Europe’s future starts local

10 May 2021

“The path to recovery starts in your streets, in your institutions, in your town halls,” intoned Nicolas Schmit, European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, at last week’s Cities Social Summit.

In light of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which officially kicked-off this weekend, it’s a message worth keeping in mind: Europe’s recovery must be local.

Despite this, the recovery efforts have been largely a national affair. “We were somehow listened to but not taken into account”, said Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga, at the same event.

This stands in opposition to debates around the green and social agendas at EU level, in which the involvement of cities is recognised and considered essential to bring forward the objectives of the European Green Deal, to make the digital transition effective and to ensure no one is left behind.

According to Rio, the discussions over the national recovery plans were indicative of a blind spot in the relationship between the EU and its cities: cities are acknowledged to be critical actors but are left out from accessing the resources that matter.

The Conference on the Future of Europe, with its focus on people, could be an opportunity to rethink the relationship between Europe and local authorities and to re-assess how the local level is involved not only in the context of Next Generation EU and National Recovery Plans but in a broader understanding of democracy in Europe.

Specifically, what is very clear is that, in the ongoing crisis, cities have been hit hard. While most of the investments and innovative solutions to build a sustainable and resilient recovery are expected to start from local economies, the involvement of cities in the EU governance of the recovery is particularly weak.

It’s a message that Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, backed up: “The recovery requires an unprecedented level of social investment in local services and social infrastructure that cannot be done by cities alone. Let’s use the EU and national recovery plans to invest in people as well as investing in social and affordable housing, childcare, education and training infrastructure.”

Nardella also spoke of the need to put people first in Europe’s recovery. The Conference on the Future of Europe could be that opportunity to strengthen democracy in Europe if we can find a way to rewire EU governance in a way that makes more sense for people going forward.

Cities already have strong experience of engaging citizens to co-create public policies, and this is a source for a lot of innovative models. The online platform used to engage people in the Conference on the Future of Europe, Decidim, is based on software originally developed for the Barcelona city government, and since used by many other cities in their ongoing work on participatory democracy.

Bordeaux City and Bordeaux Metropolis, for example, are planning a Future of Europe Week from the 11-13 October 2021, where each day will be thematically focused on major European issues: European citizenship and education, ecology and economy. By working particularly with young people, the city hopes to share proposals coming from many people as a contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe

Many more city examples can be found here.

Working with cities on a fair recovery means ensuring that the investments will better reflect the needs of people and place, strengthening Europe, and European democracy.

Interested in participating in this debate? Join our event with Friends of Europe on 25 May.

More from Eurocities: have your say on the future of Europe.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer