Eastern European mayors forge anti-populism pact


The so-called "free cities alliance" will promote Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia's capitals shared liberal values. The mayors have urged the EU to bypass national governments and fund cities directly.

The mayors of Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava launched a new alliance on Monday, aimed at securing more direct European Union funding and countering the national political movements within their own nations.

Dubbed the "free cities alliance," it mirrors the existing Visegrad alliance that already exists between Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Read more: 'Little Visegrad' — A pact of European capitals

The mayors of the "free cities" have urged the EU to make funds more directly available to communities by bypassing central governments, arguing that cities could spend the money more effectively.

All four politicians surged to power in recent years. Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski was elected in 2018. He defeated a rival from the ruling national party PiS, which has joined Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party in pushing for nationalist, conservative, governments that have antagonized the EU.

Mayor Gergely Karacsony defeated Fidesz's candidate in Budapest in what was considered an upset victory in October this year.

Bratislava is led by Matus Vallo, an architect and leader of a popular rock band, who won his mayoral post as an independent in November 2018, while Prague's Mayor Zdenek Hrib was elected the same month and hails from the Pirate Party.

Read more: Visegrad Group: A new economic heart of Europe?

Cities ‘can do miracles'

Karacsony said the question of whether or not the EU could fund projects directly was worth asking.

"Cities can do miracles in the areas of climate change and innovation. This makes the old adage of 'Think globally, act locally' especially acute," he added.

Moreover, as their countries have been at odds with the EU and in danger of losing its support, the mayors said their cities should not be made to suffer for policies that were not their responsibility.

Read more: Hungary's youth look to an EU future

"I prefer to explain to our friends in the EU that it would be good for us to access EU money despite the fact that our government infringes the rule of law," Warsaw's Mayor Trzaskowski said.

"We're also witnessing that our region is, in some way, closing from the influence of the free Western world," said Bratislava Mayor Matus Vallo.

"Still, in our four capitals we see the highest concentration of diversity. Social, religious, political, ethnic and national,'' he insisted.

Promoting ‘common values'

The alliance's signing ceremony was held at the Budapest campus of Central European University (CEU).

It was a symbolic location, given that the CEU was forced to move many of its main operations to Vienna, due to legal changes promoted by Orban's government.

Read more: Hungary's university ban on gender studies heats up culture war

The Hungarian prime minister targeted the university for its ties to founder and billionaire George Soros, who is his ideological foe.

In their joint declaration, the mayors committed to "protecting and promoting our common values of freedom, human dignity, democracy, equality, rule of law, social justice, tolerance and cultural diversity".

"Populism provides a simple and wrong answer to the problems," Prague's mayor Zdenek Hrib said.

jcg/aw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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