What is the point of twinning? And above all, what is it? Let us start by saying that forms of “collaboration” between different cities, or other entities (states, countries and villages), have always existed. They serve to strengthen the identity of two communities that share traditions, histories and origins.
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Twinning: what it is
According to the definition provided by Jean Bareth, one of the founders of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), a twinning is «the union of two communities which, starting from a European perspective, attempt to act with the aim of tackling common problems and establishing closer ties of friendship between them».
In other words, twinning is an expression of European identity and values such as:
A twinning, however, can also be stipulated among non-EU cities. The most significant Italian example is the city of Milan, twinned both with European cities such as Krakow, Frankfurt and Lyon, and with the Japanese megalopolis Osaka.
History and figures
Twinning began after the Second World War, around the end of the 1940s. It was only in 1951, however, that the two most representative organisations were established: the Council of European Municipalities (CEM), later to become the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), and the association Le Monde Bilingue, converted into the United Towns Organisation (UTO) in 1957, with the aim of disseminating English and French as international languages.
Originally, twinning was an instrument to establish a peaceful and stable coexistence among European countries; since 1989, i.e. after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has become a real “institutional” phenomenon.
In 2010, there were 2,755 twinnings between Italian and European cities for a continental total of 39,508. In 2019, the number of twinnings fell to 2,096, but this has not stopped Italy from continuing to be one of the countries with the most active twinnings in Europe. Ahead of the Bel Paese are, in fact, only France and Germany.
The opportunities offered by twinning are manifold. A good agreement can be a very effective and virtuous operation if translated into “tangible benefits”. These include:
Both the community and the municipal administration benefit from twinning. A twinning, after all, is a “symbolic link” that serves to develop political, economic, cultural and social relations.
How to enter into a twinning agreement
The Department of Regional Affairs and Local Authorities (DAR) of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers is in charge of the procedure. The Region or Autonomous Province must send it:
Upon receipt of the documents, the General Secretariat Country System and Territorial Autonomies Unit (GS-CSU), in agreement with the other competent bodies, the Litigation Unit, the Legislative Office and the General Directorates (GDs), transmits its observations within 7 days.
After this period, if there are no objections, the rule of silence assent applies and the mayors of the respective cities can then sign the memorandum of understanding.
For more information, however, we refer to the website of the Italian Association for the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (AICCRE), which provides assistance throughout the twinning process.
Twinning finds its legal basis in Article 6, paragraph 7 of Italian Law No. 131 of 2003: «It is understood that the Municipalities, Provinces and Metropolitan Cities continue to carry out activities of mere international importance in the matters assigned to them, according to the law in force, communicating to the competent Regions and to the administrations referred to in paragraph 2 any initiative».
This means that on the one hand the Region monitors the progress of twinning, while on the other hand the sub-regional body, i.e. the municipality or province, is required to limit the twinning activity to that of “mere international importance”, so that it does not entail any outlay of money for public finance.
Why Europe believes in twinning
As already mentioned, the twinnings of the 1950s served to promote European unity in an anti-Soviet function. Between the end of the Second World War and 1963, 120 were signed between France and Germany alone, in order to restore democracy.
The real reason why twinning continues to be funded by the European Union (EU) today is to strengthen European identity. The United Nations (UN) itself considers them a “valuable” tool for fostering international cooperation and the development of the communities concerned.
Moreover, good twinning can lead to funds of up to EUR 25,000 per municipality. A dossier by Adele Grossi, published in the Corriere della Sera, states that in 2018 the Europe for Citizens Programme gave out more than EUR 2 million to European administrations. Italy, with 21 winning projects, reportedly received 329,420.
CEMR has also created a platform, twinning.org, which gives the possibility to search for the “most suitable partner” for one’s twinning. There is also a list of “still single” towns.
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