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Local Governments as Actors in Transnational Exchange

Numerous governments in European countries of destination support migrant initiatives or maintain linkages with municipalities in origin countries. These linkages are often associated with policies for strengthening social cohesion and integration in their own societies. The connection between international cooperation policies and policies on citizenship and integration at the local level is a relatively new phenomenon in Europe. Reflecting this, there is little scientific research on international cooperation between cities in origin and destination countries. Although several studies mention the existence of these bonds and the main reasons for establishing them, empirical evidence on these partnerships is scarce. There are also few policy-oriented studies[1].

Before discussing the role of local governments, it is important to note that government structures vary widely within Europe, in terms of their extent of decentralization and the mandates of local governments. These differences have a strong effect in the shaping of immigration and immigrant policies, as well as on international cooperation policies (Juzwiak et al. 2014). Beyond the extent of decentralization, the kind of local government entities involved in international cooperation varies widely. Whereas in Spain and Italy regions fulfil an important role, in the Netherlands international exchange is usually executed by municipalities, with regions playing only a minor role. Two general observations can be made: (i) not all European destination countries have experienced engagement of local governments in international cooperation with origin countries, (ii) in those countries where they do engage, only a limited number of local governments are involved.

  • [1] One policy-oriented study describes 16 cases of European-based city-to-city partnerships including bonds between Pajkot (India) and Leicester (UK), Nanino (Colombia) and Catalonia (Spain), and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and Lyon (France). According to the description, the focuses of these partnerships were on strengthening development and capacity building in the Global South only, and no reference was made to involvement of migrants or their organizations. Only in the Leicester case was reference made to engagement of the community in Leicester and new skills in cross-cultural work (Smith n.d.).
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