Budapest left out in the cold on national recovery plans

3 February 2021

This year, the municipality of Budapest expects a decreased revenue of €245 million, or roughly one third of the city revenues in 2020, according to the city’s Mayor, Gergely Karácsony, who shared his concerns in a letter to the three executive Vice Presidents of the European Commission last year.

One part of this is undoubtedly the health situation and the necessary response of the city to the pandemic.

However, another aspect has been the direct actions of Hungary’s national government to divert funds away from the country’s municipalities – most especially those that are of a different political hue, like Budapest.

As such, Karácsony points out that, not only have European cities been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, but also by an “ensuing increase in their expenditures and a parallel decrease in their revenues”.

With the EU recovery package currently being discussed in national capitals, Karácsony argues that it will fall far short of its potential to provide much-needed aid for millions of European city dwellers without “the active participation of urban centres in the recovery process”.

Despite this, as Benedek Jávor, the Head of Budapest’s Representation in Brussels, explains, “up to now there has been quite a limited possibility for local government to comment and have an influence on the plans.”

Benedek Jávor, Head of Budapest’s Representation in Brussels

Nonetheless, the city has already mapped out a full set of priorities. There are the social aspects, of course, ensuring much needed support for the most vulnerable, especially those who have lost their jobs or faced other hardships as a result of the crisis; but there is also a focus on energy efficiency, building retrofit projects, and transport decarbonisation.

“One of the most important priorities for us is climate mitigation,” says Jávor. “We would like to finance energy efficiency at the household level: retrofit, building renovation, insulation projects, heating and reconstruction. This would be a large-scale project focussed on providing citizens the means – very much in line with the proposed New European Bauhaus.”

“The second priority,” Jávor continues, “is transport decarbonisation. We want to improve our public transport network with new tramlines, greening our public transport fleet with low emission busses or vehicles, and in turn improve air quality in the city. We also have plans to improve our green areas and construct new ones,” he adds.

“The third priority is water management: with the Danube river at the heart of the city a major part of this is for flood defences, to save the existing flood plains and develop the dykes, without destruction of ecosystems in the flood plains.”

Meshing EU and local priorities

Mayors of the capital cities of the Visegrád countries have had a strong presence in Brussels over the past 18 months or so, even pre-pandemic. The case being put forth by cities like Budapest is not simply around funding. It’s also saying that involving cities in the national plans will create a better harmony between national, EU and local policy ambitions, where now there is a lot of tension in some cities.

As Jávor explains, “Cities are crucially important partners of the EU, because many of the EU’s priorities must, in practice, be carried out by the cities. So, we can take the new climate targets – 55% emissions cut by 2030, where we know that 70%, or even more of the CO2 emissions are coming from the cities. It makes sense to get access to the EU funds, to make it possible to come up with the necessary measures.”

Cities therefore need more direct access to EU funds, for the EU to meet its potential, and national governments sometimes block this access. The process by which the Hungarian national government has failed to adequately include its principal cities in its Recovery and Resilience Facility measures is indicative. Among 600 stakeholders that have eventually received a copy of the plans, so far no major city has been included.

“Perhaps the association of curling clubs was there, but somehow the capital city of the country was not included,” said Jávor.

And Budapest is still waiting.

#TalkWithCities – Europe’s recovery will start in cities, and they’re ready to invest in new green jobs and infrastructure. The EU is prepared to distribute funds for this recovery to member states, but 70% of cities surveyed by Eurocities believe the national consultation process has been insufficient as it has failed to adequately involve cities. Find out why Europe’s leaders must talk with cities.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer