European cooperation projects and city associations: a study of international cooperation networks between cities

Ninon Briot


My communication would concern the analysis of cooperation networks between cities at an international scale, through different databases and a geographical perspective. Cities have recently gained a growing number of competences and have become important political actors at an international level. This increasing political influence enables cities to develop a “city diplomacy” and to implement international relations, including cooperations with other cities. Those cooperation networks can be divided in three types: twinnings, European projects and city associations. Cooperations between cities aim to exchange knowledge and "good practices" about a wide range of thematics. Those cooperation networks are firstly spatial: they symbolically bring cities closer and create new forms of urban hierarchy, through the construction of a topological space of cooperations. But they are also political because they connect a wide number of elected representatives and mayors across the world. However, they are not well studied in social science even though their number is growing (25 city association in 1951, 168 city associations today), as their political influence. The networking dimension of those cooperations is especially left out. The work I would like to present is the analysis of two databases listing those cooperation networks. The first database is extracted from the website “” and census every European cooperation projects between cities among the European Union cohesion policy. The second database comes from the broader database “Yearbook of International Organizations” produced by the Union of International Associations. This database includes the majority of city associations acting at the international level. The first objective is to represent and to study the structure of those networks. How the information does circulate in this network? European projects are encouraged and financed by the European Union, through cohesion policy. City associations are created by cities themselves and financed by subscription. Is there a difference of structure between European projects and cities associations that would be the result of this distinctive organisation? The second objective is to determine which cities are particularly important in those networks, and to test the concept of rescaling. Indeed, first results show that important cities in those networks are secondary cities in the urban hierarchy. The concept of rescaling supports the idea that cities use cooperation networks in order to gain political influence and to be more visible at the international scale. The third objective is to define the nature of the links in the networks. Some edges between cities are more intense, because cities have been cooperating for a long time and through different means. Which links are particularly persistent? How can this intensity be explained? Through the analysis of cooperation links, it is the factors for a lasting political relation between cities that are studied. The last objective is to determine which cooperation thematics are important. Cooperation networks are used to exchange good practices and expertise. Nevertheless, more recently, those cooperations are a way for cities to be more visible, particularly regarding important international issues such as climate change or migration. Therefore, which cities are specialising on one thematic?

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