Berlin, Bern and Vienna engage in a tripartite city-to-city dialogue

Mayor Michael Ludwig with Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller (left) and Bern's City President Alec von Graffenried

Berlin's Mayor Michael Müller (left) and Bern's City President Alec von Graffenried (right) sign the Golden Book of the City of Vienna.

Upon the invitation of Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig, the heads of the city governments of the 3 major German-speaking capitals of Berlin, Bern and Vienna came together in Vienna in July 2021, for an exchange of experience and know-how. Common issues discussed included the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labour market, job opportunities for young and older people, and affordable housing as a key task of municipal administrations.

Moreover, the three cities drafted a joint declaration on the importance of active city diplomacy. While in former times foreign policy was the sole responsibility of national states, today cities have agendas and interests in this field as well and they do not always match those at the national level. In addition, mayors often need to act as immediate problem solvers, as they are closer to the citizens.

Mayor Michael Ludwig: "We stand for liberal democracy, freedom of the media and the rule of law. Cities are drivers of democratic innovation, and this is what we in Bern, Berlin and Vienna are committed to."

Joint declaration

1. Climate targets must be reached in a socially just way

Berlin, Bern and Vienna have committed themselves to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and have established a clear framework for comprehensive climate action and sustainable and resource-friendly development: The City of Berlin has set itself ambitious goals which are being implemented by involving all stakeholders of the city’s society, attaching major emphasis to the concept of environmental justice, including a clearly defined sociospatial programme. The City of Bern has developed a set of measures and has defined a trajectory to reach the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement independently. In the event that the City is not able to follow this trajectory, additional measures must be taken. The City of Vienna is implementing its long-term Smart City Framework Strategy to achieve a high quality of life for all its citizens and has thus provided a solid foundation for sustainable urban development in all spheres of living. For this purpose, it has established the Vienna Climate Council and for the first time has projected the City’s climate-related measures in a special climate budget.

2. Affordable housing as an indicator for social and climate justice

Berlin, Bern and Vienna regard the creation of new, affordable housing and the renovation of the existing housing stock with affordable rents after refurbishment as vital for their citizens’ quality of life. The aim is to protect not only low and middle-income tenants and owners, but also the cities themselves against the disruptions of gentrification, excessive short-term letting and financialisation. Berlin, Bern and Vienna will increase their efforts at the European and international levels to prevent the sell-out of cities, for example by increasing transparency in international real estate transactions or avoiding tax loopholes for large investors. In all cities, the issue of affordable housing serves as an indicator whether the climate targets are being reached in a socially just manner.

3. A resilient and circular economy to create good jobs for all

Berlin, Bern and Vienna also share similar economic challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 3 cities have put together comprehensive relief packages to bring businesses through the crisis and preserve jobs. A major concern is to provide support for young people who were not able to commence their apprenticeship or training programmes, for the generation 50+, who is faced with particularly difficult conditions on the labour market, and for women, whose double burden often has become a triple one. Targeted support measures will be taken to redress the situation.

Berlin has launched extensive relief programmes at a very early stage. Support could be applied for in an unbureaucratic way, was swiftly paid out and, supplementing financial support at federal level, was tailored to the requirements of Berlin’s economic structure. With a view to the time after the pandemic, the City developed support measures aimed at strengthening the innovative capacity, sustainability and resilience of Berlin’s economy.

Bern has adopted and implemented measures to support the city’s trade and industry sector. It has funded rent reductions for commercial tenants, has effected unbureaucratic measures in the gastronomy sector (extension of garden terraces) and has introduced COVID-19 grants for people engaged in the cultural sector.

Vienna has put together a 600-million-euro relief package for Vienna’s businesses, which consists of more than 50 COVID-19 relief measures to stabilise the situation in the fields of health-care, labour and economy and close the gaps left by federal support measures.

4. Strengthen democracy and the rule of law in European cities

Berlin, Bern and Vienna are worried that the COVID-19 pandemic will cause a strong recession in many cities and countries, increasing social and economic disruptions and aggravating income disparity, which will finally pose a danger to democracy and the rule of law. For this reason, measures to increase participation, inclusion and engagement need to be strengthened in all areas, especially so in the digital world.

Active city diplomacy is a sign of urban solidarity being put into practice for the wellbeing of all.

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