Open Days: EU must make urban agenda work for cities

Cities must be engaged clearly and directly if the EU's urban agenda is to be a success, argues Anna Lisa Boni.

By Anna Lisa Boni

Anna Lisa Boni is the Secretary General of Eurocities

08 Oct 2014

If we do not succeed in cities we will not succeed at all – these were the words of commission president José Manuel Barroso, speaking at the urban forum 'CITIES - Cities of Tomorrow: Investing in Europe' in February in Brussels.

The urban forum was the opportunity to reflect on the growing number of European initiatives, funding programmes, campaigns and policies that address various urban challenges. These initiatives, which have a direct or indirect impact on cities, reflect a greater recognition of the role of cities in the EU. Cities are the drivers of the European economy and innovation; they are key players in combating climate change, and frontline managers of social cohesion. The opportunities and the consequences of economic development, climate change and social inclusion are confronted in our cities.

The commission launched its consultation on the why, what and how of an EU urban agenda over the summer, to gather momentum on the call for an EU urban agenda at the February forum. As Eurocities, the network of major European cities, we argue that an urban agenda must be about empowering cities to deliver the Europe 2020 objectives, promoting a joined-up approach to policymaking, and engaging cities directly and alongside member states in EU policy development.

"As the level of government closest to citizens, and home to 75 per cent of the population, our cities connect EU strategies and policies with the local level"

Practically speaking, there are some specific steps the new commission could take to make an EU urban agenda work for cities. We would like to see the commission appoint an urban envoy. He or she would strengthen the practical coordination of policies with an urban dimension within the commission. Regional and urban policy commissioner Johannes Hahn was given the political responsibility for this coordination across commission DGs in 2012, which was a step in the right direction. DG Regio supports Hahn in this role, and it is now time to back the commitment with sufficient resources to make an impact. An urban envoy should become a driving force in joining up not only policies, but different levels of government. The proposal sits well with the new commission, where the commission president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker is set to implement project teams of commissioners working across the directorates general to break down silos.

The commission should also strengthen the direct involvement of cities in EU policy development. Priority should be given to collaboration and partnership work with cities, moving beyond stakeholder consultations. Meetings with city mayors and study visits to urban areas should be included in commissioners' programmes when they travel to member states, to increase awareness of the urban dimension of a wider range of policies.

February's urban forum should set the precedent for biennial urban summits at EU level, involving stakeholders from all levels of government and different sectors. The summits should provide opportunities for cities to contribute to EU policy developments at both political and expert level.

Clearly, it is not only up to the commission to make an EU urban agenda work. It will also require engagement from all levels of government and other stakeholders. The newly-elected parliament and the Committee of the Regions must both continue to support efforts at EU level to engage cities directly in policy development, and to join up EU policies with a direct or indirect impact on cities.

Respecting subsidiarity, an EU urban agenda will not and should not affect member state competences on urban development. Nevertheless, our national governments must play their role in helping join up policies both at EU level and at home. Developing coordination structures – where these do not already exist – for policies with an urban dimension across relevant ministries would help ensure a coherent policy approach at national level. National governments should also increasingly involve their main cities in strategic policy development and programming, especially with regards to the national reform programmes and the European structural and investment funds.

"Cities are the drivers of the European economy and innovation; they are key players in combating climate change, and frontline managers of social cohesion"

Cities have a lot to offer too in taking forward an EU urban agenda. As the level of government closest to citizens, and home to 75 per cent of the population, our cities connect EU strategies and policies with the local level. They hold the knowledge of what is needed and what works on the ground. And through our networking activities, cities share knowledge of good practice on tackling urban challenges and implementing EU policies across Europe, building capacity between us.

Ultimately, an urban agenda is not just about cities, but about the ability of the EU as a whole to reach its strategic objectives for a smart, sustainable and inclusive Europe. Empowering our cities and their surrounding areas to perform better will support Europe's overall competitiveness and strengthen territorial cohesion.

Eurocities, representing 133 of Europe's major cities, including most EU capital and second tier cities, is committed to engaging actively in further debate around an EU urban agenda with the new commission, member states and the parliament. We want to see an EU urban agenda that makes sense to and engages cities directly across the EU.

Read the most recent articles written by Anna Lisa Boni - EU Mobility Week: The year we stayed at home

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