16th Plenary Session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Counci of Europe
Graziano Delrio: “Changes taking place worldwide are becoming clearly identifiable in cities”
“The changes that are taking place worldwide are being reflected in cities and becoming clearly identifiable”, says in the following interview Graziano Delrio Mayor of Reggio Emilia (Italy). He takes part in the round table on “Intercultural Cities”, organised on 4 March in Strasbourg. Reggio Emilia is one of the pilot cities of this Council of Europe project.
Question: What prompted the City of Reggio Emilia to participate in the Intercultural Cities programme?
Graziano Delrio: As was acknowledged in a recent report by the Italian Economic and Labour Council, Reggio Emilia is the Italian province that attracts the most migrants, and the city has the second-greatest integration potential. Reggio Emilia is among the leaders in terms of the social and occupational integration of foreigners and their earned income. So we are right at the heart of the problem and are experiencing the full impact of the global upheaval that is putting pressure on all European cities. The changes that are taking place worldwide are being reflected in cities and becoming clearly identifiable. We therefore made the fundamental choice of establishing relations with other European cities, which, for all their diversity, are experiencing a similar phenomenon. This enables us to compare problems and means of addressing them and improve co-ordination of our work with the valuable help of experts from the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. Their comments and recommendations, along with the good practices that are being introduced in each city, help us to analyse problems in depth and deal with them effectively in a context where governments are struggling to devise policies that can provide appropriate responses to the problems facing local and regional authorities.
Question: In which fields your local administration took action to promote interculturalism?
Graziano Delrio: In Italy the municipalities are responsible for social policy and have, particularly in our region, established a dense network of pre-school education facilities for children aged 0 to 6. There is an equally dense network of national health services, managed by the Region of Emilia Romagna. Like the health service, the social services and pre-school amenities are organised and seen as services to which individuals and families have a right, even though they are not yet available to everyone throughout the country. These services are tangible offshoots of the public authorities, in our case the municipal authorities, that intervene to meet the needs of families and address their problems. In Reggio Emilia, despite the fact that the number of migrants has increased exponentially in the space of a few years, there are huge numbers of cases of family reunion: foreign workers are often accompanied by their families. These services are therefore the first point of contact with immigrants and can thus forge a relationship that enables them, along with their families, to become responsible members of the community in which they live.
Question: Which aspects can be further improved through the “Intercultural Cities” programme?
Graziano Delrio: The most critical issue, precisely because the phenomenon of mass migration has been so sudden and will probably continue to be just as great a challenge for us in the coming years, is the need for all citizens, foreigners and nationals alike, to acquire a shared sense of belonging to the community and to become aware, in the light of experience, that they have equal rights and duties: that they must all obey the rules and that they all have the same right to take advantage of social, cultural and economic opportunities and seek personal fulfilment. I believe that some responses will come of their own accord with time, as the new generations grow up: they are already rubbing shoulders at school with people they see not as foreigners but simply as human beings. At this point in time it is difficult to find fields in which natives of Reggio Emilia and foreigners are on an equal footing: one of the few examples to spring to mind is the situation experienced by all parents when they put their children in a crèche or nursery school. The necessary change of mentality has yet to take place, but I am firmly convinced that a city that sees its own interculturalism as an asset has the edge over other cities. For that reason, I believe that the programme can continue to provide us with valuable help.