Innovate local policies to give the territory a future: this in a nutshell was the message of the 4th Convention of the European Network of Family Friendly Municipalities held on 1 March in Brussels, at the headquarters of the European Economic and Social Committee.
A varied representation of municipalities gathered in the European capital to discuss family policies that bring social and economic development, using innovative tools and a holistic approach that puts the person and the family at the centre.
The meeting was opened by Regina Maroncelli, president of ELFAC, which is the co-founder of the Network with the Autonomous Province of Trento: this was followed by speeches from Christa Schweng, President of the Socio-Economic Committee, and the representative of the Committee of the Regions, Csaba Borboly, Romanian and father of four.
Blocked by a sudden illness, Barbara Socha, Polish Under-Secretary of State of the Ministery for Family and Social Policies, spoke via the web. The Autonomous Province of Trento’s Councillor for Family Policies, Stefania Segnana, also spoke remotely, outlining the history of the Italian Network of Family friendly municipalities, recalling its foundation in 2018.
“The Network,” she explained, “arose on the Trentino model that 10 years earlier was introduced by a local law, on an experimental basis, in order to curb the trend of denatality. The results of the actions in favour of families were not long in coming,’ added Ms Segnana, ‘and today our province qualifies as a ‘Family Friendly’ territory, with over 90% of the municipalities certified ‘Family in Trentino’. In 2022 103 Family Plans were produced, with over 4,000 concrete family policy actions covering heterogeneous areas, such as services for families, infrastructures, tariff policies and family-work reconciliation services.ç
The network has not stopped there, since over the years, 22 Family Districts have been set up with 1,000 member organisations; more than 380 companies are Family Audit certified in the area of work-life balance. Trentino and all the Italian family municipalities,’ she concluded, ‘are strategic laboratories within which family standards are tested in the most heterogeneous areas of activity: public transport, accommodation, health, schools, corporate welfare. These public policies cut across the various governmental actions and converge on a common denominator: family welfare, making governance more sustainable as well as more resilient’.
Public family policies without public funding
After the institutional greetings, the Convention continued with Luciano Malfer, director of the Trentino Agency for Social Cohesion and Family, on a topic very dear to local institutions: how to implement effective policies at zero cost.
A “secret”, as it was defined by Raul Sanchez, secretary general of Elfac, moderator of the day: actually, said Luciano Malfer, it is a matter of applying two easy-to-implement tools: the system of scores favourable to businesses that are certificated as “family” (i.e. attentive to the needs of families) in the granting of public tenders and contracts (“family public recruitment”, on the model of the bonus reserved for eco-sustainable businesses) and the introduction of the principles of the “saturation economy”.
After the linear economy, with the circular economy, cities can develop a ‘saturation economy’, with services such as transport, access to museums and sports and cultural facilities and the use of the Family Card. Using existing services to the point of ‘saturation’ optimises resources and avoids waste, in full circularity: a family ticket for museums, a ski pass paid for by parents and used by all minor children, a transport system that makes the whole family, including grandparents, travel with the Euregio Card, were examples of concrete possibilities.
The topic aroused much interest among local administrators, who were also able to draw inspiration from the good practices presented in the section on innovative family policies implemented by cities. Chiara Ledda presented the achievements of the ‘Family in Italy’ Network, Maria Rosario Cordeiro, from the Portuguese observatory of ‘family-friendly’ cities, described the network and certification system set up by the Association of Large Families in Portugal, which last January awarded 95 ‘green flags’ to as many municipalities of all sizes. Almost 1/3 of the entire number of Portuguese municipalities (308) were able to meet the requirements to be defined as ‘family-friendly’. 54 Portuguese municipalities joined the European Network and received the certificate last January in Braga from the hands of Elfac President Regina Maroncelli.
Bartosz Bartoszewicz, mayor of the newly certified city of Gdynia, Poland, presented forms of participatory governance with young people, while Emese Balogh-Madár, deputy mayor of the fifth municipality of the 5th. District of the Hungarian capital Budapest, grappling with the need to keep alive and inhabited by families a historical centre with a high tourist vocation, showed how it is possible for a city to maintain a soul and identity through community services, informal meeting places, green spaces and pedestrian zones.
Alghero, the first Italian municipality to be certified ‘family’ outside Trentino and co-founder of the Italian Network, also spoke about tourism, with Maria Grazia Salaris, councillor for family policies of this Sardinian city.
The strong link between wellbeing policies and the tourist vocation of cities was also emphasised by Maitane Tocino, Basquetour’s delegate for the Basque Country region (Spain). The green Iberian region, which offers itself to international tourism as an alternative destination, finds in families its natural interlocutor, contributing to the creation and preservation of a territory strongly rooted in its traditions and identity.
Companies and municipalities, both needs to become family-friendly
The economic value of supporting families was the theme of the last section of the morning, dedicated to companies with family-friendly corporate policies. For the Spanish Foundation ‘Mas familia’, Mercedes Hernandez, Partnership Director, spoke about the certification system for family-friendly policies for employees of the companies, very similar to the Family Audit implemented by the Province of Trento.
Finally, Emanuele Sacco, from the mentoring program of Aurora Fellows (Italy) presented the needs of young people entering the world of work, which can be summed up in a single word: “trust”.
Confidence and hope in the future, the key words of every family, of every working relationship, to be sought and preserved according to that new work ethic that the alliance between companies and the territory proposed by the network proposes to restore life to the Old Continent.
To promote this alliance, the Network has recently launched a partnership project with companies, which started with 5 Italian ‘pilot’ companies: Comelit Group Spa, Rovetta (Bergamo); Zanetti Spa, Lallio (Bergamo); Plastik Spa, Albano Sant’Alessandro (Bergamo); Wear me Srl, Castelfranco Veneto (Treviso); and Aurora Fellows S.c.s.a.r.l. ETS, Catania.
Vice president of European Commission Dubravka Šuica : “No democracy without demography”
The morning was closed by the Deputy Commissioner for Demography and Democracy Dubravka Šuica, who emphasised how demography and democracy are two sides of the same coin, and how initiatives such as the network can create the conditions for a greater demographic and opportunity balance between the different European areas, “adopting and adapting” good practices to improve the quality of life in every corner of Europe, without “leaving anyone behind”. Dubravka Šuica emphasised the strength “of municipalities, which are the local agencies that can influence territorial policies more than other public bodies, responding – in a diverse way – to the specific needs of their own communities”.
The Vice-president then presented the Network membership diplomas to the cities of Nuraminis and Foligno (Italy), Gdyna (Poland), Vezsprém (Hungary) and Bacau (Romania), the first Romanian city to join the network. And also delivered membership renewal diplomas to the cities of 5th. dictrict of Budapest (Hungary), Alghero (Italy), Grodzisk Mazowiecki (Poland) and
The Vice-president then presented the Network membership diplomas to the cities of Nuraminis (Italy), Gdyna (Poland), Vezsprém (Hungary) and Bacau (Romania), the first Romanian city to join the network. And also delivered membership renewal diplomas to the cities of 5th. dictrict of Budapest (Hungary), Alghero and Foligno (Italy), Grodzisk Mazowiecki (Poland) and Santo Tirso (Portugal).
The number of adhering cities touches now 120 municipalities from 9 countries: Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Romania, Spain, Greece, 3 national networks (Italy, Portugal, Poland), and 5 pilot partner companies, all Italian: Comelit spa, Plastik SPA, Zanetti srl, Aurora fellows, Wear Me.