Cities order an inclusive and sustainable recovery

7 May 2021

“What kind of stronger social Europe do we want to see by 2030?” In the midst of our first pandemic in a century, which has led to many people losing their jobs, deepened inequalities and made more Europeans homeless, this question, posed by Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, set the scene for the opening of the Cities Social Summit.

Social Europe 2030?

In a keynote address, Robin Hambleton, Emeritus Professor of City Leadership, University of the West of England, pointed out that while cities are facing many challenges, the pandemic has also offered shards of hope: “First, a shift in values towards caring for people and the planet,” he commented. “Second, an upsurge in imaginative community-based problem solving at the local level – with the public, private and voluntary sectors actively collaborating with civil society.”

As we move forward and aim to answer that question of what we want our cities to be like in 2030 and beyond, these are essential lessons for leaders to think about, according to Hambleton.

Indeed, across Europe, city leaders are already adopting similar models of innovative governance that develop this understanding of people and planet. In Bristol, as Hambleton outlined, the One City Approach, “draws inspiration and enthusiasm from the positive feelings people have about the place where they live,” said Hambleton. Something more than evidenced by the fact that “70 civic leaders participated in the first City Gathering in 2016, over 400 civic leaders participated in the most recent gathering in March 2021.”

In Munich, according to Katrin Habenschaden, the city’s Mayor, a Green Social New deal will be a social and economic investment, aiming to provide protection for the climate and environment, while strengthening social cohesion. The hope is that it will also open up new green jobs.

Of course, such plans must nowadays be matched with a view to Europe’s post-covid recovery and Ada Colau, Mayor of Barcelona, delivered a positive message of change, explaining that while we still face many of the same challenges as pre-pandemic, “we can’t go back, we have to transform ourselves.”

Rui Moreira, Mayor of Porto, outlined twin goals to focus on housing and clean mobility in the recovery, including an already arranged deal with the other cities in the metropolitan area for a €40 monthly travel ticket to allow people to travel “everywhere, anywhere.”

Inclusive recovery

Joining the city leaders on the eve of the EU Social Summit, Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, said that “the European Pillar of Social Rights remains our compass” to ensure equal opportunities, decent working conditions and greater social protections to people in our economies, and it “shows the way to an inclusive and fair recovery.”

Indeed, the European Pillar of Social Rights is also a priority for the current EU Presidency of Portugal, which was confirmed by Miguel Cabrita, Deputy Minister for Labour and Vocational Training of Portugal. And for many cities too, the 20 principles of the social pillar help to direct policy actions. However, at city level there is also a hope that much needed social investments can be directed through the national recovery funds.

When it comes to investment, cities have already proved their worth. Eurocities Inclusive Cities 4 All initiative, which aims to put the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights into action at local level, has mobilised over €15 billion in municipal social investments over the past two years.

However, as Nardella commented, “the recovery requires an unprecedented level of social investment in local services and social infrastructure that cannot be done by cities alone.”

Examples of city actions abound, such as in Lyon where, in direct response to the needs of the coronavirus crisis, the city is now experimenting with a monthly minimum income for young people of around €400. Moreover, €140,000 has been set aside for psychological support linked to confinement.

Tallin will invest €63 million until 2025 to support the social pillar’s principle 19 on homelessness.

For Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam, the best place to put social investments is in the next generation, “$1 invested today can be worth $16 in 20 years – that means that investment in education should not be seen as a cost but an investment in the future,” he said.

In Vienna, Marina Hanke, Vice-chair of the Committee on European affairs, highlighted her city’s decision to ensure poverty reduction focuses on the situation of women. She said that “there is still a potential that the crisis will lead to a massive backlash on women. Consequently, the city finds itself building its fifth safe shelter for women who have suffered from domestic violence, and taking other actions to support women to improve their skills and qualifications.

Matteo Lepore, Deputy Mayor of Bologna, detailed the city’s flagship project to build 1,000 new houses via a €61 million investment to support renovation of about 600 public apartments, and to build 400 new housing units on the city’s brownfield sites

Such city actions are much needed according to Kim van Sparrentak, Member of the European Parliament, to plug “an annual investment gap in social and affordable housing of €59 billion,” to highlight just one area. She suggested the need to reboot our economies “with a different set of rules that allows for more investment in social areas such as public housing.”

A sustainable recovery

In addition to funding, Nardella also spoke of the need to bring the social and green agendas together in Europe’s recovery “to better connect the European Pillar of Social Rights with the European Green Deal,” and announced that a new Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal will combine ambitious local action where climate, environment and social goals go hand in hand.

To this end, Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council, who framed her remarks in the context of the climate emergency because of Glasgow’s status as the COP26 host city later this year, said that “it’s absolutely clear that COP26 must secure very strong commitments from national governments for a sustainable and inclusive transition to a carbon zero world.”

“A new pact between cities, national and EU leaders to work together for a fair, inclusive and sustainable recovery in Europe,” needs to be the order of the day according to Nardella, who will represent cities at the EU Social Summit in Porto, to deliver the key conclusions from the Cities Social Summit.

“And in turn we expect EU leaders to engage us as key partners in the EU agenda for a just recovery,” he added.

“There is a new wind blowing in Europe,” mused Agnes Jongerius, MEP.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer