by Susanne Kitlinski

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 He also shared his perception that the current multilateral governmental system is outdated, with failed global governance taking its toll, and stressed that cities had stepped up as important actors, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic.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 GDL regional Lab Global Leadership and the SDGs: What Role for Local Communities? connected GDL members and local stakeholders in order to come up with solutions that enable local communities to become more prominent in global partnerships to achieve the SDGs – this has been a point of departure for the GDL to continue its work in the emerging arena of city diplomacy.

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Banu Pekol

Dr Banu Pekol’s work focuses on peacebuilding and conflict transformation in relation to contested cultural heritage. Her work spans cultural heritage research on difficult pasts and projects that develop creative and research-based results, specialising in cultural diplomacy, contested heritage interpretation and management. She has over a decade of experience with different cultures at numerous multicultural heritage sites.

Banu currently works at the Berghof Foundation, on intercultural and interreligious conflict transformation and peace education. She was previously a Historical Dialogue and Accountability fellow at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University.

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 has worked as a cultural manager at KMKD, where her work included managing creative as well as research–based strategies to preserve heritage, especially of contested heritage sites, and to find concrete ways for communities to embrace and preserve heritage, regardless of the ethnic or religious community that built it.

She was a trainer in the 2020 European Diplomatic Programme, an elected member on the Advisory Council of the Global Diplomacy Lab (2019-2021) and is a BMW Responsible Leader.

Banu Pekol holds a BA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and PhD from Istanbul Technical University. She was a Salzburg Global Seminar Fellow on Conflict Transformation through Culture: Peace-building and the Arts and has been awarded 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

Annegret Warth has a strong background in academia, civil society and administration. She works at the interface between education and diplomacy by merging local, national and international perspectives on formal and non-formal education.

At Stuttgart Municipality, she currently coordinates a network which aims to mainstream education for sustainable development by encouraging intersectoral cooperation between education, civil society and administration.

In her academic work, Annegret has developed a non-essentialist approach to overcome Eurocentric research on youth in the Global South. As a 2018/19 Mercator-IPC Fellow, she explored potentials of local youth policy and youth participation in Turkey. She has formerly worked as a research and teaching fellow at Goethe-University in Frankfurt.

Since 2010, Annegret has been active at the intersection of research and practice in youth exchange with a focus on Turkey. She is a consultant to stakeholders in youth exchange including the German-Turkish Youth Bridge, the International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (IJAB), and Stiftung Mercator.

Annegret studied Educational Science at Tübingen University, Marburg University and Bosporus University in Istanbul. She holds a PhD in International Youth Research from Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg.


Onur Eryüce

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
Max Bouchet is a senior policy analyst and project manager at the Brookings Institution, affiliated with the Center for Sustainable Development and the Global Economy & Development Programme.

Connecting with scholars, diplomats, businesses, city and community leaders from countries of the Global South and North, he researches the making of stronger local communities. He co-manages the Brookings SDG Leadership Cities network to develop relationships and solutions with city leaders to advance sustainability and inclusion. Passionate about the role of local governments in addressing global challenges, Max works to elevate the leadership and innovative power of cities in multilateral diplomacy.

Over 2018-2020, Max combined his research on global cities with a Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship (Global Governance Futures 2030) and a Policy Center for the New South Fellowship (Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leader). Previously, he was chief analyst of Conway, Inc., an Atlanta-based economic development consulting firm. Max graduated from the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po Paris, France) with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and a Master’s degree in Public Affairs.


Read more about his vision on city-to-city diplomacy here.

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