In the realm of global challenges, local governments play a crucial role in tackling pressing issues such as the refugee crisis, urban poverty, the pandemic, and the imperative for a more robust democracy. Addressing these concerns necessitates the adoption of regional unity and collaborative approaches. Recognizing this need, the B40 Balkan Cities Network emerges as an initiative aimed at establishing a fresh platform for collaboration that operates at the local level while maintaining a global perspective. This network endeavors to foster cooperation and exchange of ideas among cities within the Balkan region, enabling them to collectively address these urgent issues on a broader scale.
In this regard, B40 Balkan Cities Network Istanbul Summit, which brought together local governments in the Balkans with the motto “Better Cooperation, Better Future”, was hosted by Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu on 29-30 November 2021 at the Istanbul Congress Center. At the summit, mayors and representatives from 23 municipalities in 11 countries gathered to articulate common goals for cooperation among Balkan cities. Addressing local solutions to global problems such as climate change and migration, Balkan cities declared their will to work together and find common solutions in these areas. With the “Istanbul Declaration”, which is the most fundamental document of this will, the B40 Balkan Cities Network was established.
Hosting more than 500 participants and 106 city representatives, mayors’ sessions, technical sessions, and field trips were held at the Summit. In the mayors’ sessions, the founding local governments of B40 discussed the future of the region and cities and the structure of the B40 Network. In his speech at the Istanbul Summit, Ekrem İmamoğlu, the Founding President of the B40 Network, emphasized the cooperation of local governments, the necessity of developing local democracy and the importance of seeking common solutions to common problems: “We gathered to build a stronger cooperation and a better future together. Today, the Mayors who attend this meeting are serving their cities and providing a very important service for the democratic future of the Balkans within Europe. We face crucial issues as local governments, such as environmental and climate issues, the refugee crisis, energy management and a yearning for further democracy and these global issues, our concerns transcend countries’ borders.”
The Istanbul Summit, consisting of 39 bilateral meetings, can be aptly described as an esteemed gathering of urban diplomacy. Esteemed mayors and technical delegations from various significant cities in the Balkans convened to engage in fruitful discussions encompassing a wide range of topics. Additionally, these delegations had the invaluable opportunity to witness Istanbul’s exemplary practices and explore numerous facilities, including the newly constructed rail lines.
Moreover, in addition to the aforementioned aspects, the Istanbul Summit facilitated an avenue for cities to engage in technical sessions. These sessions served as a platform for municipalities to disseminate and exchange up-to-date advancements, exemplary practices, and valuable experiences, fostering a collective learning environment. Furthermore, it promoted cities to forge collaborative measures aimed at collectively addressing shared challenges. Notably, these sessions were meticulously guided and moderated by academicians renowned for their expertise in pertinent fields, ensuring the highest level of scholarly discourse and insights. The concrete outcomes resulting from these sessions were subsequently deliberated upon in the Mayors’ session, where concerted efforts were made to foster a cohesive understanding and pursue common goals.
The İstanbul Summit was a significant milestone in the history of the B40 Network, providing a platform for collaboration and exchange of knowledge among Balkan cities. In the Mayors Discussion session, the founding mayors came together and expressed their views on the structure, working principles and future of the Network. Mayors discussed the necessary steps, needs, and expectations for this initiative, as well as the formation of a fund or cooperation mechanism to support it.
At the summit, several technical sessions were organized to discuss key topics such as climate action, digital transformation, migration, and economic cooperation. These workshops were chaired by academic experts and attended by technical committees from participating cities. Through these workshops, the foundations of the Working Groups were laid, which have continued their activities throughout the first year of B40.
As part of the summit, field trips were organized for mayors and technical committees to showcase the successful methods implemented by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The delegations visited the Kemerburgaz Solid Waste Incineration Facility and Eminönü-Alibeyköy Tram Line to learn about the techniques utilized in those locations.
Declaration & Closing
In the last session where the mayors came together, they listened and evaluated the outputs of the technical committees’ work during the Summit in the presentations made by the chairpersons.
The establishment of the B40 Balkan Cities Network became official with the signed declaration signed by the mayors at the end of the Summit. With the declaration, the signatory mayors committed to transparent and inclusive local governance based on data and shared information. In addition, it was decided to plan projects and work activities that will contribute to the strengthening of local democracy and good neighborly relations in the region and to establish inter-provincial business units.’