The EU increasingly recognises the vital role of cities in tackling major global issues and building a just, green and prosperous urban future. A growing number of urban-focused initiatives, driven by the European Commission, have led to significant opportunities for cities to have their say on EU policies.
However, despite these positive steps, the many ways that cities can now engage with the EU has led to a lack of clarity about the role and relevance of the different initiatives, as well as fragmentation and competition between them.
Ahead of next year’s European elections, Eurocities has stated in a new policy paper – how the EU can work better with cities – that it is necessary and timely to review and improve the current initiatives for collaboration between the EU and cities.
Improving these initiatives will ensure that cities, in partnership with regions and national governments, can play a key role in developing policies to achieve the EU’s long-term goals for a climate neutral Europe by 2050 that leaves no one and no territory behind.
Building on positive initiatives
As presented in the recently published Eurocities Pulse Survey, the top priorities for city leaders in 2023 include climate action, the clean energy transition, economic recovery, urban mobility, migration, housing and tackling inequalities. European cities have also demonstrated their central role when tackling challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the repercussions of the Russian war in Ukraine.
With estimates saying that 80% of the EU’s population will live in cities and urban areas by 2050, it is clear that major global challenges are increasingly becoming urbanised.
The Eurocities policy paper provides examples of how the European Commission is working effectively with city leaders and experts to overcome these challenges, and how EU programmes are delivering essential support for local administrations.
Well-known initiatives, such as the Covenant of Mayors, have been complemented by new initiatives, including the EU Mission for 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030 and the EU strategy on adaptation to climate change, as well as the Living-in-EU movement.
In addition, the report outlines actions that are proving effective but can be developed further, including high level political discussions between the EU and city leaders, collaboration across all levels of government, and EU tools which support capacity building at local level, such as the Cohesion Policy and the EU programme for employment and social innovation.
Avoiding the pitfalls
The policy paper also makes it clear that there are pitfalls to avoid going forward. This includes competition between EU initiatives, which is leading to tension between more mature and more recent initiatives.
Cumbersome reporting requests are also proving challenging for cities. Reporting to a growing number of European Commission initiatives, with separate reporting mechanisms, is resource intensive for local administrations.
Also, there is an issue with EU policies that overlook spatial perspectives. Many EU policies, such as those related to sustainable urban mobility and the energy transition, do not consider the way land is used in cities.
Long-term vision for cities
Looking ahead, the Eurocities policy paper says a reinforced collaboration between the EU and cities must be based on:
- A long-term vision for cities in the EU based on the New Leipzig Charter and owned by the college of Commissioners.
- A seat at the table, including an annual summit of EU mayors, the college of Commissioners and national ministers dealing with urban challenges.
- A transparent EU governance framework on urban matters, which should drive a fully coordinated approach in the European Commission to EU initiatives engaging cities.
- Investment in capacity building and a simplified EU toolbox for engaging cities, recognising that agile, resilient, and competent local authorities are essential to the transformation that Europe needs.
- Matching responsibilities with financial support, such as better aligning the funding and finance mechanism available to cities with the increased recognition of cities in terms of delivering EU long term goals.
Read Eurocities policy paper on ‘How the EU can work better with cities’, published in June 2023.