Poor people don’t go to the corona vaccination centre? She sends them a vaccination bus. Citizens don’t know what the EU is doing? She takes them on a tour and shows them Europe at their doorstep. Cologne’s Lord Mayor Henriette Reker has an answer to everything – also in this interview in advance of Europe Day on 9 May.
Cologne has started corona vaccinations in social hotspots this week: a vaccination bus has been on the road in the Chorweiler district since Monday. What is the reasoning behind this?
The infection figures in this district are three times higher than in the rest of Cologne. Many poor people live there, many with a migrant background. Special efforts are needed to reach them: educational work, support in their mother tongue – and a vaccination offer that comes to the people. I am very happy that we can make this possible now.
Cologne is an international city overall. What does that mean for politics?
We are proud that Cologne attracts people from all over the world. This brings great wealth to our city. Politicians and the administration put Cologne’s claim to be a cosmopolitan city into practice through active international networking, for example with our 22 international city partnerships – more than any other German city. And, of course, with our membership in Eurocities.
The young pan-European party Volt has been part of the city council for a few months. Is Cologne now becoming even more European?
The government programme is very clear: we want to actively shape European politics. We want to exchange ideas with other cities and learn from each other, especially in the areas of municipal services, climate protection, urban development, mobility and citizen participation. We intend to appoint special EU officers in the different city departments, so that Cologne can participate even better in European projects. Cologne’s ‘Volkshochschule’, the Adult Education Institute, offers many seminars on EU issues and carries out a broad range of activities. Moreover, we want to set up an ‘International Welcome Desk’ to make it easier for EU citizens and their families to settle in Cologne.
The city’s climate goals are also oriented towards the European Green Deal – and go even further: Cologne is to become climate-neutral by 2035. How do you intend to achieve this?
Cologne must get ‘fit for grandchildren’: we have to ensure a liveable future for the coming generations now. The clock is ticking. The city council declared a climate emergency in 2019 and set up a climate council with experts from science, business, civil society and administration to make proposals for sustainable solutions, from energy and buildings, to mobility and industry, to consumption and food.
What is Cologne planning concretely?
Our solar offensive will start this year: we want to install photovoltaic solar panels on all municipal buildings where this is possible and support private households in doing so. We are providing more space for cyclists and pedestrians and expanding the light rail system. We are installing more charging points for electric cars; from 2030, only zero-emission cars are to be allowed in Cologne. At the same time, we are adapting to climate change.
We anticipate an increase in weather extremes with heavy rain and significantly longer periods of heat of over 30 degrees, especially in densely built-up parts of the city. Therefore we want to improve the city climate through more green: plant trees, provide more shade and fresh air corridors, as well as less sealed surfaces so that rainwater can run off better. This also directly improves the quality of life in the city.
A local newspaper recently described your climate goals as “practically unrealisable” and appealed to you to “focus on what is feasible”.
We do both: we take concrete steps while keeping the big goal in mind. Here it is important to look ahead, because we will surely find socially and technologically better conditions in the future. We are also aware that we will have to be even more courageous in our future decisions in order to achieve our goals. Therefore we also participated in the EU project ‘Grow Smarter’ as part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme. Cologne, together with Barcelona and Stockholm, was Germany’s first lighthouse city for the development of concrete solutions for more sustainable mobility and a more efficient energy supply. We implemented and tested this in Stegerwaldsiedlung in Mülheim and shared the experiences with other European cities.
Video produced by RheinEnergie
You then presented this and other EU-funded projects on a bus tour called “Europe in Cologne”…
… to show how much we benefit from the EU in our everyday lives. By the way, this also applies to Chorweiler, where the vaccination bus is currently in use: the district is one of the areas supported by the EU-funded programme ‘Starke Veedel – Starkes Köln’ (‘Strong Neighbourhoods – Strong Cologne’) to create better living conditions for residents.
You see: Everywhere you look – Europe! Cologne is an active part of the European Union. This also improves our life in the city. Not only on Europe Day. But every day.