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  • Author or Editor: Elisabetta Mocca x
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A wealth of literature acknowledges contemporary European cities’ enhanced political capacity. However, apart from a few exceptions, research on this topic tends to exclude time as an analytical dimension. Or, when the latter is considered, it covers a limited time span, rarely going beyond the post-Second World War period. This chapter contends that the recently revamped autonomy of European cities is the outcome of a century-long evolution. To this end, this chapter looks further back in time and historicises the development of European cities’ autonomy. An evolutionary institutionalist approach is employed to scrutinise the swinging European cities’ institutional and political capacity. Therefore, this chapter shows how the trajectory of European municipal autonomy went through periods of expansion and contraction, determined by their economic and political strengths.

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Since the late 1980s–early 1990s, when globalisation reached its peak, much ink was poured to describe and examine this process and its effect on cities. While, for some commentators, cities have been undergoing the inevitable homogenisation of many aspects of the urban life, for others, cities have been safeguarding their urban identity, that is, those unique features that make them different. By critically reviewing the debate between supporters and detractors of globalisation, this chapter seeks to rehabilitate the distinctiveness of the urban dimension, which, as some theoretical approaches suggest, seems to be dissolved in the global world. By taking a sceptical stand against globalisers and glocalisers’ positions, this chapter rejects those arguments heralding the irrelevance, or even the death, of the local and underscores the cultural and political specificities of cities. Underpinning this argument is the conceptualisation of local autonomy in its identitarian form. In such a view, urban identity becomes an instance of local autonomy, seen as the freedom of cities to define their own selves.

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The EC/EU has been an eminently nation-led project. However, running in parallel, the European municipalist movement, weaving relations among cities across Europe, has sought to carve out an influential political role for municipalities within the European polity. The study of European municipal cooperation has become a consolidated thread of research in European and urban studies. Nonetheless, contributions on the topic tend to focus on the pragmatic aspects of municipal collaborations, glossing over the ideological foundations of European municipalism. Therefore, by challenging the dominant scholarly view, this chapter contends that European municipalism may be considered as a ‘thin-centred’ ideology. Drawing on Freeden’s (1996, 1998, 2017) work, the ideological structure of European municipalism is unbundled by throwing light on its conceptual components. As a result, this chapter construes European municipalism as a fully-fledged political ideology, which postulates universal city-to-city mutualism and proposes a European counter-project built on a polycentric and diffuse conception of power.

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The urban dimension has held a vivid attraction to social researchers. Since the contributions of early urban sociologists, the urban scale has provided a bound environment where human behaviours can be best observed. However, the political potential of cities has been sidestepped. Therefore, this chapter contends that political action is intrinsically connected to the specific features of the urban dimension. The city is here construed as the site and catalyser of political activation, inasmuch as urban characteristics prompt the body of residents to engage in political acts. For this, cities constitute the humus for the civitas activa. To articulate the political potential of cities, this chapter bridges multiple scholarly contributions across political theory, political science and critical urban studies. By bringing into conversation different theoretical imports, a distinction between the political as dissensus and as deliberation is provided, to underscore how cities are conducive of conflict and dialogue at the same time. In particular, greater attention is drawn to the political as deliberation to conceptualise the urban as a favourable locus for political action. By examining the nature of the political and its connection with the urban, this chapter thus seeks to reinstate the political value of cities, countering post-political urban visions.

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This chapter builds on the contemporary developments in state–local relations, characterised by the greater engagement of municipalities in domestic and international affairs. Here it is discussed how European cities have tried to move away from being passive recipients of top-down decisions to become pro-active political agents. Therefore, the main instruments for municipal emancipation, which go under the rubric of paradiplomacy, are illustrated. Intuitively, the term paradiplomacy indicates practices with which municipalities mimic state behaviour. As discussed in the chapter, some examples of paradiplomacy are collaborative EU-funded projects, multi-lateral agreements and transnational municipal networks. These constitute powerful tools to widen municipalities’ wiggle room and political influence, not only at national but also at supra-national level. This chapter aims at illustrating how paradiplomatic practices have been deployed by cities to carve out a niche of freedom outside the control of the state. Municipal paradiplomacy is here examined by excavating its main purposes – that is, its teleology. By proceeding through parallelism with state diplomacy’s primary objectives, three functional equivalents that constitute the primary teloi of paradiplomacy are identified: municipal self-determination, influence and latent contention. The analysis of the teloi focuses on the distribution of power, hegemony and autonomy at different scales.

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European Municipalities against the Leviathan

The past 30 years have seen the weakening of the central state by processes of devolution, Europeanisation and globalisation, which have led to dramatic clashes between nation states and local authorities. Why do some cities feel the need to sidestep the state in their decision-making? And how can they do so?

Bridging political geography and politics, this book gives a new perspective on the central state’s weakening authority and the parallel rise of cities as political actors. The author considers the tensions between central states and European cities, giving a new perspective to students and researchers in urban studies, geography and political science.

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This introductory chapter seeks to clarify the purpose of this book as well as illustrate the concepts and analytical categories employed. To begin with, the first chapter elucidates who the protagonists of this book are and discusses what ideal types of cities will be taken into account throughout the book. Second, it explains why it makes sense, in our globalised world, to research cities and to postulate cities’ autonomy. Third, the introduction touches upon the tension between cities and states, and how this underpins the emancipatory attempts of European cities. In relation to this, the core theme of this book – that is, European cities’ endeavours and their instruments to liberate themselves from the grip of the state – is briefly introduced. Finally, the chapter illustrates the structure of the book.

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The concluding chapter takes stock of the analytical insights of the previous chapters, with the aim of reflecting over the trajectory of European municipalities’ centrifugal push and trying to cast some light on future development of the state–local conflict. In particular, this chapter embeds the discussion of the main arguments of the book in the debate on the contemporary international order that replaced the state-centric Westphalian system. Building on the literature putting forward the thesis of the development of a new international system, this chapter shows how the role of European cities has changed over time. The chapter draws to a close by reflecting on the future of cities in the European polity as shaped by the main crucial events that have occurred in the first two decades of 21st century.

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