B40 Balkan Cities Network was established with the Istanbul Declaration signed by 23 mayors at the end of the Istanbul Summit held on 29-30 November 2021 with a “Better Future, Better Cooperation” motto. B40 Network, which was established with the contributions of 23 city leaders, aims to bring together the local governments in the Balkans, an essential region, by forming the Eastern borders of the European Union and the western leg of Eurasia. The mayors and their accompanying delegations discussed the future of local government, joint solutions to local problems, and potential cooperation areas.
Within the B40 Network, several meetings is hold throughout a year, in addition to the Annual Summit, which that year’s Chair will host. The meetings and the Annual Summit will bring the mayors and the technical committees of the member cities together to strengthen the cooperation, increase the dialogue, and share best practices. B40 member cities prominently underline the critical importance of localizing the sustainable development agenda. The Network also constitutes an essential basis for regional development in the Balkans, the region with the highest investment and economic growth potential globally, by bringing the local governments together and promoting good dialogue and shared wisdom.
The primary goal of B40 is to enable other cities in the region to join the Network. In addition, the Network aims to produce participatory and permanent solutions at the local level by conducting joint studies with international institutions and organizations and the non-governmental platforms, and the business world operating in the region. Aware of the importance of local democracy, the B40 Network; is built on the principles of common mind, equality, and working together. The B40 Network members prioritize equal and effective cooperation, sharing experiences, and innovative solutions with a shared European vision. The Network recognizes the importance of flexible, democratic, transparent, and inclusive governance based on science and common sense.
On 29-30 November 2021, the first Balkan Cities Network summit was held at the Istanbul Convention Center. The motto of the B40 Network, which started in Istanbul, was “better cooperation, better future.” At the Summit, attended by the mayors and representatives of 24 municipalities from 11 countries, the following common goals for cooperation between Balkan cities were expressed.
The Summit, a festival of city diplomacy was remarkable. During the bilateral negotiations, which were one of the most critical points of the B40 Balkan Cities Network, mayors discussed the common problems of the cities. In particular, in an environment where COVID-19 limits communication opportunities, bringing together 23 mayors from 11 countries to reach a consensus on a common text and structure has been one of the most significant achievements of the Summit.
Technical Sessions held simultaneously, “Cooperation on Climate Action”, “Smart Cities and Digital Transformation”, “Urban Democracy and Migration” and “Economic Cooperation for Balkan Cities” created an appropriate environment for sharing the experience and information of technical delegations specializing in the field. Thus, the common challenges of the cities were pointed out and solutions to be developed together were discussed. The Summit of the B40 Balkan Cities Network ended after the signing ceremony of the Founding Declaration.
“The road ahead is long, but we know very well what our goal is, and we believe that with these steps towards more stable and stronger Balkan cities, we will move closer to a better future and a more livable world.”
Mayor İmamoğlu, 29 November 2021, Istanbul Summit
Expansion of the B40
One of the most important results of the Istanbul Summit was the increase and spread of the B40’s inclusiveness in the whole region. To this end, B40 Term President Mayor Imamoglu organized visits to some cities in the region to introduce the network’s activities and attract new members. The first of these visits was the Sarajevo Trip.
Term President of B40 Balkan Cities Network, made his first visit to Sarajevo to organize a B40 Network meeting. At this meeting of the B40 Balkan Cities Network held on April 25, 2022, in Sarajevo, he got together with the founding members of the B40 Network, the Mayor of Sarajevo, Benjamina KARIĆ, and the Deputy Mayor of Laktaši, Darko STANKOVIĆ, as well as the Mayor of Tuzla, Jasmin IMAMOVIĆ, and the Mayor of Zenica Fuad KASUMOVIĆ, who were invited to become members. The B40 Network meeting held in Sarajevo was an important meeting to evaluate the possibilities and opportunities for the Balkan cities in line with the search for ‘Better Cooperation, Better Future’. Esteemed Mayors exchanged views to implement a more inclusive, more sustainable and stronger local government approach in the cities of the B40 Network.
Founding President of B40 Balkan Cities Network, Mayor Ekrem IMAMOGLU, was in Sofia for a B40 Network meeting that was held on June 28, 2022 with the participation of 10 Bulgarian cities. The Cities of Sofia, Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv, Dimitrovgrad, Troyan, Karlovo, Karnobat, Sliven and Belitsa as well as the City of Kardzhali, one of the founding members of B40 Network, participated in the meeting. Those cities became members of B40 Network by signing its declaration. Besides, City of Burgas and Rakovski, although not present in the meeting, also became a member of B40 Network by signing the declaration in advance which increased the number of B40 member cities to 40. National Association of the Municipalities of the Republic of Bulgaria (NAMRB) also played a role in the organization of B40 Network Sofia Meeting.