The last week has seen the European institutions reiterate again and again the demand that member states respect one central principle in their National Recovery Plans: the mandate to talk with cities. The Resilience and Recovery Facility Regulation makes it very clear that local authorities must be consulted in the formulation of the national recovery. And yet 70% of cities Eurocities surveyed had not been adequately engaged. Mayors have pointed to a lack of transparency which is likely to jeopardise the efficacy of the plans. Rafał Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw, has accused the Polish government of, “completely [ignoring] Polish cities in this process,” leaving cities in the dark about whether they will be able to finance local projects that are essential for an efficient post-Covid recovery.
Commission says no to ‘territorial blindness’
It’s not just cities that have noticed this omission: representatives of both the European Commission and the European Parliament have spoken out in recent days to call attention to the lack of representation for cities and to warn that, as cities have been on the front line throughout the pandemic, plans in which they are not included will not be fit for purpose. Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (image), responsible for the regional policy of the EU, has insisted on the “crucial role” of local authorities in national plans, saying “the Recovery and Resilience Facility cannot be territorially blind!” In her speech to the Committee of the Regions, the commissioner insisted that “these plans will only be successful with strong regional and local ownership at every stage of the process.”
The same sentiment was put forth this week by Valdis Dombrovskis, executive vice-president for the European Commission for an economy that works for people, who pointed to the need to work closely with the local level at all stages, not only of preparation, but also of implementation of the National Recovery Plans.
Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission for the European Green Deal, has called for “local authorities to have a stronger voice when formulating these National Recovery Plans.” “[Mayors] have amazing plans to green their cities, to offer more social protection, because they see if they don’t do that, they’re sitting on a bomb, a social time bomb,” Timmermans said, highlighting the insight and focus that local authorities can and must provide for member states’ plans.
MEPs want cities in the mix
Not only the Commission, but also the European Parliament has seen a vocal defence of the need for more local representation. At this week’s parliamentary plenary, MEP Frances Fitzgerald of the European People’s Party (EPP) emphasised the strong need to invest in cities to improve liveability; MEP Benoit Lutgen, also of the EPP said called for more discussion with local authorities to better formulate National Recovery Plans. Meanwhile, MEP Sven Giegold of the European Greens emphasised specifically the need for local authorities to have access to the recovery funds, a sentiment that was also carried forward by MEP Klara Dobrev of the Socialists and Democrats, vice-president of the European Parliament.
Other MEPs are responding to cities’ demands and Eurocities’ call to #TalkWithCities, following the great example of Corina Crețu, MEP for the Socialists and Democrats, who has become an ambassador for cities in Romania, promoting a strong role for them in the recovery.
Perhaps none could be more vehement than MEP Dragos Pîslaru of Renew Europe, who acted as rapporteur on the regulation, and has often restated his conviction: “The European Parliament made sure that the member states will run consultations with relevant stakeholders of the civil society, as well as local and regional authorities, when drafting and implementing the recovery and resilience plans.”
Portuguese EU Presidency behind cities
The need to involve cities is also receiving emphasis at the level of the Council of the EU, with Ana Paula Zacarias, the Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs during Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, while urging member states to present their plans with greater speed, insisted that this should not be managed at the expense of engaging local authorities.
Clearly, the key role of cities in understanding and meeting the needs of local populations throughout Europe is well understood at European level. The importance of bringing cities to the table and speaking with them in the formulation of National Recovery Plans has been strongly emphasised by the Commission, the Parliament and the Council. All that remains is for member states to respect the regulation that sets forth the terms of the recovery fund and to see clearly what seems to be obvious to every other level of government: it is at the local level that the battle against the effects of the pandemic has taken place, and it is only through treating cities as partners both in the preparation and implementation that this battle can eventually be won.