|News and Analysis from cities in Europe
ON THIS PAGE: Greek island mayor warns of violence if refugee centre is built ||| Smog forced Italian cities to ban fireworks and restrict car use ||| Les Parisiens seront plus forts que ceux qui veulent les résoudre au silence ||| Parisians will always be stronger than those who want to silence them ||| Former French civic rights campaigner and now mayor turns against refugees ||| Milan security chief takes over from ousted Mayor of Rome ||| Cologne elects victim of xenophobic knife attack as mayor ||| Anti-establishment leader ponders run for Mayor of Rome ||| German mayors welcome refugees despite the immeadiate challenges |||
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|Greek island mayor
warns of violence if
refugee centre is built
Athens, 8 February 2016: Following last Friday’s protests against a planned reception centre for migrants on the Greek island of Kos, the mayor has warned that future protests may turn violent. Scuffles broke out between a group of residents and the police. Police employed tear gas to disperse the crowd after three people including a journalist, who covered the event, were injured. "About 100 people tried to enter the facilities under construction, and we fired tear gas," a police spokesman said. Kos mayor Yiorgos Kyritsis sent a letter to the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warning that local opposition to the new migrant registration centre could lead to "uncontrollable" protests. "There is a present danger that we will mourn victims and be led to uncontrollable situations," the state news agency ANA cited him as writing.
The mayor also asked the Greek government to withdraw the riot police to ease the tension. In an interview with German journalists, the Island’s deputy mayor David Geraskalis that the situation was extremely serious. “Residents are extremely concerned that a refugee centre would harm the tourism industry, which is Kos’ main source of income.”
The centre on Kos is one of five that the Greek government has pledged to build by the end of February, under European pressure to stem the number of migrants arriving and then travelling north without being registered. While the islands of Lesbos, Leros, Samos and Chios have welcomed the plans, the authorities in Kos have been opposed from the start. As a compromise, Mayor Kyritsis has suggested that refugees could be registered on Kos but then swiftly moved on to mainland locations.
Meanwhile after meeting the Greek Prime Minister, French and German interior ministers promised to send staff reinforcements and coast guard vessels to help Greece but called on all EU member countries to cooperate. "We must find European solutions or everything we have been building for decades will be destroyed in a year," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere warned.
Smog forced Italian
cities to ban fireworks
and restrict car use
Milan, 1 January 2016: After a ban of New Year’s fireworks in many Italian cities, Naples, Rome and Milan have introduced restrictions on the use of cars and motor scooters. The measures were introduced after in recent days levels of pollutions have exceeded legal limits, posing a public health risks. The Italian government has drafted new measures to combat the rising pollution levels, exacerbated by a lack of rain and wind. In Naples, private motor vehicles have been banned until the middle of the week.
Milan has banned private cars and scooters for six hours a day, while in Rome authorities introduced a system whereby cars can only be driven on alternate days. Pollution is a rising problem in Italy, where thick clouds of smog can often be seen hovering over major cities such as Rome and Milan. Milan’s Mayor Giuliano Pisapia urged residents to observe the ban.
Les Parisiens seront plus
forts que ceux qui veulent
les résoudre au silence
Paris, 15 Novembre 2015: La Maire de Paris, Anne Hidalgo, s’est rendue samedi dans les centres hospitaliers et sur les lieux des attaques terroristes. Elle s’est recueillie en silence aux côtés des Parisiens et a partagé la douleur des familles. Les services municipaux, fédérés par une cellule de crise dès les attaques terroristes, restent mobilisés en continue. « Je veux dire aux victimes et à leurs familles que toutes nos pensées vont vers elles en ce moment d’horreur. Beaucoup de Parisiens sont dans la douleur, ont perdu des proches, souvent très jeunes, et cette douleur nous la partageons avec eux », a souligné la Maire de Paris. « Paris restera debout et que les Parisiens seront plus forts que ceux qui veulent les résoudre au silence ».
« Notre réponse, elle est collective, à l’image de ce que nous avons su faire après les attentats du mois de janvier. C’est bien sûr exprimer notre colère, notre douleur et le deuil, mais c’est aussi affirmer au monde entier que nous ne transigerons pas avec notre mode de vie, notre vivre ensemble, notre capacité à accepter la différence des autres et à être dans l’altérité. Ce modèle, que les Parisiens ont toujours défendu au cours de leur histoire, même dans les heures les plus sombres et les plus tragiques, est toujours debout et restera debout », a exprimé Anne Hidalgo.
Parisians will always
be stronger than those
who want to silence them
Paris, 15 Novenber 2015: Following Friday night’s terrorist attacks on Paris, the city’s Mayor Anne Hidalgo visited hospitals and the scenes of the carnage. She stood in silence alongside Parisians and shared the grief of the families and friends of the victims. "I say to the victims and their families that all our thoughts are with them at this time of horror. Many Parisians are in pain, having lost loved ones, often very young, and we share this pain with them," Anne Hidalgo said. "Paris will remain standing and Parisians will be stronger than those who want to silence us."
"Our response is collective, as it was after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January. While we express our anger, our pain and grief, we also affirm to the world that we will not compromise our lifestyle, our living together, our ability to accept differences of others while being all part of Paris. Parisians have always stood united against evil,"expressed Anne Hidalgo.
Former French civic rights
campaigner and now mayor
turns against refugees
Nimes, 3 November 2015: The founder of Reporters sans Frontières and now Mayor of Beziers has been accused of creating an atmosphere of hate and intolerance in his French city after three opposition politicians received death threats. The letters, which were sent to the local Communist Party headquarters, contained Klu Klux Klan images and threatened to take actions against the three if they did not stop supporting Syrian refugees. Since assuming office in April 2014, Mayor Robert Ménard has gained national notoriety for his campaign against refugees. He does not shy away from personally barging into apartments occupied by refugees and telling them they were not welcome in Beziers.
The mayor, while not a member of the right-wing National Front, has adopted many of its policies and jargon. Some of his opponents even accuse him of having moved further to the right than the National Front and its leader Marine Le Pen. Jean Michel du Plaa, who heads the socialist group in Beziers told a BBC journalist that while Le Pen had tried to detoxify the National Front, Robert Menard was very comfortable with the extreme of the extreme right. A recent issue of the city’s municipal magazine shows a manipulated photo of refugees in Macedonia with a sign saying ‘Beziers 3,865 km.’
Robert Ménard, whose family was forced to leave Algeria after the country’s independence, counted former Socialist President François Mitterand among his supporters, when, in the mid-1970s as a member of the Socialist Party, he campaigned for the liberalisation of radio airwaves. In 1985, he founded Reporters sans Frontières (Reporters without Borders) and as recently as 2008, Ménard together with others from the organisation, tried to disrupt the opening of the Olympic Games in protest against China’s treatment of Tibetan civil rights activists. Since then, however, many of his former colleagues have denounced him while contemplating whether he has had some sort of mental breakdown. They can’t understand how a liberal internationalist can develop an obsessive hatred of Muslim immigrants.
Milan security chief
takes over from
ousted Mayor of Rome
Rome, 2 November 2015: Italy’s interior minister has asked the former Prefect of Milan to take over from the ousted Mayor of Rome. Ignazio Marino, who was elected in 2013, was last week forced to step down after more than half of Rome’s councillors resigned, including those of his own centre-left Democratic Party. The mayor had announced his resignation in October, only to withdraw it last week. The resignation of 26 councillors out of a total of 48 automatically forced the mayor to relinquish his post. Francesco Paolo Tronca, who was in charge of security at this year’s Milan Expo, will administer the Italian capital until elections are held in the spring of next year.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told reporters that Paolo Tronco had succeeded in keeping the Mafia out of the Expo. "We managed to pull off a Mafia-free Expo by keeping at bay more than 100 businesses that could have had connections with mobsters,” the minister told an Italian radio station. Tronco will take over a few weeks before Rome celebrates the Jubilee of Mercy. The interim commissioner met Pope Francis yesterday and said the Pontiff had encouraged him to take on the job. Tronco’s priorities will include preparing the city for the Jubilee, addressing severe problems with the public transport system and reversing the poor state of cleanliness and maintenance of many parts of the capital.
Ignazio Marino, who was elected mayor in 2013, has for months been accused by opponents from the left and right of the Italian political spectrum of incompetence. His administration seemed to have been unable to provide reliable public transport and guarantee regular rubbish collection services. Recently, Pope Francis became the latest critic of the deposed mayor, calling him a ‘pretend Catholic’ and doubting whether under his rule Rome could successfully host this year’s ‘Holy Year of Mercy’ and provide accommodation for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
victim of xenophobic
knife attack as mayor
Cologne, 19 October 2015: Cologne elected the victim of a xenophobic knife attack as its new mayor. Henriette Reker, an independent candidate, was stabbed in the neck while campaigning on Saturday, one day before yesterday’s election. According to a police spokesman, the attacker, an unemployed German national, is known for opposing Germany’s refugee-friendly policies. In his first interview with the police, the attacker is believed to have claimed that refugees had stolen his job and that he feared the country would soon be governed by Sharia law. When he stabbed Ms Reker, by-standers heard him shouting “I do this for your children’. Three other people were injured in the attack.
Henriette Reker, who contested the election with the support of the conservative Christian Democrats, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Green Party, won 53 per cent the vote. Her Social Democrat rival was supported by 32 per cent of voters. The Social Democrats remain the largest group on the city council. Working for Cologne’s social services department, Ms Reker was responsible for finding accommodation for newly-arriving refugees. She will be the city’s first female mayor.
It is uncertain when Ms Reker will be able to commence her mayoral duties but a hospital spokesman said that, after an emergency operation, her condition, while still critical, had stabilised. “She is slowly coming out of an artificially induced coma.”
leader ponders run
for Mayor of Rome
Rome, 11 October 2015: Beppe Grillo, the unpredictable leader of Italy’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, emerged as one of the contenders for Mayor of Rome after Ignazio Marino, the incumbent mayor, suddenly resigned last week. Grillo has been one of the fiercest critics of the outgoing mayor and pundits say he would stand a good chance of being elected, should he choose to run for mayor. However, it is not clear whether his conviction of manslaughter for a car accident in 1980, in which three of his passengers died, could legally prevent him from standing for public office.
Ignazio Marino, who was elected mayor in 2013, has for months been accused by opponents from the left and right of the Italian political spectrum of incompetence. His administration seemed to have been unable to provide reliable public transport and guarantee regular rubbish collection services. Recently, Pope Francis became the latest critic of the mayor, calling him a ‘pretend Catholic’ and doubting whether under his rule Rome could successfully host this year’s ‘Holy Year of Mercy’ and provide accommodation for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Marino’s resignation could also jeopardise Rome’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Earlier this month, Rome’s public prosecutor has opened an investigation following allegations that Marino may have used his official credit card to pay for personal expenses. While the mayor has denied any wrongdoing, he offered to pay back some €20,000. Since the beginning of the year, Mayor Marino has become increasingly isolated. Even members of his own centre-left Democratic Party offering only lukewarm support. The resignation of three members of his own cabinet earlier last week made it clear that the mayor’s days were numbered. In his resignation letter, Ignazio Marino wrote that in his 27 months in office, he had initiated “epochal changes” to the city’s often shady bidding procedures and governance, but faced a problem of “political conditions” needed to carry them out.
Beppe Grillo, meanwhile, uses increasingly the language of right-wing parties. In a Twitter post, he accused the mayor of letting Rome being “swamped by rats, rubbish and illegal immigrants”. Last month, he posted an image of Italy’s interior minister ‘blacked up’ in conjunction with criticism of the country’s immigration policy.
German mayors welcome
refugees despite the
Berlin, 23 September 2015: Yesterday, Cologne’s mayor went to the city’s airport to personally greet some 200 refugees. He said it was important that after an arduous journey across many countries, people should feel they are welcome. Like
mayors in many German cities, Jürgen Roters regards the arrival of several hundred newcomers every week as a great challenge but also as a long-term opportunity. Many of the refugees he met, the mayor said, were well-educated and eager to work. “Our immediate task is to find housing for the thousands of refugees expected to arrive by the end of the year.”
The German ministry responsible for housing has announced that it would be funding the construction of 350,000 public-housing units for refugees this year and a similar number next year. “The current budget of €600 million for public housing in municipalities would be doubled,” the minister said. Two weeks ago, German ministers met to rewrite the country’s meticulous building regulations to allow for lower standards of housing so that hundreds of thousands of prefab homes can be built under government contracts by the end of the year.
However, many city leaders like Hannover’s Mayor Stefan Schostok doubt whether the money promised by the government would be enough. When he presented his budget for 2016, Mayor Schostok told councillors that, compared to 2013, the annual cost of housing and caring for refugees would increase tenfold. In 2013, the city spent some €10 million on refugees. Next year, the city will have to find at least €75 million for the building and acquisition of housing and budget for another €144 million for food, medical care, education and other social services. “The €42 million promised so far by the government are woefully inadequate,” the mayor said.
Despite the immediate financial and organisational challenges, many mayors are eager to receive refugees. In Leipzig - a city that has lost some 250,000 people since the re-unification of West and East Germany - Mayor Burkhard Jung said he wanted to house as many refugees as possible. “It is both a responsibility and an opportunity for us,” he said. Other German cities plan to house refugees in military barracks left empty after the withdrawal of US forces from Germany.
Cities like Munich, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart and Freiburg have established ‘welcome departments’ within their city halls to prepare for the arrival of refugees and to co-ordinate the employment of volunteers. It is estimated that since the German government announced that the country would accept refugees from Syria and other war zones in the Middle East, some 150,000 Germans have donated money, food, clothing and offered to volunteer at the many refugee reception centres. The national charity Flüchtlinge Willkommen (Refugees Welcome), which was set up by Berlin students in January, encourages people to offer their spare rooms to refugees. It has operational centres in more than 20 cities, including in smaller ones like Offenburg, Hildesheim, Norderstedt and Konstanz.