Capitals and their states - a state of permanent conflict?

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The concept of the capital - capital city that is - and its relationship to the state, exercised the minds of Mayors at a recent meeting in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana. They tackled the problems that arise when capital city administrations fall foul of their national government. And they called for more capital city influence within the European Union.

When the conservative British politician Boris Johnson was elected mayor of London earlier this month he said he would dedicate himself to making London a better capital city. And set out a few priorities..

“Cutting crime, improving transport, protecting green space, delivering affordable housing, giving taxpayers value for money.”

While the man he beat, former mayor Ken Livingstone - choking with emotion – seemed to find it hard to let go of the Mayoral robes..

“I will continue, while I live and breathe, to live in this city, to love this city, and to work to make it better”.

It’s probably just the usual political point-scoring but capital cities do seem to evoke strong emotions from mayors and their citizens. The Ljubljana conference on capitals brought together 18 mayors from across Europe and they had a few things to say about the problems of running a modern capital. The central issue was the often tense relationship between city and state. Take Austria for instance. The capital Vienna is known as Red Vienna – because of the socialist leanings of the administration. When the national government is conservative – capital and state can easily find themselves in conflict.

Vienna's Mayor Michael Haüpl said the situation is complex because Vienna is not only a capital city but a province as well. He said the system can only work with clear legislative boundaries and guaranteed funding.

"The demand to the state for a better legal and financial position is a demand that benefits the people. In every country the capitals have to be recognised for what they are that they are the first level of a state that they are the level that can bring about concrete solutions for its citizens".

European capitals come in all shapes and sizes. The host city for this conference, Ljubljana, has little more than a quarter of a million people – greater London has seven and a half million. But according to the mayors, size does not guarantee success. In fact may cities struggle to find the funds for infrastructure – especially to upgrade public transport.

According to the Mayor of Budapest Gabor Demszky - things should change and the cities should have a greater say in European institutions.

"The cities are very weak in spite of the fact that more than 60% or 70% of the people of Europe are living in cities – but we have no representation – everybody is represented – but not the cities"!

Cooperation between state and capital city seems to be crucial if things are to get done. A case of good practice can be found in Croatia's capital Zagreb, but that also sometimes fails. Mayor Milan Bandić explained that despite everything the State's competitiveness is frequently experienced, especially where tax collecting is concerned; but he was of the opinion that this also occurs in other European capitals.

In tiny Montenegro everything revolves around the-also-tiny-capital, Podgorica. And the Mayor Miomir Mugoša is convinced that without such co-operation things would be different:

"Everything that happens in Montenegro takes place or goes via the capital, so it is the centre of finance, business and culture. Without this cooperation with the State our homeland would not develop..."

Ljubljan’s Mayor Zoran Janković said capital and national governments must constantly cooperate in finding solutions for a better quality of life for both the people living in the capital and other citizens. He told the panel that Ljubljana was not on good terms with the Slovene government and expressed his hopes that the declaration signed at the end of the conference, the Ljubljana Declaration, would give the capital more room for negotiation.

When it was all over the mayors and delegates said it was important to have better cooperation between capitals – but also to keep their individual indentities. Ljubljana's Mayor Zoran Jankovič..

"Capitals are the lighthouses that shed light on the path towards the future………….

And as such we wish the capitals of Europe calm seas and plain sailing.....