As momentum builds towards next year’s European elections, the mayors of Europe’s cities have sent a clear message that climate action is their top priority for the coming years.
More than half (55%) of European mayors say that tackling the impacts of climate change is their biggest objective, including working together on climate neutrality, implementing the European Green Deal and investing in sustainable transport.
Local challenges are also top of their agenda for the months ahead, with mayors focusing on plans to improve transport and housing, and tackle emerging new challenges, such as energy poverty.
These are the key findings of the first annual Eurocities Pulse Mayors Survey, published today. In total, 92 mayors from 28 Eurocities countries responded to the survey, which provides an analysis of the major trends, challenges and priorities that shape urban affairs in 2023.
Focus on urban priorities
The survey is a key element of the Eurocities Monitor, a flagship publication from Eurocities offering a comprehensive analysis of the current state of European cities year on year. Published annually, the Eurocities Monitor aims to shape the debate about the situation and needs of European cities.
“I am delighted to launch Eurocitie’s first Pulse Survey, which we plan to become 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.
“In this first edition of the survey, the mayors of our cities have made it clear that being climate neutral is at the top of their priorities for the coming years. This has been a consistent development in city ambitions in recent years, with many initiatives created that inspire new and effective ways to reduce emissions. It also contrasts with a worrying trend we currently see among national and European politicians who seem to doubt whether we need stricter environmental legislations.”
the mayors of our cities have made it clear that being climate neutral is at the top of their priorities for the coming years
“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. 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.”
Europe’s support is crucial
With next year’s European elections just round the corner, the Eurocities Pulse Survey has sought to ‘take the pulse’ of European mayors at a crucial moment and kickstart the discussion on what is needed to localise Europe.
In response, mayors say that support can be improved by ensuring that cities are involved in the design of EU policies and by giving cities direct access to EU funding.
“In most cases, mayors are very aligned with European priorities,” says Sobczak. “In recent years, 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.
“However, the fact that more than half of mayors based in the EU see EU rules as a burden to implementing their local priorities, and feel that the EU institutions do not listen to them, should sound as a wakeup call. The upcoming EU campaign should take this into account, focusing on local priorities that can reduce inequalities, strengthen public services and make a difference to peoples’ lives.”
more than half of mayors based in the EU see EU rules as a burden to implementing their local priorities, and feel that the EU institutions do not listen to them
Despite short-term issues, such as the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine, mayors stress in the Eurocities Pulse Survey that they remain committed to longer-term priorities, focused on improving public services, tackling inequalities, and building more sustainable cities for their people.
However, mayors are clear that the current resources being provided by the EU are not enough. While EU funding is helping mayors to somewhat cover the huge financial gaps in areas such as climate and energy, mayors do not feel they receive comparable support for their other priorities.
“Alongside climate change and the energy transition, the biggest financial gaps for cities over the next five years are in areas linked to equality and social inclusion,” says Sobczak. “Even though city and EU priorities seem often to be very much aligned, these are areas where European funding is falling short, and are held back by national governments. If we do not change this, we risk seeing a huge backlash in cities.”
Europe is only as strong as its cities
One city that has been planning for a green, post-Covid future is Florence. The city has been taking steps to manage the energy and cost of living crises by introducing measures to help those in energy poverty and ensure that no one is left behind in the green and digital transformation.
Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, says: “Cities are key players in Europe and their influence continues to grow in the face of global events. Cities were hit especially hard by the Covid pandemic, so recovery efforts must focus on cities to speed up the green, digital and inclusive transitions.
“The launch of the 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities Mission by the European Commission demonstrates a new attention at European level to the role of cities in achieving this, and a new partnership between cities and the EU. Going forward, Europe’s strength will depend on the strength of its cities.”
Going forward, Europe’s strength will depend on the strength of its cities.
This is a position supported by Mayor of Leipzig, Burkhard Jung. “We must take the threat of climate change seriously and invest in a green future,” says Jung. “Cities are already leading efforts in the much-needed energy transition, through democratising energy production and its use. And this forward-looking approach must also extend to our labour market.”
Jung adds: “Looking ahead, the European elections next year will mark another pivotal moment. Now is the time to raise our collective voice to make sure that the people across our cities are heard and can be put at the heart of EU decision making.”
Prioritising the climate neutral agenda
According to the Eurocities Pulse Survey, nearly 55% of mayors selected climate action as one of their top three priorities, as it is transformational for cities and supports other major priorities such as sustainable mobility and energy transition. Mayors also highlight the importance of working together on climate action to achieve stronger results. They stress their strong support for EU legislation to promote the European Green Deal and initiatives like the Mission for 100 climate neutral and smart cities.
Selected by 23% of mayors, sustainable mobility is their second biggest priority. Resources from recovery plans and cohesion funds, though still insufficient, are driving significant investments here where Covid and rising energy costs have created budgetary challenges. Key investments from city mayors include expanding metro and tram lines, green bus fleets, and pedestrian and bike infrastructure.
Third in their list of priorities, selected by 20% of mayors, is managing the economic recovery and implementing the complex projects that will stimulate growth. Mayors highlight that their administrations will be under huge pressure to deliver on this priority, stressing that more EU support is required to deliver on their ambitious plans and contribute to national and EU targets.
We must take the threat of climate change seriously and invest in a green future
Building a better quality of life for everyone
Ensuring a better quality of life for all citizens by reducing inequalities and strengthening public services is an overarching theme expressed by mayors throughout the Eurocities Pulse Survey. This involves many different priorities, including tackling inequalities, and improving housing and public safety.
Mayors highlight their concerns about growing social divides in their cities, and the challenging impacts of the Covid-19 lockdowns and the cost-of-living crisis. With poverty on the rise, mayors are eager to support those most in need, including services to tackle the significant issue of energy poverty.
Housing is also outlined as a priority, with particular focus on affordable and social housing as well as safeguarding minimum standards of living. And with growing scepticism towards politicians and politics, mayors are trying to find ways to reinforce democracy and bring citizens to the core of city decision-making.
Mayors and the EU: a complicated relationship
According to the Eurocities Pulse Survey, despite over 80% of European mayors believing they contribute to EU priorities, half feel overlooked by EU institutions, especially in managing post-Covid-19 recovery funds.
They perceive a disconnect between city needs and EU actions, citing fragmented EU initiatives and a lack of direct contact with the European Commission.
Over 50% of mayors from cities within the EU find EU rules restrictive, hindering local objectives.
Examples provided include EU rules for social housing often being too strict for a city to invest effectively, and the EU rules on state aid not allowing them to support their municipal companies.
Mayors financial needs: a gap in EU funding
In the Eurocities Pulse Survey, European mayors highlight a significant funding gap for the next five years, particularly in climate action and energy transition, with only 6.45% anticipating sufficient resources. There is also a large shortfall in critical areas like migration, urban poverty, and housing.
While EU funding goes some way to bridge this gap, mayors seek more EU support for inclusivity priorities, alongside rule changes to enable local investments. Building on this overwhelming evidence, Eurocities has put out concrete recommendations on how the EU can better work with cities and support them implementing their priorities.
The challenges for Mayors in 2022
Along with the priorities for the coming years for mayors, the Eurocities Pulse Survey also looked at the main challenges they faced in 2022. The energy crisis was the top challenge for 28.3% of mayors (one in three), linked to related issues like climate change and energy poverty.
Despite scant national support for rising municipal energy costs, 65% of mayors remain hopeful about reaching national energy reduction targets. Access to finance, energy efficient buildings and lack of administrative capacity are the main hurdles here.
The climate crisis is the top issue for 26.1% of mayors, who point to disruption from extreme weather events. Mayors also face challenges in implementing ambitious climate neutrality plans, including engaging local people.
For 22.8% of mayors, economic recovery was the top challenge. Issues include stimulating growth after pandemic-induced economic downturns, implementing strategic measures to avoid stagnation and build back better, and absorbing high inflation in the public budget.
Mayors’ global engagement and city diplomacy
The Eurocities Pulse Survey also shows that European mayors are boosting their global involvement, as most evident in their 2022 actions towards Ukraine. The Generators of Hope campaign launched by Eurocities and the European Parliament saw cities provide vital aid to Ukraine, including 500 power generators.
The Eurocities initiative, Sustainable Rebuilding of Ukrainian Cities, is fostering close partnerships between 36 member cities and 10 Ukrainian urban areas and shows the strong commitments to solidarity between cities. Already at the end of last year 64% of a larger sample of cities had Ukrainian partnerships, with 19% actively seeking them.
Looking to the future, mayors’ top ambition (52.69%) in the area of city diplomacy closely matches their top priority of climate action: working with other cities to promote the transition to climate neutrality.
The first annual Eurocities Pulse Mayors Survey is available to download on the Eurocities Monitor website.
The Eurocities Pulse survey is a key element of the Eurocities Monitor, a publication which presents all the most interesting data and insights gathered throughout the year by Eurocities’ Brussels-based staff, and via input from Eurocities network of more than 6,000 city officials from all over Europe.
Special sections of the Monitor also delve into mayors’ responses to the Russian war in Ukraine and their actions on the energy crisis, including on energy poverty. Guest essays from Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament and Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, help to set the scene for each section respectively.