Nardella: Cities are allies in EU ambitions

27 April 2022

When it comes to dealing with challenges as diverse as climate change, and the impact of the war in Ukraine, the European and local agendas often intersect.

Right now, as millions of Ukrainians have been forced to leave their country, their point of arrival and welcome is most likely an urban centre. Across the EU, cities have organised solidarity actions since the outbreak of the war, and many have sent aid.

Cities are also at forefront of the fight against climate change; being both part of the problem, where many emissions are produced, and part of the solution where innovation and politics will come together.

Understanding how cities can both contribute to and lead EU ambitions, and what they need to do so, requires constant dialogue, which was the aim of several meetings held on Tuesday by Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, with European leaders.

Cities welcome refugees

Cities are at the forefront of receiving and integrating refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. They have built and adapted structures to provide housing, emergency social aid, healthcare, psychological assistance, and legal advice. This, however, comes at a time when local infrastructures are already under stress, because of the Covid19 pandemic and rising inequalities.

With this in mind, in a meeting with European Commissioner Ylva Johansson, Nardella advocated for additional EU and national funding that can be dispersed in an immediate, direct, and easy way. “We welcome and appreciate the added flexibility to EU home affairs and cohesion policy funding but needs on the local level exceed the support currently available,” he said.

With so many refugees transiting through European cities, the EU is providing information to people fleeing from Ukraine on how to travel safely, including via specific points set up at many major transport hubs in cities. However, vulnerable groups continue to fall into the hands of human traffickers, and Nardella suggested following up on how cities can better reinforce these messages, given that it is a shared concern that all people be treated with human dignity.

One current EU response to the war is its solidarity platform, which Nardella mentioned many cities would be keen to get involved in. Given the willingness of cities to host refugees, even before this current war, as demonstrated by the Solidarity Cities initiative, cities have a wealth of knowledge and experience on reception capacities and are also committed to exchanging information and know-how.

“We are ready to work in cooperation with the EU and national authorities to coordinate the reception of refugees from Ukraine,” added Nardella.

Another notable action was the quick response by EU member states to adopt the Temporary Protection Directive, making it easier for Ukrainians to work and access services over the coming months, and perhaps years. Nardella made the point that all refugees, regardless of their origins and identity, should be met with the same openness and receive the same right to protection.

Champion cities

Mayor Nardella is one of many European mayors who have been in regular contact with their Ukrainian counterparts since the outbreak of war, to understand their needs and how best to support them.

Having recently travelled to Ukraine herself, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola noted that the way cities have been able to respond so far has been amazing, with mayors using their existing connections, and jumping on calls to share information.

And she acknowledged that the war in Ukraine has shown how important the local level is as an ally. Thinking a little way ahead, the EU has agreed to set up a fund to support the reconstruction of Ukraine. The European Commission is developing a proposal based on the Recovery and Resilience Facility, and there is momentum to work in partnership between all levels of government to ensure the rapid rebuilding of the country post-war.

Cities ready to work

One impact of the war in Ukraine, as with any sudden crisis, could be to drive the European Green Deal down the political agenda. At the same time, the resultant energy crisis, heightens one element of the green deal, by bringing up debates on energy poverty and energy independence. The REPowerEU initiative will diversify energy imports, speed up the transition to renewable energy sources, and speed up the reduction of energy consumption, according to European Commission Executive Vice President, Frans Timmermans.

Indeed, as Mayor Nardella recounted, in Florence, energy costs for the city administration have been €15 million higher this year than previously, leading to the mayor’s decision to stop heating city buildings earlier this year.

Despite such challenges, there is a clear will at local level to drive climate actions and respond to people’s needs via initiatives such as the Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal, which gathers together 60 mayors committed to making the sustainable transition a reality.

As we wait to find out which cities have succeeded in the 100 Climate Neutral Cities Mission, Nardella shared a message with Executive Vice President Timmermans, Eurocities is ready to work with the European Commission to ensure that beyond the 100 selected cities, as many as possible get on the path towards climate neutrality.

These themes will be taken up at the Eurocities Annual Conference 2022, where the Executive Vice President will join mayors and local leaders to debate climate leadership, and where ambitious city policies to reach climate neutrality before 2050 will be showcased.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer