B40 President Erion Veliaj made a working visit to Podgorica

B40 President Erion Veliaj attended a meeting in Podgorica alongside representatives from numerous Montenegrin municipalities with aspirations to join the B40 Balkan Network. The gathering was dedicated to strengthening ties between municipalities and extending collaboration to prospective members, with a primary objective of bolstering mutual influence in advocating for European Union initiatives. Of particular concern is the expansion of lobbying, especially directed towards securing EU-funded projects, with a significant focus on addressing the needs of smaller municipalities that are in urgent need of additional assistance and resources.

B40 ‘Smart Cities and Digital Transformation’ and ‘Local Climate Action’ Working Groups Face-to-Face Meetings were Held in Tirana

The face-to-face meetings of the working groups, which is one of the most important annual activities of the B40 Balkan Cities Network (B40), was hosted by the Municipality of Tirana on 21 – 22 May 2024 with the participation of the members of the ‘Local Climate Action’ and ‘Smart Cities and Digital Transformation’ working groups. The working group meetings, attended by 35 participants from 10 cities, started with a technical visit to the iconic Tirana Pyramid. Subsequently, the first day was completed after the welcome dinner hosted by the Tirana Municipality on the evening of 21st May 2024.

The final day of the programme started with the panel titled Delivering Climate Actions with Impact ‘Using Technology to Mitigate Climate Change’, which was organised by ICLEI and Tirana Municipality and inaugurated by Mr. Erion Veliaj, the President of the B40 Network and Mayor of Tirana. In this panel, Tirana, Istanbul, and Pristina respectively shared their best practices in the context of carbon mitigation and adaptation to climate change with the participants. Following the panel, separate workshops of the two working groups were held.

In the face-to-face meeting of the Smart Cities and Digital Transformation Working Group, the B40 Best Practices Portal, which was put forward by the Municipality of Tirana as the working group project of 2024, was discussed. In the later part of the face-to-face meeting, a detailed presentation was made on the projects of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality IT Department namely ‘Istanbul is Yours’, ‘Digital Twin Application’, and ‘Suspended Invoice’.

Participants from B40 member cities as well as ICLEI took part in the face-to-face meeting of the Local Climate Action Working Group. In the meeting, presentations were made by the ICLEI team in the fields of Information Communication Technologies, Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Mobility, Water and Sewerage. Subsequently, the city of Pristina shared the steps they plan to take in these areas and the best practices. Participants were divided into two groups in the later part of the workshop. The first group focused on Sustainable Mobility and Sustainable Energy, while the other group discussed ICT and Water and Sewerage.

B40 President Erion Veliaj made a working visit to Sofia

During an official working visit to Sofia, B40 President Erion Veliaj engaged in productive discussions with representatives from several Bulgarian municipalities. As the incumbent B40 President, Mayor Veliaj and his counterparts facilitated an exchange of experiences, best practices, and insights on shared challenges related to local governance. The meeting served as a platform for the Bulgarian mayors to emphasize the importance of collaborative efforts in addressing common issues, finding joint solutions to local problems, fostering regional development, and expressing their willingness to join the B40 Network.

B40 President Erion Veliaj made a working visit to Athens

B40 President Erion Veliaj, accompanied by B40 Permanent Secretary Barbaros Büyüksağnak and a delegation of other officials, made an official working visit to Athens. Within the scope of this visit, Mr Veliaj, who will hold the B40 Presidency until January 2025, met with the previous term officials of Athens, from whom he took over the office, and made an overall assessment of the past year and exchanged views on the work to be carried out in the coming period.

“B40 Balkan Cities Network Leadership Transfers to Tirana”

B40 Tirana Summit, which was the third Mayoral Level Summit of the B40 Network, took place in the City of Tirana- from 29 to 31 January 2024, with the participation of 27 local governments under the theme of “Building Urban Resilience and Responding to Crisis”. At the Summit, the presidency of the Network was handed over by the Mayor of Athens, Mr. Haris Doukas to the Mayor of Tirana, Mr. Erion Veliaj for a one-year tenure. During the Summit, several activities were organized such as “Interventions of Mayors regarding the B40 Network and the Summit Theme”, “Two Thematic Panels”, “Working Group Meetings”, “Bilateral Meetings” and “Networking Events”.  Along with these activities, the “B40 Network Organizational Structure and Working Principles Document”, which is the charter of the Network, and the “B40 City Diplomacy Strategy Document” were adopted by the Mayors of member cities as a result of the institutionalization endeavors of the B40 Network.

B40 Tirana Summit was inaugurated with the “Welcome Reception” where the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, Mr. Igli Hasani gave a speech alongside Mayor Veliaj on 29 January 2024. The new members of the Network were also officially welcomed with a welcoming ceremony.

On 30 January 2024, the Summit started with the “Opening Ceremony” and a short movie about the 2 years of the B40 Network was displayed to the guests. Afterwards, the President of the Republic of Albania, Mr. Bajram Begaj gave a welcoming speech as the guest of honor alongside Mayor Veliaj. The Mayor of Istanbul and the Founding President of The B40 Network Mr. Ekrem İmamoğlu and the Deputy Mayor of Athens Mr. Paris Charlafitis also addressed the guests. The Summit continued with the guest panel “European Perspective of the Region: Learning from Cities and Strengthening Networks” with the participation of Ms. Federica Mogherini, Rector of the College of Europe, Ms. Anouch Toranian, Deputy Mayor of Paris, and Mr. André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities, moderated by Ms. Romina Kuko, Chairwoman of the Tirana Municipal Council. Afterwards, Mr. Barbaros Büyüksağnak, Permanent Secretary of the B40 Network, made a presentation about the newly adopted B40 Organizational Structure and Working Principles Document and the B40 City Diplomacy Strategy Document to the member cities. This was followed by the Signing Ceremony of the B40 Tirana Summit Declaration. Furthermore, Interventions by the B40 Mayors and the Heads of Delegation session took place, where the participants shared their visions on the Network and best practices of their cities. This was followed by the establishment of the B40 Executive Committee, which is a new body founded on the basis of the Organizational Structure and Working Principles, aiming to create a more systematic leadership mechanism. The Working Group meetings were also held, where the last 2 years of the Working Group activities were discussed and the new leaders declared their visions and  working plans for the new term. At the end of the day, the Presidency Handover Ceremony took place at the Gala Dinner in Presidential Palace of Albania, where the Mayor of Athens, Haris Doukas handed over the presidency to the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, and the one-year tenure of Mayor Velaij officially started. Ms. Zeynep Neyza Akçabay, Deputy Secretary General of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, attended the ceremony on behalf of the B40 Founding President, Mr. Ekrem İmamoğlu, and Mr. Haris Doukas presented the B40 Presidency Symbol to the new B40 President, Mr. Erion Veliaj. Mr Arbjan Mazniku, Albanian Minister of State for Local Government, and Ms Mirela Kumbaro, Albanian Minister of Tourism and Environment, attended the Gala Dinner and gave a short speech.

On the last day of the B40 Tirana Summit, an expert panel, “Building Urban Resilience and Responding to Crises”, was held as the final activity of the Summit. The panel was moderated by Frida Pashako, Deputy Mayor of Tirana, with the participation of Arbjan Mazniku, who gave information about the urban transformation of Tirana. Thus, the B40 Tirana Summit, which aimed to strengthen the collaboration between Balkan cities, came to an end.

B40 Youth Summit in Athens Sparks Collaboration and Innovation for Future Leader

The 2nd B40 Youth Summit held in the capital of Greece, Athens, brought together youth representatives from 20 different cities of 10 countries from November 20th to 22nd, 2023. The summit was organized for the purpose of sharing experiences among young leaders and discussing their potential projects for the future.

The first day of the summit commenced with the welcome program held at the Athens City Hall. During this event, young city representatives had the opportunity to meet each other. The program also included a speech by Mr. Barbaros Büyüksağnak, the Permanent Secretary of B40, who expressed gratitude to the supporters of the event.

The second day of the summit began with a visit by the representatives to the New Waste Transfer Station of the Athens Municipality. In the station, they gained insights into the municipality’s recycling processes. Following this, various speakers addressed the young representatives at sessions held at the Serafio Athletic and Community Complex.

Andreas Botas, the Account Technology Strategist at Microsoft, delivered a presentation on artificial intelligence initiatives, while journalist-author Nikos Efstathiou discussed the historical and cultural structure of the Balkans. Deputy Mayor Katerina Gagaki of Athens Municipality discussed the effects of socio-economic crises on social solidarity. Serafina Avramidou, Director of Animal Welfare, conveyed measures concerning animal rights, and Fotini Leobilla, Advisor to the Mayor of Athens, presented on combating drug abuse.

Throughout the summit, various presentations and sessions were organized, interviews were conducted during lunch breaks, and interactive games were arranged. On the final day of the summit, tickets for an optional visit to the Acropolis Museum were provided to the young representatives.

This event contributed to fostering a stronger culture of cooperation and solidarity among Balkan cities by offering opportunities for experience and idea exchange among young people.

B40 Working Group in Athens: Collaborative Initiatives

In an event, the City of Athens played host to the B40 Working Group Meetings from November 1 to 3, 2023, drawing the participation of 38 representatives from B40 member cities across four dynamic working groups.

The kickoff on November 1 featured an exclusive welcome reception, graciously hosted by the City of Athens with the participation of Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, the B40 Network’s Term President and Mayor of Athens, engaged with working group members. Inspiring speeches were delivered by Mr. Barbaros Büyüksağnak, the Permanent Secretary of the B40 Network, and Mr. Tassos Kriekoukis, Diplomatic Advisor to the Mayor of Athens.

The following day saw the working groups immersed in two segments of intensive discussions. Each group embarked on enlightening site visits related to their respective areas of expertise. Participants not only had the chance to witness exemplary practices firsthand but also engaged in a fruitful exchange of experiences with City of Athens officials.

Key highlights included the Local Democracy and Migration Working Group’s visits to the Migrants’ Integration Centre of the City of Athens and the Athens Municipal Mutual Aid Hub facilities. The Smart Cities and Digital Transformation Working Group explored the cutting-edge 3D Printer facility of Athens Municipality. Meanwhile, the Local Economic and Cultural CooperationWorking Group delved into the rich history and features of the Benaki Museum. The Local Climate Action Working Group ventured into the vital Acropolis vicinity to witness biodiversity initiatives, even witnessing the installation of a B40-branded QR code on a tree near a primary school.

Beyond the immersive site visits, the City of Athens’ Serafio Athletic & Community Complex facility played host to engaging working group meetings. These sessions fueled interactive discussions among group members, with a special focus on showcasing city initiatives and sharing success stories.

Noteworthy deliberations emerged from the B40 Smart Cities and Digital Transformation Working Group, where the B40 Open Data Portal and B40 Hackathon Project took center stage. The Open Data Portal, boasting 600 data sets from 10 cities, is set to expand further, with a decision to share the portal guide with all member cities. Meanwhile, the collaborative spirit continued with plans to identify common challenges through a survey for the ongoing Hackathon Project, to be led by City of Tirana.

Cultural diversity and practices took center stage during the Local Economic and Cultural Cooperation Working Group Meeting. Participants passionately discussed cultural activities during holidays in their respective cities, unveiling a mosaic of traditions and experiences. Challenges within cultural networks were addressed, aiming to identify common obstacles and foster stronger cultural collaborations among B40 cities.

In the Local Democracy and Migration Working Group, officials from the Athens Municipality and Izmir Metropolitan Municipality presented their city initiatives. The participants delved into common challenges faced by municipalities, with a particular emphasis on the need for sustainable solutions. The significance of sustainability in municipal efforts was emphasized, along with the crucial cooperation with the International Labour Organization (ILO) across four cities. Additionally, the meeting also focused on sharing good practices on women’s employment and entrepreneurship among B40 Cities and discussed the forms filled in by the participating cities.

The Local Climate Action Working Group delved into the pivotal theme of Biodiversity Awareness and Actions, unveiling Athens Municipality’s comprehensive 2023 Climate Action Plan. A unique initiative encouraging awareness of the benefits of natural environments and urban trees saw participants receive QR code-plated tags to be attached to the tree near schools in their cities. The first tag was attached to a tree in the Acropolis neighborhood in Athens.

The meeting concluded with a focus on the importance of sharing best practices among B40 cities. Concrete steps were taken, including the creation of a common email group and plans for regular webinars to facilitate ongoing knowledge exchange.

The Athens Working Group Meetings proved to be a pivotal moment, fostering collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and a collective commitment to sustainable urban development among B40 member cities. All participants returned to their cities after the working group meetings in Athens to continue the activities at the Tirana Summit in 2024.

Bucharest Meeting of UDITE (The Federation of European Union Local Authority Chief Executive Officers

The B40 Permanent Secretariat was invited to Bucharest on 12 May 2023 to participate in the Executive Board Meeting of the Federation of European Union Local Authority Chief Executive Officers (UDITE), co-organised by the Association of Public Administrators of Romania (AAPRO). B40 Permanent Secretary Barbaros Büyüksağnak delivered a speech at the event organised at the Bucharest Parliament and held several meetings for the diffusion of B40 in Romania. During the meetings, it was decided to promote B40 all over Romania in order to attract new members to join B40 by AAPRO, which has more than 700 members. In addition, during the meeting between Horia Tomescu, Deputy Mayor of Bucharest and Barbaros Büyüksağnak, Permanent Secretary of B40, important steps were taken for the membership of Bucharest

B40 Permanent Secretary Barbaros Büyüksağnak met with the Consuls General of Balkan Countries in Istanbul

The B40 Permanent Secretariat held a working meeting on 10 May 2023 with the Consuls General of Balkan countries in Istanbul. In his address to the Consuls General, Mr. Barbaros Büyüksağnak, Permanent Secretary of B40, gave an overview of the current status and latest activities of B40. Afterwards, the current situation in the Balkans, opportunities for cooperation between the Balkan cities and views on B40 were discussed. The brochure describing the latest activities of B40 was shared with the Consuls General and a family photo was taken.

First Round of the B40 Working Group Meetings was successfully conducted

The first round of the B40 Working Group Meetings, held online between 19 April – 28 April 2023, under the leadership of City of Athens brought together technical experts from member local governments in all four working groups.

97 experts from B40 members attended the working group meetings. Delivering the opening speeches of the meetings, Mr. Barbaros Büyüksağnak, Permanent Secretary of B40, emphasized the importance of cooperation among member cities to address common challenges and work for sustainable development, and expressed his confidence in the contribution of the activities to be carried out within this period to the Balkans.

In the Smart Cities and Digital Transformation Working Group meeting held on April 19 under the leadership of Mr. Dimitris Stamadis, the issues of leveraging technology and data to improve quality of life and governance in B40 member cities were discussed by the participants. B40 Hackathon and B40 Open Data Portal projects, which aim to encourage innovation and address social issues through technology, were presented at the meeting.

In the Local Climate Action Working Group meeting held on April 26 under the leadership of Ms. Elissavet Mpargianni, participants focused on strategies to combat climate change at the local level, coping with natural disasters, and promoting sustainable practices in B40 member cities. In the meeting where the project on raising biodiversity awareness was discussed, the participants shared their opinions following the working group leader’s presentations.

In the Local Economic and Cultural Cooperation Working Group meeting held on April 27 under the leadership of Ms. Erifili Maroniti, opportunities for economic cooperation and cultural exchange were discussed by member cities. Among the issues raised were strengthening cultural ties, conducting joint tourism activities and promoting economic co-operation to support inclusive growth.

In the Local Democracy and Migration Working Group meeting held on April 28, under the leadership of Ms. Melina Daskalakis, the issue of women’s participation in the labor market was discussed and several presentations were made. It was decided that the focus of the working group this year would be the integration of women into the labor market.

Throughout the meetings, participants engaged in fruitful dialogues and shared best practices and innovative solutions. The B40 Working Group Meetings aimed to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience to strengthen the collective efforts of member cities in achieving the sustainable development goals.

The B40 Working Group Meetings concluded with a renewed commitment from member cities to continue working together and implementing the initiatives discussed. The cooperation and collective efforts demonstrated during these meetings will provide a solid foundation for further progress and sustainable development in the B40 community.

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