Since 2015, political disputes about solidarity have become a central issue among EU member states leading to a deadlock situation, which is framed as “refugee crisis” or “solidarity crisis”. The power vacuum that is caused by the lack of consensus on burden-sharing between the EU member states has opened a window of opportunity for municipalities and their networks to offer solutions. As a result, we observe a new form of solidarity among European municipalities that use transnational networks as platforms for city diplomacy (Acuto et al. 2017). Building on the work of Sangiovanni (2013; 2015) and Augustín and Jørgensen (2019), we call this emerging type of solidarity “transmunicipal solidarity” (Heimann et al. 2019). This concept emphasizes solidarity among local authorities aiming at scaling out and scaling up, such as standard setting of good practices at horizontal level and lobbying at national and EU level, by applying strategies of city diplomacy. In this contribution, we specify the facets of the politics of transmunicipal solidarity by examining transnational municipal networks, such as the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), Eurocities and its subnetworks Integrating Cities and Solidarity Cities as well as Sanctuary Cities, Cities of Sanctuary and Cities of Refuge. Based on the analysis of 50 expert interviews and policy documents, we show how and why municipalities and their networks challenge the EU member states as the key providers of solidarity in refugee reception. In this context, we provide insight into how local governments aim at strengthening and widening their competences since the “Urban Agenda” gives municipalities an additional regular voice in EU politics. We also shed light on the question whether transmunicipal solidarity must be understood as an urban phenomenon or could also be detected in rural areas.
Dr. Christiane Heimann