Canada and EU cities kicked-off their collaboration under the ICP-AGIR programme.

On the 3rd of March 2022, the cities of Halifax, Fuenlabrada, St. John’s, Utrecht, Toronto, Frankfurt am Main, and Saint Germain-en-Laye officially kicked off their collaboration to exchange knowledge within the field of circular economy and energy transitions under the ICP-AGIR programme.

The online event gathered 35 participants who listened to the EU delegation, the mayors and senior government officials of the cities deliver welcoming speeches and offer city background to the collaboration. The project team presented insights to the timeline of the project, the setup of the networking and knowledge exchanges, as well as the expected outcome for the city co-operations. Breakout rooms then followed, where each paired cities had a chance to meet one another and discuss best practices and/or challenges identified by the cities.

The kick-off started with a welcoming remark by the EU delegation, Ms. Ana Guallarte (Foreign Policy Instrument Programme Manager-EU Delegation Canada). She opened her speech by welcoming all the participating cities and thanking the Directorate General of the Commission DG Regio, for organizing this programme. Ms. Guallarte expressed that the importance of cooperation between big cities allows for firsthand information from citizens to influence the practical ways of implementing big policies. Furthermore she stated that Canada has been involved with similar programmes to the ICP-AGIR, such as the International Urban Region Cooperation, and wished to create synergies between the two projects as they had a lot to share and exchange, as well as learn from each other.

The meeting then progressed to welcoming remarks from cities.

The Mayor of St. John’s, Mr. Danny Breen, gave his welcoming remarks by stating that St. John’s was very pleased to be a part of the ICP-AGIR project, and thanked DG REGIO and the organizing team for putting the programme together. He expressed that immigration was a major part of their initiatives and they looked forward to learning more from Utrecht as they are moving forward to make their city a very inclusive city.

Mr. Jan Braat, Senior Policy advisor on migration and inclusion of Utrecht, expressed that Utrecht was very honored to be paired with St. John’s in Canada, on the topic of inclusion of refugees and migrants. With the situation in the Ukraine, and already more than one million Ukrainian refugees coming across the borders both into the Netherlands and Canada, he stated he is positive they will have an extremely fruitful discussion between the cities.

The Mayor of Toronto, Mr. John Tory, prepared a video recording expressing the city’s enthusiasm in their participation of the ICP-AGIR programme, and looked forward to their partnership with Frankfurt am Main.  He conveyed they are keenly interested in a deep collaboration on migration, in particular approaches and good practices that can be applied to the integration of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as, new polices that can address inequalities experienced by migrants that result in greater inclusion.

Frankfurt am Main, followed suit with a video recording by Dr. Nargess Eskandari-Grunberg, the Mayor of Frankfurt. She stated her pleasure that Frankfurt was selected for the ICP-AGIR programme and the network exchange. Frankfurt is proud to call themselves a safe haven for refugees, and with the crisis in the Ukraine and seven million refugees fleeing to European countries, the topic on inclusions of migrants and refugees are extremely relevant today. She looked forward to further discussing strategies on integration with their paired city of Toronto.

Mr. Mike Savage, the Mayor of Halifax participated with a video recording and shared that the city of Halifax was rapidly growing, and they want to ensure that they are building a more inclusive, sustainable, resilient, and prosperous place for all their inhabitants. Halifax has welcomed refugees from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, and he continued that Halifax benefits from their growing population, as companies have more access to talent and are able to innovate and more easily access new markets. He concluded by stating that Halifax looks forward to learning from and working with the city of Fuenlabrada.

Mr. Javier Ayala, Mayor of Fuenlabrada, prepared a video recording thanking the project leaders of ICP-AGIR and DG REGIO for the honor of becoming a member of the initiative. Fuenlabrada’s migrant model is based on interculturality to establish inclusion, and at the same time learn from different cultures. He expressed that the model had been developed by promoting participation, empowering qualities and trying to be to become a more resilient city to fight hate and discrimination. Fuenlabrada was excited to be paired with Halifax, to learn from their experiences, as well as exchange different programmes and public policies.

From Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Ms. Irina Rotaru, the head of European projects, sustainable development and innovation, took the floor and thanked the ICP-AGIR programme for including them in the initiative. She stated that Saint-Germain-en-Laye is an international city that is open to people, partnerships and innovation. They had previously worked on all the themes chosen by the ICP-AGIR programme, thus has a lot to share, but also a lot to learn from the cities. They are looking forward to sharing their experiences and knowledge with their paired city, once the paired city has been confirmed.

Next in the agenda, was the content and explanation of the project.

Mr. Ramon-Alejo Lopez-Sanchez, from the Director General Region, presented the ICP-AGIR programme and expectations. He started by greeting colleagues in Europe and Canada, and welcomed them to the Canadian kick-off meeting. From the European Commission DG Regio, the importance of this project lies in the cooperation themes that are identified are the inclusion and integration of migrants and refugees, is really central to key European priorities and different European initiatives. This theme is a key challenge for them, especially since the events of the inclusion of migrants in 2015 and now again with the war in the Ukraine, which is expect to be the worst refugee crisis since world war II. This topic is therefore very important to make the inclusive recovery happen, which is precisely the motive of the project. Migration has also been a local reality, therefore migration policies has always been a basic component of any effective urban development. However, this migration policy can only be successful by inclusion policies which offer services, opportunities and the insurance of long-term integration of migrants, which holds particularly true in the case of the labour market, because in practice it takes a long time for migrants and refugees to enter the labour market and become self-sufficient, even in the most comprehensive welfare states.

He furthermore stated that, for this inclusion to be affective you will need a mix of tools from different dimensions, as well as develop tailor made services and support that should start from day one, to ensure the success of integration. It is therefore important that we exchange knowledge and share with each other best practices as we have seen from previous partnership programmes. Between the European cities and Canadian cities, we have a lot of experience and knowledge that can be shared with each other, and the main objective of the ICP-AGIR is to act as a vehicle for bringing cities together to work on sustainable solutions, on urban and territorial challenges as together we can get more done. This project will put special attention on knowledge capitalization and knowledge transfer from each pairings and stakeholders, to make this knowledge more accessible for all participants. He concludes by thanking all the participants in ICP-AGIR and wishes them great success in their work.

Mr. Colin Maddock, the ICP-AGIR’s expert in Canada, presented next, on the history of this initiative and explained the programme was built on activities and partnerships that were show to previous be successful. Such programmes were that of the ‘International Urban Cooperation’ and the ‘International Urban and Regional Cooperation’ programmes, which Canadian cities and EU cities have formerly collaborated in, and are also currently collaborating in. He mentioned that the ICP-AGIR programme is an opportunity for both Canada and the EU to learn and develop, in a more rapid way, the best practices to handle the issues on inclusion and integration of migrants and refuges, and looks forward to the work, the knowledge sharing and the networking opportunities that the paired cities will provide for one another.

Mr. Raul Daussa, the project manager of ICP-AGIR, thanked Mr. Lopez-Sanchez and Mr. Maddock of their input, and explained the project timeline and how this project is to be executed. The journey started in October 2021 and will finish in March 2023. In October to December 2021 there was the selection of the fourteen different cities in Europe, Asia, South Africa and Canada. From January – February 2022 was the set up of the online platform, and an explanation of the technical level cooperation action plans and best practices documents. A part of the knowledge exchange will include thematic cluster webinars involving the whole ICP-AGIR community on the topics of inclusion of migrants and refugees, circular economy and energy transition, and air quality. These thematic cluster webinars will take place once a month. He continues that between June – November 2022 we will be expecting to have study visits to the Canadian cities and the European cities, along with online pairing and cluster meetings. December – March 2023 will be the completion and dissemination of the project by which we would have captured the best practices, and share it with different initiatives in Europe. He explained that the result of the project will be the action plans of these fourteen cooperation, and possibly some partnership agreements to be established by the different cities involved. March 2023 there will be a closing conference that will take place in Canada, where the action and cooperation plans will be presented.

Mr. Raul Daussa engaging in closing remarks for the content section of the meeting and the cities were separated into paired cities breakout rooms. The paired cities were as follows: Halifax and Fuenlabrada, St. John’s and Utrecht, and Toronto and Frankfurt am Main.

In the breakout rooms, the cities got to establish initial formal contact, discuss topics of interest, best practices and identify city challenges.

Finally, there was the kick-off closing remarks performed by Mr. Raul Daussa thanking the cities for their time and enthusiastically wished them good luck on their intercity co-operations.