The promise of urban citizenship: Lessons for Europe

Movement Profile

Initiative “Cities for Europe”

Who we are

The “Cities for Europe” initiative was launched in 2012 with the joint efforts of its umbrella organization “A Soul for Europe”, the cities of Berlin and Guimarães and the cooperation of the German Federal Agency for Civic Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung or bpb). The initiative aims to establish a network of local stakeholders, i.e., committed citizens, civil society organisations, mayors and local politicians from across Europe, to promote exchange of information and resources between those who are building Europe on the local level.

Strengthening Europe requires Europe to steer away from its “top-down” administration to become truly “bottom-up” – a “Europe of Citizens” as opposed to the institutional idea of a “Europe for Citizens”. Citizens need to be actively involved. They must engage with Europe’s future and feel responsible for shaping it. It is citizens who can and must challenge the “technocratic” Europe every day and turn the EU into a living being. Citizenship goes beyond passive rights: it includes duties of responsible ownership that must be taken on. In fact, Europe begins in its cities and regions. This is where citizens live, where they are active, where they actually experience their citizenship and where they are able to exercise their citizenship rights.

The force of culture

Instead of us defining “European” or urban identity for European citizens, we want them to explore it themselves. We believe that urban citizenship and European citizenship are not opposed to one another. On the contrary, our European identity is only real at the local level. We experience and live Europe on a day-to-day basis in the very context of our city or region. Europe is not about abstract representation – an administration in Brussels and the laws that come with it – but about our culture(s) in the broadest sense.

In this respect, “A Soul for Europe” believes that culture has a catalysing function. It shapes our common value system and at the same time helps to establish a sense of self in an increasingly fast-paced and fragmented world. Our concept of culture is broad and goes beyond the arts. It embraces every aspect of life: language, public space, migration, media, legal systems, customs and even children’s games.

In its cities and regions, European culture is alive and tangible for its citizens through cultural achievements, activities and institutions. This is because cities and regions are directly responsible for Europe, through all sectors of their administration. We aim to make clear to politicians as well as civil society initiatives that engagement for Europe is not limited to activities labelled as “European” for them to have a distinctive European dimension. It is inherent to many cultural, social and international projects. We try to change perceptions. An intercultural project might not per se realize the European dimension of its work – even if it is inherent in its efforts. If we realize that our local activities have a European dimension, these activities will ultimately benefit European integration. We are convinced that constant dialogue about cultural accomplishments, whether distinguishing or uniting, contributes to the identity formation processes mentioned above.

Our efforts

We encourage long-term dialogue between actors in order to promote greater responsibility and competency. We want to establish a platform for exchange of views and experiences between politics and civil society in order to instil and maintain communication. We seek to better integrate the expertise and engagement of civil society actors into political decision-making.

To this end, “Cities for Europe” published a manual,Cities and Regions – Their cultural responsibility for Europe and how they can fulfill it, in collaboration with the European Capital of Culture Essen-Ruhr 2010, to support and orient local politicians and civil society stakeholders. In this booklet, six exemplary areas are identified in which local action for Europe can become evident: Outstanding cultural performance, Lieux de Mémoire (Europe’s memory), Cultural Diversity, Conversion and Urban Renewal, Borderlands, and European Cultural Heritage. The manual furthermore presents outstanding examples from various European cities and regions in these six areas of cultural practice.

We also created a website,, in cooperation with the bpb that invites cities and local initiatives to present their exemplary European projects. The website raises visibility and highlights the diversity of Europe as it is lived day to day in European cities and regions. The website further aims to encourage politicians and administrators to not only grasp the potential of this local “Citizens’ Europe”, but commit to advancing it.  We hope that the website will encourage citizens to take action, exchange best practices, network and seek cooperation.

One of our major challenges, next to financial support for our efforts, lies in our approach, which requires permanent explanation. Rather than conducting a series of events or stand-alone projects, we aim to create a long-term process. We want to highlight the engagement and work of others. We want to raise awareness of current projects in order to promote contact between initiatives and projects. We hope that our efforts trigger new activity, but do not seek to control it.

We are not interested in prescribing “correct” actions. Instead, we hope to foster a mindset. Will you join us?

“Cities for Europe” is an initiative of “A Soul for Europe” – a civil society initiative that is committed to establishing a “Citizens’ Europe” throughout Europe. “A Soul for Europe” is driven by around 50 young people from all over Europe that form the Strategy Group which is responsible for the conceptual development and dissemination of the ideas through projects and initiatives – young people who stand up for the idea behind the initiative and who are active in their cities and seek out dialogue with policy-makers. “Cities for Europe” is part of the “Cultural Coalition for a Citizens’ Europe”, a multi-directional process of engagement which aims to empower citizens by connecting civil society, artists and intellectuals, and politicians to collaboratively build a vision for Europe’s future.