25 October 2023

It is with great honor that I stand before you today as the President-elect of the Chamber of Regions. I thank you for the confidence you have shown by electing me for the next two and half years.

First of all, I would like to take a moment to thank the outgoing President, Harald Sonderegger, for leading this Chamber over the past term and steering its work with outstanding skill and success.

I salute in particular his role in preparing the Congress contribution to the Reykjavik Summit. Harald Sonderegger’s work has resulted in a stronger mandate for the Congress and our Chamber of Regions, along with revised priorities for the Congress for which he was a Rapporteur.

Challenges that our continent and our regions face keeps accelerating. His leadership under the past mandate has made it possible to have a Chamber of Regions that is better adapted to take up these challenges.

I am fully aware that my mandate begins with an even more challenging time, driven by the legacy of the aftermath of the Covid-19 Pandemic and marked by a very turbulent period of wars in Ukraine, Israel and Gazze.

Clearly, these crises will not be resolved quickly. Moreover, no one can guarantee anymore that new ones will not arise.

This is clearly a different moment in human history. This is an age that we have never experienced before. We are undeniably living in an unprecedented era, unlike any in human history.

Yes we always went through multiple crises in the history of human civilization.

Humanity lived through centuries of slavery. Our civilization passed those days when women had no rights in governing our society.

We have died in two disastrous world wars.

We were bombed in Hiroshima.

We have broken the walls.

We marched against nuclear weapons.

And always, we found ways to uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Dear Members of Our Chamber,

I think humanity is now going through a very different challenge…

For the first time in our history, the primary subject of the crises we live in is no longer the human being itself.

Wars, atomic bombs, violation of human rights… These were all major challenges to be resolved between people.

Now, on our table, we have another decision taker.

This is our planet! It is the earth with all its ecosystems, water, air, soil and biodiversity it nourishes.

This is because, spatially, we no longer can fit in this planet. The footprint of our cities exceeds twice the size of the earth. We consume at least two times more than mother earth can give us. We exceeded a very critical threshold that cannot just be described with the climate crisis.

The footprint left by our species on the earth and the atmosphere has exceeded the self-renewal threshold of the ecosystem of which we are a part. The climate crisis is only one of the consequences of this catastrophic situation. These non-reciprocal conditions between the ecological cycles of nature and the political order of human species threaten the future of all living things, including ourselves.

As a result…

For modern civilization, nature is no longer an external object. It is an internal subject.

Nature is not a peripheral environment. It sits at the heart of our lives.

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law can only be straightened if we take nature as the main subject of our civilization.

Therefore, asking the question “what to do” is no longer enough for politicians, scientists, artists, social leaders, entrepreneurs, business makers and all the others.

I think a more appropriate question for our era is: “How”.

Obviously, we cannot build a better future for our planet without developing a different culture in better harmony with nature.

Therefore, like everything else, our fight against these crises needs a cultural foundation, a circular culture. In this respect the Izmir Declaration, the main output of the UCLG Culture Summit in September 2021, is a milestone explaining “Circular Culture” as a powerful paradigm addressing the question of “How”.

Whatever we do in our lives, be it urbanism, science, art, politics, it does not matter. Culture is present in all of them. Culture is the mortar that holds it all together, the drops of water that connect the roots and branches of a tree, it is the sap of life. Therefore, we consider circular culture as the essence of regional governance and development.

Circular culture rises on four pillars: Harmony with nature. Harmony with each other. Harmony with the past. And lastly, harmony with change.

Circular Culture embodies adaptability, participation and inclusiveness in policymaking to tackle the challenges we face. Through embedding social and ecological equity in our regional plans, we do underline that nature is deeply connected with our lives.

I am very delighted to see that the Summit of the Council of Europe Heads of State and Government in Reykjavik in May this year has boldly addressed several of the concerns I raised today.

My term of office coincides with the renewed and stronger mandate given by the Reykjavik Summit, in upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law at the grassroots level.

The social, economic, humanitarian and ecological consequences from multiple crises aggravated by the alarming erosion of democratic values in some European countries are strongly highlighted at the Summit.

The Congress will now rise to the challenge and it is the task of this Chamber of Regions to make its strong contribution to fulfilling this mandate at regional level. Regional strategies underpinned by Circular Culture could be an outstanding inspiration to implement the outcomes of the Reykjavik Summit.

This Summit compels us to focus on strengthening the resilience of our communities, including our territories and regions, through greater harmony among our citizens. Our response to crises we encounter also calls for stronger multi-level governance, where provinces and regions play a strong role to bridge national authorities and local communities.

The devastating earthquake in my country, Türkiye, at the beginning of this year was a stark reminder of this need for better resilience at the grassroots and more effective multi-level governance.

We should actively promote citizen participation by prioritizing transparency and granting access to the policymaking process, as exemplified at the Reykjavik Summit. This initiative holds great significance due to the rise of mistrust in politics over the past years. To counteract this trend, we must equip citizens with the tools and opportunities needed to play an active role in shaping their own future. 

The Reykjavik Summit also called for enhancing the youth perspective and youth engagement within European politics and the work of the Council of Europe. This Chamber has already done much work on youth participation, employment and entrepreneurship, on the situation of young people and their prospects in life. We must continue to work with the youth and open spaces for them to actively participate in all aspects of life, especially politics.

The Reykjavik Summit underlined the pivotal role of local and regional authorities in growing harmony with nature, where regions in particular have strong competences and where regional action can have major impact. Moreover, their close proximity to communities and ecosystems uniquely positions them to bridge the gap between strategies and on-the-ground implementation, fostering a deeper connection between people and nature.

Harmony with change through digital transformation is also highlighted by the Summit. The issues related to digitalisation and artificial intelligence are of relevance and importance to this Chamber. We shall strongly address digitalisation of regional services and AI applications with their possible consequences for our citizens and protection of their rights. Moreover, we must elaborate on e-democracy tools to promote active citizenship at every moment of our lives.

We are going through a period in the world where authoritarian and populist powers are on the rise.

Regional authorities are key players in overcoming this major challenge. Together, we must make sure that regions are fully equipped to find proper responses, and that their voice is heard in the dialogue with national governments and global institutions. This encompasses the requirement for an ongoing and positive exchange between the region and the central government, as well as mutual support and collaboration among regions.

Cities and regions continue to play a central role for citizens in shaping their habitat and urban and cultural identity. Hence, as local and regional authorities, it is imperative that we continue to witness the highest level of citizens’ trust among all institutions of governance. I firmly believe that we should find inspiration in this trust to strengthen regional democracy as a catalyst of circularity of culture.

Local and regional governments reflect the voice of citizens directly. We are an essential component of the state and we collectively contribute to building resilient and sustainable societies. We will continue our work to strengthen regional democracy throughout Europe as a crucial factor of stability.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Cities and regions would never wage war against each other.

They might only become sister cities.

Clearly, the world of the future will be a world of cities.

Democracy is not just a political tool serving people who are able to vote. Democracy is a culture in which the rights of all, including those who cannot vote, are equally fulfilled.

Our cities and regions can play a key role in nourishing local democracy for one and all, sustaining the harmony of life with all its voices and colors. Although they cannot vote, we also represent children. We all are fully responsible for the health of ecosystems and for the welfare of all members of the web of life, who cannot vote like we can.

We, the local and regional governments, are very similar to natural ecosystems. We can further grow our impact by establishing a living web of cities with shared objectives and diverse strengths. This is the only way to move for a local democracy for one and all, where the entire web of life is represented thoroughly. 

I think our Chamber is a great example of such a living network and we have a major role to play in the European political dialogue, representing and defending the grassroots interests.

Together with you I will do my utmost to promote regional democracy within our continent.

I count on your support and commitment in this effort.

Once again, I wholeheartedly thank you for electing me as the President of the Chamber of Regions.