In 2022 the European Commission handed out the inaugural European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity Award. The eight winning towns, cities and regions, big and small, have excelled themselves in their pursuit of a more equal and inclusive Europe. They have worked to break down barriers and build a better society for everyone regardless of age, racial or ethnic origin, religion, sex, LGBTIQ identity or disability.
Their efforts were recognised in an Awards Ceremony on 28 April 2022 hosted by the European Commission and attended by Commissioner Dalli, Vice-President Jourova and Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions.
During the ceremony, the public voted for an additional winner: Antequera, Spain was victorious.
Sources: Mišel Jakšić, Koprivnica Mayor - Henriette Reker, Koln Mayor - Loles López Gabarro, Andalucia Minister
Applications for the European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity Award 2023 have opened, and past gold winners open up about their experience, the impact the award had on their communities and the future that lies ahead after their diversity efforts were recognized on a pan-European level.
“Awards like the European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity Award are absolutely necessary to keep the public focused on the policies that are being undertaken to promote equality among citizens”. Loles López Gabarro, Minister of Conciliation Social Inclusion, Youth, Families and Equality of the Junta de Andalucía, describes in a nutshell what the European Commission is trying to achieve with the European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity Award.
Established in 2022, the Award recognizes the work of local authorities across the European Union, whose mission is to build a fairer and more inclusive society.
The first award ceremony was held in Brussels on 28 April 2022, where Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli, together with Vice President Věra Jourová and Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions, announced the three gold winners.
The city of Cologne in Germany won the Gold Award for local authorities with more than 50,000 residents, the Croatian Koprivnica received the Gold Award for local authorities with less than 50,000 residents, and the Spanish region of Andalucia won the 2022 Special Award for promoting Roma inclusion.
The Diversity Capitals Team spoke to the three winners and asked them to share their experience and advice with any local authority that aspires to apply for the second edition of the European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity Award.
For most winners, applying for the Award was an opportunity to compare their policies with their European counterparts and engage in a dialogue on how diversity and inclusion can be applied to their communities in an effective and transparent way.
“This recognition has also led to an increased awareness of the topic within Cologne. This can be seen, among other things, in the great demand for funding”
The Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, says that the application made it possible to obtain independent feedback on the city's efforts in integration and diversity. “A major motivation for the application was the desire to share the City of Cologne's measures and successes in the area of integration and diversity with other municipalities as examples of good practice,” says Mrs Reker. “The exchange with European municipalities creates a space in which they can learn from each other.”
Koprivnica Mayor Mišel Jakšić adds that the comparison with his European peers has helped the city understand where it stands in terms of policies and initiatives. 'When there are numerous projects and activities, then it is good to compare with others, to see what is better or worse, with what activities we are ahead or behind others. The award we received is proof that we are on the right path and doing the right thing.”
The impact of their 2022 win was tremendous for all three gold winners. From providing visibility and broader recognition of the implemented projects to increasing the community’s interest in inclusion policies, the Award has helped expand the winners’ footprint and advance their work in the field.
“The sensibilization of the community has increased,” says Mišel Jakšić. “A higher level of awareness and diversity tolerance is achieved, which contributes to a more stable, safer, and tolerant community. This lets us continue building diversity and build tolerance attitudes both towards persons with disabilities and children with developmental delay, as well as towards other marginalized groups.”
The Award has sparked widespread interest in Cologne, both national and international. “Colleagues from the Diversity department were increasingly invited to give presentations, consultations, and exchange formats regarding the implementation of diversity measures by other municipalities,” says Henriette Reker. “This recognition has also increased awareness of the topic within Cologne. This can be seen, among other things, in the great demand for funding, which is used to implement projects on the topic of integration and diversity within the city's society.”
“If you have policies, projects or activities that contribute to better inclusion of all levels of local community members, describe them in a simple way and don't forget anything because everything counts.”
For Andalucía, the recognition translates as an opportunity to push diversity and inclusion higher in the public agenda. “It is a stimulus to continue promoting our pillars for inclusion,” says Loles López Gabarro. “These pillars are the integration of real freedom and equality, removing all obstacles, the participation of citizens in shaping public policies, and social cohesion, among others.”
If any local authority wishes to apply for the 2023 Award and wonders how these three achieved such recognition, the secret lies in their application. “I’d say there is no magic formula,” Mišel Jakšić admits. “If you have policies, projects, or activities that contribute to better inclusion of all levels of local community members, describe them in a simple way and don't forget anything because everything counts.”
For example, , Loles López Gabarro describes the exact process of Andalucia’s application: “In the report we submitted, we mentioned the range of policies developed in various areas with special emphasis on the long history of the Ministry of actions carried out in favour of the inclusion of the Roma community. Finally, we mentioned the legal precept by which the Junta de Andalucía will appear in legal proceedings on hate crimes.”
However, it is critical not to lose focus as there are limitations within the application form, as Henriette Reker underlines. “The specified character limit requires municipalities to have a strong focus. This is an advantage, as the municipality has to deal with the topic more intensively, and a disadvantage, as some topics can only be touched upon and outlined. The city of Cologne has decided to present only its overall strategy as well as lighthouse projects that are as intersectional as possible.”
Looking ahead, with the Award's help, the gold winners seem to be building a landscape flourished by inclusion projects and policies.
For example, on 22 November 2022, Andalucía commemorated the Day of Andalusian Gypsies. “We also witnessed a historic milestone in the field of policies for the Roma community,” says Loles López Gabarro. “From the Ministry of Social Inclusion, Youth, Families and Equality, the necessary procedures were promoted to celebrate the constitutive session of the first Andalusian Council of the Gypsy People, on November 23, 2022.”
“Awards like the European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity Award are absolutely necessary to keep the public focused on the policies that are being undertaken to promote equality among citizens”
Loles López Gabarro
The Council is a collegiate body for social participation in general and specific public policies that promote equal opportunities and treatment and the inclusion of the Roma community.
Inclusion policies for persons with disabilities were the focus of Koprivnica for 2022. The region has implemented a unified policy for persons with disabilities, which is monitored by the Committee for equalization of opportunities and social integration, with representatives of associations of persons with disabilities.
“There are also several projects, such as the protection of persons with disabilities against the energy crisis, the expansion of accommodation capacity in the kindergarten for children with developmental disabilities,” adds Mišel Jakšić.
Conversely, Cologne continues to expand its advisory services and project funding on the topics of integration and diversity. Mayor Henriette Reker says that these projects focus on the increase of the participation of persons with disabilities.
“The state funds of the NRWeltoffen initiative were successfully located in the Office for Integration and Diversity. In the future, these funds will be used to support projects with an intersectional focus,” she adds.
We asked the three gold winners to share a thought on how a local authority can increase diversity and inclusion. This is what they said!