Magazine article Geographical

Twin Towns: Klaus Dodds Is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and Author of Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction

Magazine article Geographical

Twin Towns: Klaus Dodds Is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and Author of Geopolitics: A Very Short Introduction

Article excerpt

THE PRACTICE OF TWINNING towns is well established and often seized upon by civic leaders to cement intra-continental or even transcontinental cultural, economic and political partnerships.

The practice in the UK originated in the early part of the 20th century but really took over in the aftermath of the Second World War. Twinning was perceived as a way of reconciling a battered and divided Europe and as a way of cementing alliances between cities and regions. While security and economic organisations such as NATO and the EEC operated at a continental level, European twinning allowed for city-level cultural and political exchanges and encounters.

Sometimes twinning crossed over the so-called Iron Curtain. Coventry, Stalingrad and Dresden (1956) were twinned, and as such drew attention to their common experiences as 'bombed cities'. Indeed, Coventry is often credited with being the first city to twin with Stalingrad in 1944, and since then has entered into over 20 other twinning relationships including Sarajevo (1957), Warsaw (1957) and Ostrava (1959). Peace and reconciliation were certainly powerful drivers in the post-war period and Coventry's experience demonstrated that civic leaders were able to reach out to their communist and socialist counterparts in the south and east of Europe.

More recently, European Union officials saw 'twinning' as a way to promote pan-European sentiment and were eager to build upon the work of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) established in 1951. Twinning became closely linked to EEC and then EU expansion as the emergence of Portugal and Spain from military dictatorships initially, and then most dramatically the ending of the Cold War provided fresh opportunities to build new relationships at a city-on-city level. With EU financial support, twinning expanded in the 1990s and 2000s and the CEMR estimates there are now some 40,000 such arrangements between European cities and elsewhere.

Twinning is not always successful, however. In the last five years, there have been reports of British towns ending their relationships with continental European partners. In 2011, Bishop's Stortford ended its relationship with Villiers-sur-Marne in France and Friedberg in Germany. A formal twinning relationship had existed since 1965, and some commentators at the time blamed euro-scepticism on the part of the Conservative-dominated local government. While this was denied, other examples from around the UK seemed to have pointed at a decisive shift away from the earlier idealism of twinning towns, with other cities and regions dispensing with their post-war relationships and exchanges. …

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