Cities4Europe - Interview with the Mayor of Oulu and the Mayor of Strasbourg

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The Mayor of Oulu, Päivi Laajala and the Mayor of Strasbourg Roland Ries have answered our questions on the 'Cities4Europe - Europe for citizens' campaign.


What opportunities does ‘Cities4Europe - Europe for Citizens’ present your city?

Päivi Laajala: Participation to this campaign gives us an opportunity to profile ourselves among the major cities in Europe and to get involved to pan- European movement for a participatory democracy. It also gives us a good opportunity to involve our citizens to reflect themselves as citizens of Europe. What it means and what are our expectations. What Europe gives to us and what we can offer to the Europe. How we can get involved better and impact. In terms of the open participatory democracy the involvement offers us peer- to –peer information about mechanisms and tools in use that engage citizens in policy making, strengthening new forms of democracy across Europe.

Roland Ries: “Cities4Europe – Europe for Citizens” contributes to foster constructive debates on what is needed for a better Europe tomorrow. It is fully in line with the spirit of the program of events that we are organizing in May & June (“Fête de l’Europe”), together with the large number of European associations active in Strasbourg, including citizens’ consultations initiated by the French President. In a cross-border city like Strasbourg, we’re committed to build a more practical Europe, close to its citizens. The “Cities4Europe – Europe for Citizens” campaign will underline this long-term commitment while offering various spaces and opportunities for citizens to address many aspects of European challenges. 


How do you involve citizens in decision making in your city?

P.L.: Oulu is open and inclusive. This translates to an equal opportunity to participate, clear and comprehensible language, transparency in information and decision making, and accessibility of services. Oulu is committed to the Finnish Open Government Action Plan principles. Enhancing open government needs to be part of all work and development of the public administration also on the local level. We need to take care of the accessibility of engagement and the availability of participation possibilities. The different forms of participation function only if citizens can find them. The engagement possibilities of especially those who are in a vulnerable position, like children, young, elderly and other special groups,needs a special attention. We support and develop the use of different forms of participation side by side. Different ways of participation can be for instance digital channels and services, different kinds of events and work-shops, experiments and events.

R.R.: In Strasbourg, processes of co-construction are at the core of our public policies. We are committed to involve citizens in various stages of the decision-making procedures. To this end, we have set up various consultation bodies, such as the Foreign Resident Council, the Youth Council, the Social Economy Council or also the Neighbourhood Councils. We also punctually consult the citizens when a topical issue requires it, for instance we are questioning the parents and the teachers in the framework of the French reform of the school hours. 


Can you share one idea or project linked to participatory democracy your city feels proud of?

P.V.: The City Council of Oulu adopted a new city strategy ‘Oulu 2026 – The Light of the North’ in February 2018. As a crucial part of the preparation process we challenged the people of Oulu to plan and think about the future of the city. More than 2,000 people answered the Oulu 2026 survey that was carried out in the autumn of 2017. The survey was open for two weeks on the campaign website The social media campaign attracted especially young people and young adults. In the second phase of the campaign, we asked the inhabitants to come up with urban development ideas. On the basis of the results of the survey, we developed a set of themes. In three weeks, we received altogether 506 ideas. The most liked ideas were discussed in a discussion meeting, and the most feasible ones will be implemented.

R.R.We feel particularly proud of the new Pact for Local Democracy launched in April 2017. We’ve organized 13 workshops on various topics with more than 500 voluntary citizens on a bottom-up approach. Last October, a Citizens’ Summit was held at the Council of Europe in order to vote and prioritize the 30 proposals that will be included in this new Pact, which has been integrated in the Municipality’s Roadmap. Among the proposals which received the higher number of votes: the setting up of a participatory budget, a project to reference, map and communicate on the citizens’ places and initiatives in order to foster the inhabitant’s participation, etc.


What role do you see cities playing in developing future European democracy?

P.V.: I fully agree with the statement of the campaign that cities are crucial in shaping the future of Europe by providing a critical link to citizens. Aging European population, rapid urbanization in Europe and globally and growing urban inequality are closely linked to socio-economic change. At the same time, large-scale movement of migrants and refugees is certainly a defining and dramatic concern of European cities that should be turned to a positive strength. All these trends challenge more inclusive and sustainable urbanization as well as participatory democracy also in Europe. Cities in Europe need policies and resources to act locally for future participatory democracy and inclusion as well as for wellbeing of citizens.

R.R.: I believe that cities are the keystone of the European democracy. The local level is the closest to the citizens, and therefore cities have a key role to play on a daily basis to restore faith in the European project. This includes promoting the values of peace, democracy and human rights, which are the baseline of what we call “Europe of Strasbourg”. Cities are the right place to build laboratories for Europe, organize debates, conferences and exchanges about the European project and to collect the citizens’ views. We, as cities, have also a pedagogical role to play, in delivering people enough objective information to keep them away from being seduced by populist voices. 

Now please complete the following statement: ‘My Europe in 2030 will…’

P.V.: My Europe in 2030 will consist of smart, sustainable and inclusive societies where people come first.

R.R.: My Europe in 2030 will be « europtimist »: a renewed, innovative, vibrant political project, generating inspiration and hopes among all of its citizens