With the European elections a mere six months away, Eurocities is already guiding the narrative with a new manifesto for a better Europe. ‘A better Europe starts in cities’ presents a strategic agenda for the European Union, emphasising the increasing significance of urban areas in shaping the continent’s future.
Given that approximately 80% of Europe’s population is projected to live in cities by 2050, the manifesto underscores the need to harness the potential of urban centres in addressing Europe’s most pressing challenges, and the critical role urban policy and governance will play in the EU’s future direction.
The manifesto outlines five key strands of action that are at the top of mayors’ agendas for reimagining and strengthening Europe:
- A social agenda that delivers for people: Europe’s cities want to see an improved European Pillar of Social Rights that is adjusted to the current context of compounding crises, ensuring affordable and social housing, investing in jobs and skills for green and digital transformation, and promoting public health and inclusion for vulnerable groups.
- A strong Green Deal ambition: The manifesto demands support for cities to implement sustainable measures for transport, energy-efficient buildings, circular economy, sustainable food systems, and adoption of renewables. It calls for an ambitious climate target of at least a 90% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
- A digital agenda for rights, inclusion, and climate: Cities are calling for a comprehensive framework to uphold fundamental human rights online, address the digital divide, and align technological development with climate neutrality goals.
- A local Europe with the capacity to act: Local governments insist that investing in their technical and administrative capacity is vital for societal transformation and resilience. This includes more direct access to EU funding and redefining budgetary rules to incentivise local public investments.
- A coherent European strategy for urban policies: The new manifesto calls for a regular and direct dialogue between EU and city leaders and the appointment of an Urban Envoy within the European Commission to coordinate all EU policies and initiatives for cities.
The manifesto argues that cities are uniquely positioned to address the core challenges that Europe will face in the years ahead due to their close connection with residents and their capacity to enact swift, impactful changes. For Europe’s cities, empowering urban leaders is not a question of pitting them against their rural counterparts. The manifesto underscores the fact that stronger cities can benefit both urban residents and those in peri-urban and rural areas with whom they are increasingly developing strategic alliances.
One of the manifesto’s key points is the emphasis on the role of city leaders and administrations in meeting residents’ needs, of which they have “a unique understanding,” due to their close proximity to those they govern and their daily work to “tackle local challenges and deliver core services essential for quality of life.”
The manifesto positions itself as an antidote to the daily challenges faced by many people, including affordable housing, employment, energy costs, and access to healthy food – all of which have been exacerbated by recent and ongoing crises, such as the cost-of-living crisis, climate change, and geopolitical tensions.
Cities have long demonstrated their capacity to take action in the context of global challenges. To deal with the housing crisis, Bonn has put forward a plan to eradicate homelessness by 2030, addressing social exclusion and housing insecurity. Gothenburg’s innovative ‘The School as an Arena’ programme takes a unique and effective approach to education and social inclusion, particularly for children from vulnerable communities.
Local action has been integral to the fight against climate change, often taking an integrated approach with a positive ripple effect. Glasgow, as a signatory of the Eurocities Lille Call to Action, is integrating sustainability and inclusivity into its cultural sector, reflecting a commitment to a progressive and inclusive European Union. In Uppsala, a focus on sustainable construction practices addresses environmental concerns, social housing, and green job creation.
Cities have also been united in their efforts through the Eurocities network to respond to the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine with direct support through #GeneratorsOfHope and long-term collaboration for the sustainable rebuilding of Ukraine’s cities. And all this has come on the heels of extraordinary local government action to handle the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the last lull before the build-up to the European elections begins to gain momentum, the ‘A better Europe starts in cities’ manifesto urges the EU to tap into the underutilised strength of urban areas, and engage with local leaders as real partners. Cities recognise that real change doesn’t come from the top down, but from the daily interactions, the local initiatives, and the community-driven projects where the true potential for transforming Europe lies. To build an enduring European project in the face of political polarisation and mounting crises, it is essential that the European Union act upon local insight.
Read the full manifesto here.