Reinventing Cities – Eurocities 2020

5 November 2020

A new reality is taking shape in cities, both in Europe and globally. At the conference Eurocities 2020, held fully online on 4 and 5 November, city leaders and experts were exploring the pathways for recovery and resilience after the COVID-19 pandemic and discussed the future of cities.

Please find some impressions below.

Live ticker from Eurocities 2020

Session 3, Thursday, 5 November, 10:00-11:30: Green and just recovery in cities

Read a full summary of the session here

“If treated as partners in Europe, cities can be the place where green and just recovery happens,” Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general of Eurocities, concluded the discussion. Cities can bring innovation in terms of governance, public services and financing, she said. “And they are ambitious – as the examples today again have shown.”

Energy, transport and renovation of buildings are priority areas for climate action in cities, as examples shared by Päivi Laajala, mayor of Oulu, and Jeanne Barseghian, mayor of Strasbourg, show. Together with their colleagues, Katrin Habenschaden, deputy mayor of Munich, and Helène Dromain, vice president Grand Lyon, they stressed the importance to keep the balance of environmental, economic and social aspects, for a green and fair transition.

Cities are getting more and more responsibilities, Belit Onay, mayor of Hanover, pointed out – but they are “underfinanced” and need more resources to tackle the challenges. And Mihhail Kölvart, mayor of Tallinn, asks for a new design of EU funding: instead of the traditional fragmented approach, funding should be integrated and long-term oriented, to support the ambitious transformation agendas of cities.

There is a business case for climate action, Robert Westerdahl, partner at the sustainability consultancy Material Economics, said: savings in energy costs and health benefits outweigh the investment needs.

Vantaa is the fastest growing city in Finland, mayor Ritva Viljanen proudly said. And at the same time, Vantaa aims to be climate neutral by 2030 – growth and a green transition can go hand in hand.

Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow, shared how the city is investing in renovating and retrofitting buildings. “This improves energy efficiency, reduces energy poverty and creates high quality jobs.”

The new EU budget – the largest ever – provides a “unique opportunity to reach the Green Deal”, said Margarida Marques, member of the European Parliament and co-rapporteur for the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027. The money must be channelled in the right direction, she added, and cities and local authorities will be needed to make it happen.

Investments in green and sustainable solutions create more jobs and higher returns than fossil based investments, Anna König Jerlmyr, mayor of Stockholm and Eurocities president, said in her keynote, referring to recent research, for example at the University of Oxford. “Now it is up to us as city leaders to turn the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement into reality.”

“2020 will, no doubt, go down in history as the year of lockdowns and restrictions,” moderator Jean-Paul Judson said when opening the final thematic session of Eurocities 2020 on Thursday morning. “2030 and 2050 will have to go down as the years when the European Union reached climate neutrality.” How to get there, and how to finance a green transition in cities – this will be discussed in this session.


Session 2, Wednesday, 4 November, 15:15-16:45: A Stronger Future – Resilient Cities

Read a full summary of the session here

“We have seen a Commission vice president in listening mode”, Dorthe Nielsen, executive director of Eurocities, concluded the session – many opportunities to continue to exchange ideas and to collaborate between cities and the EU.

City leaders from Athens, Brussels, Ghent, Helsinki, Leipzig, London, Mannheim, Paris and Turku are sharing their experiences of how to tackle crises and become more resilient. Paris, for example, works to become a ‘15-minute city’.

Economic figures are not enough to measure the quality of life in cities – Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the European Commission, promotes a ‘well-being index’. In his area of responsibility, the Commission published its first Strategic Foresight Report in September. It analyses resilience along four interrelated dimensions – social and economic, geopolitical, green and digital – and aims to inform EU policy making.

Session 1, Wednesday, 4 November, 10:00-11:30: Future cities – do cities have a future? 

Read a full summary of the session here

To summarise the first session of Eurocities 2020, Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general of Eurocities, spelled out the theme of the discussion, FUTURE: “F” is for “flexible”, continuing to be resilient and adapting as a network. “U” stands for the “unique” opportunity to rethink strategies and to empower cities. “T” is for “transversal”, since everything is connected. “U” is “united”, because “together we are stronger.” “R” for “recovery”, the focus for Eurocities in the time ahead. “E”: “European citizens” – “they are at the centre of all we do.” And Anna Lisa added a “S”, making the plural: “futures” – “S” for “solidarity”, the core of our network.

“We need a new European dream”, Emil Boc, mayor of Cluj-Napoca, said. “In this time of crisis, we need more Europe, not less.” To support recovery, he asked for “the integration of European funds, active subsidiarity and multi-level governance”.

“Solidarity and hope” – Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, mayor of Gdansk, highlighted these core values. “They will help us to survive and be stronger after this crisis”

“Solutions have to be made on local level”, argued Klára Dobrev, vice president of the European Parliament. Addressing city leaders and experts at the Eurocities 2020 conference, she said: “You know what your small and medium enterprises need, you know the situation in your hospitals and in the social sector of your cities.” She called for “much more power for cities and local authorities”: “We have to change the institutional setup of the European Union.”

Johanna Rolland, mayor of Nantes, spoke about the need, in this time of crisis, to support local economy and local producers, retailers, local commerce, and in the medium term, the vitality of city centres and employment. For that, she asked for an ambitious and credible regulatory framework for the major digital platforms at European level, in order to protect local economy from excesses of e-commerce. “This is why I propose that, as members of Eurocities, we can collectively represent the voice of our cities, at the European level, on the subject of regulation and taxation of digital commerce and the promotion of local citizen purchasing, towards the European Commission.”

“The coronavirus crisis and Brexit have created an unprecedented situation for both the UK and the EU”, said Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol. “All of our great European cities have been impacted by COVID-19, but by working together, cities will play a crucial and leading role in how we secure our future, to renew our economies and communities, creating greener, more inclusive growth for the future.” On behalf of also Birmingham and Leeds, he shared a statement of UK Core Cities:

“As we approach the end of the Brexit transition period, city to city collaboration at a European level and cooperation within the Eurocities network has never been more important. UK Core Cities wish to remain your trusted partners, sharing important European values including those of solidarity, inclusivity, peace and cooperation.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with our European partners in our commitment to work together to ensure that all our cities remain open, tolerant, welcoming and vibrant places to live, work and visit.”

COVID-19 as an “agent of change” for cities: this is how urbanist Greg Clark, global advisor on future cities, presented the situation in his keynote. Greg has also shared some of his ideas in this interview.

“Cities have been pragmatic, visionary and caring in the corona crisis”, Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general of Eurocities, said. “These are the most important skills for good leaders.”

Anna König Jerlmyr, mayor of Stockholm and president of Eurocities, opened the conference with some words of empathy and solidarity for the people in Nice and Vienna, after the terrorist attacks the two cities have just experienced.

“Instead of being together in one beautiful city, we are together in many beautiful cities across Europe.” With these words, moderator Jean-Paul Judson welcomed participants and viewers to the Eurocities annual conference 2020, for the first time fully digital. About 400 colleagues from Eurocities’ member cities are participating, plus more than 200 external visitors.


Nicola Vatthauer Director for Events, Planning & Statutory Affairs