Warsaw is ready to invest in new green jobs and infrastructure, but the city’s plans risk being blocked by unclear proposals from the national government.
Right now, there is a discussion going on about how to spend the recovery monies that will be distributed to national governments by the EU. This money is supposed to go into helping us all get back on track after the long months in which the coronavirus pandemic has affected jobs, upended social contacts and made the already vulnerable even more so.
However, as Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of Warsaw explains, “the process of preparing the National Recovery Plan in Poland is not very transparent. The government completely ignores Polish cities in this process, commissioning activities only at the level of voivodeships (regions), including the preparation of project proposals.”
In fact, out of around 20 proposals made by the city in July last year, roughly half were included in the regional level applications, and, as the Mayor says, “so far we have no feedback on whether we can count on co-financing of Warsaw projects, despite the fact that these are very large, important projects that have an impact on the recovery of the economy after the Covid-19 crisis, such as the development of the metro network.”
Paweł Sajnog, Chief Specialist, European Funds and Development Policy Department, Warsaw city hall, puts it this way: “it’s like they put it in a cup and boiled it, and what came out were five general flavours of projects.”
It’s no wonder so many mayors and city partners are speaking out. Only last week, Trzaskowski lent his voice to a joint statement, alongside the mayors of Bratislava, Budapest and Prague to declare their readiness to partner up with European institutions for fair and sustainable post-pandemic recovery. This follows on from similar joint actions by the mayors of the capital cities of the Visegrad countries over the past year, in which they have repeatedly shared their more progressive intentions, and dissatisfaction with the direction of their respective national governments.
Long term recovery
Home to the wildest river in Europe, and in many ways a green metropolis, a visitor to Warsaw cannot escape the fact that the city was built for the car. Rising like a phoenix from its total destruction during WWII, Warsaw’s wide boulevards and central thoroughfares speak to a bygone era in urban planning – one that city’s all over Europe are trying to move away from. Nowadays, sustainable development means raising the profile of alternative modes of transport, and understanding the importance of many other quality of life metrics, such as air quality.
Being able to plan long term investment is crucial to any city, but especially to Warsaw, which really relies on the European funds. “Historically over 80% of our European funds for the city of Warsaw have come from the Cohesion Fund,” says Sajnog. “the national recovery funding would help us invest in projects to support environmental protection and sustainable transport, so we are doing what we can to get our projects included and implemented.”
In fact, the very purpose of these funds, as set out in the European Union’s own words is to “mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions”.
Poland is set to receive one of the largest sums of money from the national recovery packages, and as Mayor Trzaskowski, who was the runner up in last year’s presidential election in Poland, has pointed out, it would make sense that this money is channelled to the Polish capital region, which accounts for one fifth of the GDP of the country. Not doing so, as is the current case “is a myopic policy that only aggravates existing problems and deepens socio-political rows in Europe,” says the mayor.
And what would Warsaw like to do with the proposed funding? “We want to get our economy moving again after the pandemic and to build greater resilience,” says Sajnog. “Implementing properly prepared, green projects will be an impetus for the development of the city, country and EU.”
Regards the specific projects mentioned, Warsaw plans the construction of two new metro stops, a new metro section, and extensions of the existing tram routes. In addition, the city has outlined proposals to upgrade its fleet of public transport busses with low emission electric alternatives, and to introduce an integrated city card, so that public services’ users can access them more easily.
“Naturally we are already doing a lot more besides this,” adds Sajnog. “We are currently expanding park and ride schemes, constructing new bike paths, and increasing the number of public bikes available.”
Talk with cities
The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically affected cities all around the world, bringing new health, economic and social challenges. However, the urgent and necessary relief measures have also left many cities facing budget gaps, at a time when investment is needed to support people and jobs. As such, with recovery money available, cities within the Eurocities network of major European cities are banding together to tell national and European governments it’s time to “talk with cities”.
In a recent Eurocities survey, 70% of cities asked do not feel they have been adequately involved in the national consultation process.
The involvement of local authorities is particularly weak in Eastern European cities, where many like Warsaw are proposing projects to localise the Green Deal, but they are not finding a very receptive central government.
Despite this, the final regulation on the Recovery and Resilience Facility – the piece of legislation concerned – now mandates that local authorities should be actively engaged, and considered ‘important partners’ in the implementation of reforms and investments, and that EU member states will have to give a summary of how they consulted cities.
“Let’s hope that the government will hear the voices of the people of Warsaw,” says Sajnog “and for all the cities in other countries that need to be treated as a partner to improve the wellbeing of our inhabitants as we tackle the recovery from Covid-19 which could last many years.”
#TalkWithCities – Europe’s recovery will start in cities, and they’re ready to invest in new infrastructure, culture, research and sustainable mobility. The EU is prepared to distribute funds for this recovery to member states, but 70% of cities surveyed by Eurocities believe the national consultation process has been insufficient as it has failed to adequately involve cities. Find out why Europe’s leaders must talk with cities.