Cities are fast emerging as leaders of change, tackling global challenges and becoming a greener, more sustainable and liveable place for local people.
All over Europe, there are examples of cities that have taken great leaps towards meeting the targets of climate agreements set by international agendas such as the European Green Deal.
European cities have also demonstrated their central role when tackling global challenges such as the Russian war in Ukraine and the Covid pandemic, while taking measures to ensure Europe’s energy and food security.
These are among the key insights shared in the Eurocities Monitor, a flagship publication that provides a comprehensive analysis of the current state of Europe’s cities. Published annually, the Eurocities Monitor aims to shape the debate on the situation and needs of European cities.
“We plan to make the Eurocities Monitor an annual event for European and national decision-makers to discover the priorities and challenges of our cities,” says André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities.
Listening to the voice of cities
The Eurocities Monitor contains a collection of essays that provide insights into the challenges and solutions in European cities, while also showcasing the skills and diplomacy of their leaders. “It is clear that cities and the EU share many common goals and values,” notes Sobczak.
One of the key essays presented in the Monitor focuses on how Eurocities and its members continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. This is closely linked to Eurocities’ ongoing work in relation to refugees and migration, where it is providing opportunities for cities to share plans to integrate Ukrainian refugees.
In line with Eurocities’ priorities for 2023, many of the essays also look at ways that cities are working to become climate neutral, by aligning their efforts with the European Green Deal. This includes the development of sustainable mobility, from building cycling and pedestrian paths, to fostering electric mobility and boosting public transport services. And from biodiversity to water and waste management, cities are safeguarding the wellbeing of local people by protecting and enhancing their natural ecosystems.
The essay on food explains how cities are taking the lead in an area that many might not consider to be the natural remit of a city administration.
The Monitor also contains an essay on good governance, which is necessary for the efficient delivery of public services and ensuring local people can play a part in the development of their cities. This includes the use of digital technologies, which are already transforming cities and having a direct impact on people’s lives.
The top priority for Mayors in 2023 is #ClimateAction.
This #EurocitiesMonitor essay shares further insight on what cities are doing both locally and with other cities and levels of government → https://t.co/yv12qD5UcM #EurocitiesPulse pic.twitter.com/9cA8P8LNJv
— Eurocities (@EUROCITIES) July 12, 2023
As international hubs of culture, Eurocities member cities must balance economic, social, cultural, and environmental needs to ensure the sustainability of tourism and cultural heritage.
Given the current rising costs of living and high energy prices, energy poverty is also an increasing concern. Understanding how this impacts people’s quality of life and what cities are doing about it is explored in more detail in the essay on social inequalities.
Economic recovery also remains a top priority for mayors, who are focusing on long-term investment and innovation to ensure that cities have the economic and human resources to deliver on ambitious local and European initiatives.
Taking the Pulse of European mayors
The centre piece of the Eurocities Monitor is the first annual Eurocities Pulse Survey which collected the responses of 92 mayors from 28 Eurocities countries. Launched one year ahead of the European elections, the Eurocities Pulse Survey provides an analysis of the major trends, challenges and priorities that shape urban affairs in 2023.
Climate action emerged as the standout top priority for mayors in the Pulse survey. More than half (55%) of respondents selected it among their top three responses.
European cities are playing a decisive role in achieving the European Green Deal’s objectives, and the survey results reinforce their commitment to becoming climate neutral. “Cities are beginning to see themselves as leaders of change that can tackle global challenges and build greener, more sustainable and liveable cities for people,” says Sobczak.
🆕 The #EurocitiesPulse 2023!
Our survey took the pulse of over 90 European mayors.
— Eurocities (@EUROCITIES) July 11, 2023
The Eurocities Pulse Survey also found that local challenges are top of the urban agenda for the months ahead, with mayors focusing on plans to improve transport and housing, and tackle emerging new challenges, such as energy poverty.
“I am convinced that the results of our Pulse will give us more strength than ever in our discussions with the European institutions,” adds Sobczak, “which is crucial one year ahead of the elections of the next European Parliament and the appointment of the new European Commission.”
Navigating the energy transition
One of the key areas of work explored in the Eurocities Monitor is the ways cities are working to become climate neutral. City authorities are at the forefront of efforts to support national and EU climate targets. They are actively engaged in reducing energy consumption, expanding renewable energy projects and democratising the supply of clean energy. Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022 only exacerbated the urgency of addressing the energy transition.
Rising energy prices in the past year have spurred mayors to speed up the journey and prioritise the local production of clean energy, while taking steps to protect the most vulnerable from energy poverty, and to save energy to reduce costs.
“There is no doubt that the energy transition we see at Union level could not have been achieved without the commitment of cities and the contribution of citizens at local level,” acknowledges Kadri Simson, EU Commissioner for Energy, in her guest essay for the Eurocities Monitor.
Despite these efforts, mayors still face significant challenges in addressing the energy crisis, with it being the selected as the most pressing issue for 2022, and one of the top three priorities for 2023, according to the Pulse.
Access to finance remains a major concern for mayors, as securing the necessary funding for energy transition initiatives can be difficult. Another key challenge is the need to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, which requires investment and planning. Furthermore, many cities lack the local administrative capacity to effectively implement and manage energy transition measures.
Joining forces for Ukraine’s reconstruction
The key response of cities to the impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine is given strong focus in the Eurocities Monitor. In a special essay, Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, stresses that the EU is continuing its “firm, strong and principled support to Ukraine.”
City-to-city cooperation has become critical for Ukraine’s reconstruction following Russia’s illegal invasion in February 2022. Established twinnings, networks like Eurocities, and relationships between mayors have become platforms for cities to demonstrate their diplomatic capabilities.
Millions of Ukrainian refugees have found refuge in European cities, both Western and Eastern Europe have engaged in solidarity actions, holding numerous calls and meetings to understand the most effective ways to assist Ukraine.
They have done so in a variety of ways. For instance, the #CitiesWithUkraine initiative involved over 150 European cities demonstrating solidarity, while an international delegation of Eurocities mayors visited Kyiv to sign a Memorandum of Understanding for sustainable rebuilding. The “Generators of Hope” campaign, launched by the European Parliament and Eurocities, delivered power generators and aid to address energy shortages.
“History always teaches us something – and the construction of the European Union has been built on common responses”, writes Metsola in her essay.
Future efforts will focus on sustainable rebuilding, expanding partnerships, and ensuring coordination among cities.