The ACT NOW Mayors’ Conference brought together mayors, political professionals and young people from throughout Europe and the MENA region to exchange ideas, share best practice, and offer one another support during challenging times. We asked some of the guest speakers: what message do you have for those who are frustrated with politics?

“It’s important that we focus on good role models”

This is a difficult question, because I sometimes get frustrated too!

I think it’s important to talk to the people, bring them together and show them that this is just one side of politics. There are lots of politicians who do great work, who communicate together like today at the ACT NOW conference. And I think it’s important that we focus on the good role models instead of the bad ones.

Alexandra Sußmann, Deputy Mayor for Social Affairs and Integration at the City of Stuttgart, Germany

“Act together, act honestly”

We are living in very difficult times. Everything is getting more expensive, people can’t pay their bills, and it’s really hard for young people to afford to live in cities. I understand that people these days are really frustrated or even angry with politicians. But if you want to change the world,  then you have to be aware that politics plays a big part in it. 

We have elections in Belgium in two years, and I hope we can encourage people to vote, and to vote for a party who will really make a difference for everyone.

It requires understanding and listening to the people and being honest with them, not making promises you can’t fulfill, but entering into a dialogue, and trying to make a difference together. That’s what ACT NOW is all about: act together, act honestly, and take some time just to listen, to hear people’s frustrations, and don’t take it personally.

Jinnih Beels, Vice Mayor of Education and Youth in Antwerp, Belgium

“Our politics is a projection of our society”

The best way to take care of the people we love is through politics and democracy. They are ways of serving your community.

We should not be frustrated with politics, because our politics is simply a projection of our society.

If we don’t like our politicians, we have to ask about what kind of community we are.

Umberto Costantini, Mayor of Spilamberto, Italy

“We are trying to find our footing on unknown terrain”

I’ll be honest: I get frustrated sometimes too. We are living in one of the most difficult periods in living memory.

We are trying to get to grips with the climate crisis, itself a huge challenge—but at the same time, there has been the pandemic, which was a major economic setback, and demanded an incredible amount of discipline from citizens.

And now on top of that, we are dealing with something that seemed unimaginable, especially for the younger generation: a major war in Europe.

A little while ago, it seemed a bit like all we had to do was tackle the climate crisis, and a glorious future awaited us! But that’s clearly no longer the case. This frustrates citizens – but it is also frustrating for politicians.

We are supposed to have all the answers: how to address the pandemic, or Europe’s dependency on Russian gas. As politicians, we are being pushed to our limits. We are trying to find our footing on unknown terrain. The public expectation is: “Politicians will solve the problems. That’s their job.” But we ourselves are often just searching for answers. Showing leadership in uncertain times means ensuring that steps are taken wherever possible, but also communicating to the public that there are still many uncertainties. There is an art to it. 

Georg Willi, Mayor of Innsbruck, Austria

“you can change the world in your own way”

Nowadays we can clearly see what happens when there is a lack of democracy. It is not given once for all time.

So it is our duty and moral obligation to keep democracy in good condition. If you are frustrated, you can change the world in your own way. So let’s move and act now!

Katarzyna Gruszecka Spychala, Deputy Mayor of Gdynia, Poland

“Consider the alternatives to our current system”

Much frustration with politics is in fact frustration about bureaucracy.

I would invite people to consider the alternatives to our current system—dictatorships where your fundamental rights as a citizen are not respected.

In a democracy, you have rights, and you are also protected by courts, which is a very important check mechanism for what politics does.

Ulrich Hörning, Deputy Mayor for General Services at the City of Leipzig, Germany

The ACT NOW Mayors’ Conference took place in Stuttgart, Germany, in May 2022. To find out more about the programme click here.

Photography by Calvin Leander for ACT NOW Mayors’ Conference 2022