A conversation with Nicolas Gharbi, principal advisor on international affairs of Madrid

City of Madrid

On November 8, Tony Pipa, senior fellow of the Brookings Center for Sustainable Development, hosted Nicolas Gharbi, principal advisor on international affairs of the Madrid City Council, for a discussion of his experience as a city diplomat and the role that cities play in achieving global agendas.

Watch the whole conversation here or read the highlights below.

Gharbi described Madrid’s engagement at multiple levels of governance: as the capital of Spain, as a European city, and as a global city. The city’s political vision for its international positioning provides a strategy to attract flows of investment, trade, and talent. The city also works with the Spanish national government on aligning development strategies with European Union priorities to attract funding, for example on the COVID-19 pandemic national resilience and recovery plans.

Madrid also actively engages in global city networks such as C40, UCLG, the Brookings SDG Leadership Cities, and the U20 (Urban 20, the G-20 city engagement group). These enable opportunities for peer-learning, knowledge-sharing, and collective agenda-setting among cities. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a common frame of reference for these interactions.

Madrid also uses these forums to advocate and influence international agendas. Cities often must rely on national governments’ willpower and support to get in the door at multilateral negotiations. For example, at COP26, local governments weren’t invited into the blue zone to negotiate on their own merit—they had to be included as part of a national or organizational delegation. Despite the lack of a formal seat at the negotiating table, cities like Madrid seek to elevate the key role they play in executing national and international agendas. On issues such as climate change and equity, nation-states need cities and local leadership where progress and accountability are measured by concrete improvements in the daily lives and long-term prosperity of their local residents.