Central European mayors sign 'pact of free cities'

Budapest (AFP) –


Four central European capitals, all at odds with their countries' populist governments, signed a deal Monday in Budapest to seek more EU funding together to bypass their nations' rulers.

The pro-European centrist mayors of Budapest, Bratislava, Prague and Warsaw -- the capitals of the Visegrad countries Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland -- signed what they called the "Pact of Free Cities".

In their joint declaration, they committed to "protecting and promoting our common values of freedom, human dignity, democracy, equality, rule of law, social justice, tolerance and cultural diversity".

Both Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Poland's Law and Justice (PiS) government have crafted what Orban calls a style of "illiberal" democracy, which has strained ties with the European Union.

Orban has promoted Central Europe as a bastion of traditional and conservative values.

But the new pact between the capitals appears to run in opposition to this tendency.

"We are elected to serve the citizens of capital cities but we hope our messages will be heard outside the cities as well," Warsaw's mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told reporters.

"Populism provides a simple and wrong answer to the problems," said Prague's mayor Zdenek Hrib.

All four mayors bucked the national trend in their countries to win power in their cities.

In 2018, Trzaskowski defeated a rival from the ruling national party PiS.

Bratislava is led by Matus Vallo, an architect and leader of a popular rock band, who won as an independent in November 2018.

The same month, Hrib of the Pirate Party was elected mayor of Prague.

And the newest arrival is Green politician Gergely Karacsony, elected mayor of Budapest in October.

Shortly afterwards, he travelled to Warsaw for talks with Trzaskowski on enhanced cooperation between the capitals.

Last week Karacsony told a Hungarian news-site that Budapest had already applied directly to Brussels for support improving air quality.

Karacsony's win in Budapest was the first electoral setback to Orban since he came to power in 2010.

Since then, his ruling Fidesz party has steered legislation through parliament that has removed powers from the municipalities.