European Cities as Democratic Strongholds?



  • Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency
  • Daniel Kelemen, Professor, Rutgers University
  • Enrico Letta, President of the Institut Jacques Delors, former Italian Prime Minister
  • Laura Pérez, Deputy Mayor of Barcelona
  • Hermano Sanches Ruivo, Deputy Mayor of Paris

Moderator: Kata Tüttő, Deputy Mayor of Budapest.


Members of the panel discussed how cities have become the centres of democratic revolutions in recent years, from a European, national, local and academic point of view. Panellists also reflected on the Next Generation EU funds, as a dedicated tool to help the recovery of cities and smaller communities.

Main takeaways

  • Some years ago, people had this wrong illusion that democracy will be with us
  • Cities are the motors of democracies, they have remained the pillars of democracy in recent years (eg. Budapest, Istanbul).
  • Cities can only be more ambitious, if citizens in rural areas also feel like they are better
  • Elected local representatives are the 'space masters' of citizens, it is often difficult for them to explain citizens some decisions which are taken on a global level.
  • Different regimes can coexist at the same time in the same political system - one can be a democratic confederation with an autocratic state (eg. the US) and an autocratic state with democratic enclaves (eg. Hungary).
  • Authoritarians can, however, strategically use these enclaves to legitimize the whole system internationally.
  • Autocrats can also constrain these cities, starve them of resources, while using them as a tool to release pressure on the
  • With the introduction of reasonable rules to decrease the negative impact on citizens, the EU goes fully digital → Digital adaptation should benefit, not hinder people.
  • The Next Gen. EU Fund considers withholding funds based the rule of law concerns, to protect funds against financial crime and corruption, and at the same time find ways that beneficiaries will not be negatively impacted.

Policy recommendations

  • Avoid social exclusion in decision-making in cities, and make people actively participate in democracy, even with introducing some tools of direct democracy (eg. use of a participatory budget).
  • Cooperation between cities is essential to maintain despite national politics (eg. US cities rejoined the Paris Agreement when Trump decided to withdraw).
  • Bear the responsibility in helping other cities and smaller communities how they can also turn into democratic
  • Create frameworks for smaller communities and municipalities to work together on local challenges, provide governmental funds for revitalizing left-behind regions.
  • Proximity to voters, active participation and solidarity should be key aspects in recovering from the crisis.
  • Democratic enclaves need independent financing and international support in fighting against autocrats → The EU should send clear message by providing them support.