This week the American political scientist Benjamin Barber visited the Netherlands. He gave a lecture in Utrecht on his new book ‘If Mayors Ruled the World.’ Barbers claim is both intriguing and important. It is well known that an ever increasing number of people live in cities. Barber’s new book – subtitled ‘why cities can and should govern globally and how they already do’ – claims that this reality must be reflected in the political ordering of the world. In his view, States are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Cities have the future because they are often much better able to deal with today’s problems. And this is what they already do. After the failure of the international climate change conference of last year, 207 big cities agreed to a Global Cities Climate Pact. This fits in with initiatives such as the City of London’s congestion tax in order to reduce the use of cars. Smoking bans were not initiated by states, but by cities like New York and Los Angeles. In the recent discussion on gun control in the United States it seems just as important what mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has to say on this as what Barack Obama says. Bloomberg once said: ‘I don’t listen to Washington very much. The difference between my level of government and other levels of government is that action takes place at the city level. While national government at this time is just unable to do anything, the mayors of this country have to deal with the real world.’ Many of today’s problems exist in cities. This is also the place where they should be solved.
This is an attractive view of the future of political decision making. It is also a view that is highly relevant to the law. The debate – at least in Europe – is often only about the transfer of competences by the member-states to the European Union (or back). However, this debate should be seen as part of a bigger discussion on who should have which competences. If cities are better able to solve certain problems compared to national governments or the EU, the law must reflect this. Cities are often also in a better position to introduce innovative rules in cases in which the country as a whole cannot – the introduction of same sex-marriage in Mexico City is a nice example of this. We as legal scholars should not only think about which topics can be better regulated at a higher (European) level, but also about when exactly a lower geographical level is better.