What future for EU urban policy?

MEPs discuss the future role of EU urban policy. 

By Hendrik Meerkamp

04 Dec 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

On December 1 2014, the REGI Committee met for an exchange of views to discuss about the European Commission Communication of July 18 2014 on “The urban dimension of EU policies: Key features of an EU urban agenda” on which the REGI Committee plans to draft an own-initiative report. Please find below an excerpt of a summary of the debate that took place.

Kerstin Westphal (S&D, DE) delivered an opening statement to the debate and began by outlining the multifaceted importance of cities in the EU and the subsequent need for an urban dimension in EU policies. In relation to this, she mentioned that about 75% of the EU population now lives in urban areas or cities and that these are the engines of the EU’s economy, accounting for about two thirds of the total EU GDP – but that cities and urban areas are at the same time vulnerable to a range of problems in the social, climate, and environmental field. In this context, she explained, there is not so much a question of whether a European city agenda that puts in place an urban dimension across all EU policies is necessary of not but that the question is rather what this agenda should look like, what it should contain, and what specific objectives it should have.

She asked the committee members for their opinion on the subject matter in order to help her compose a draft report, and added the she herself believes that:

  • the concept ‘city’ must be seen in a broad context and that it should be in the capacity of each region individually to decide on what it considers a city;
  • the city agenda should not be understood as an agenda against rural areas;
  • EU policies must aim at ‘functional urban areas’ and ‘urban mainstreaming’;
  • the European Commission might want to consider setting up a “taskforce on urban issues” or, in the longer-term, even a “high representative for cities”. In this context, she expressed regrets that the mission letter of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Creţu, totally ignores city and urban policies.
  • the European Commission work programme for 2015 must be set up in such a way that will allow the creation of synergies across EU policies for the benefit of cities.

Jan Olbrycht (EPP, PL) said that it is currently not clear what the European Commission considers the ultimate objective of its urban agenda. He added that is also unclear who in the European Commission is responsible for urban areas and cites. He said that by name it should be DG REGIO [Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy] but that one might doubt this, given that, for example, the Smart cities initiative is with DG ENER, DG MOVE and DG CNECT but not with DG REGIO. In this context, he said, the European Commission should set up clear structures and responsibilities.

Matthijs van Miltenburg (ALDE, NL) said that it is indeed urgent to speak about an EU urban agenda. He added that cities and urban areas need to be involved in EU matters at an earlier stage and more systematically than is currently the case, and that many challenges – be it in the fields of employment, climate change, energy, or mobility – can only be addressed when seen (also) in the city and urban context. He stressed that this does not necessarily require more legislation.

He concluded by declaring that he shares the concerns expressed by previous speakers about the tackling of urban matters within the European Commission. 

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