Social Forum 2023: a missed opportunity to hear the voice of cities

26 May 2023

At the Porto Summit 2021, city leaders affirmed their commitment to work together with EU and national leaders for a just recovery. The event was organised under Portugal’s Presidency of the EU to set the European social agenda for the next decade.

Additionally, the Porto Summit 2021’s goal was to connect the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan with the EU Green Deal and with suitable investments under post-Covid recovery plans at all political levels.

Two years later, on 26 and 27 May Porto is hosting the 2023 Social Forum with three main priorities – the European Year of Skills, how the European Pillar of Social Rights contributes to a stronger EU, and the social impact of the Covid pandemic and Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Cities have much to say on achieving social inclusion. “Eurocities is the network of European cities. Given the importance of cities in social inclusion, it is a missed opportunity not to be invited to this Social Forum as we were in 2021,” says André Sobczak, Secretary General of Eurocities. “We are keen to continue engaging with European institutions and national governments and we are looking forward to our city Social Summit that will take place in Lyon in November.”

Cities tackle social challenges

“During the first social summit back in 2021, our main concern was the socio-economic recovery from the Covid pandemic,” explains Silvia Ganzerla, Eurocities Policy Director. But since then, cities faced additional and dramatic social challenges.

“When cities came out from the Covid pandemic, they had to allocate many of their financial resources to boost recovery,” explains Ganzerla. “But now, local government’s resources are even more strained by efforts to bolster the integration of Ukrainian refugees, tackle the housing affordability crisis, energy poverty, rising prices and inflation.”

For Ganzerla, it is crucial for EU and national governments to understand that “cities require stronger financial support and a systemic multi-level governance approach to tackle all these challenges.”

In stepping up to mitigate the impact of ongoing multiple crises, cities are ready to take ambitious steps to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and actively engage in the European Year of Skills.

Cities deliver social policies

The rise in the number of people suffering homelessness is an additional concern for municipalities that are already engaged in preventing and eradicating homelessness. Eurocities is part of the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness, and boasts a mutual learning programme for municipalities to learn from each other and improve local policies.

“We want to ensure fighting homelessness remains a priority for the future at the local, national and European levels. Proof of this is also cities’ commitment to Principle 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights – Housing and assistance for people experiencing homelessness. Through the Eurocities political campaign, cities pledge to reaffirm their commitment to ending homelessness,” adds Ganzerla.

Indeed, cities are essential partners in delivering the European Pillar of Social Rights action plan. In 2021, Dario Nardella, the President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence,  stated that “13 of the 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights are within the competencies of cities.”

For Sobczak, “cities are social actors that can implement and improve policies. Local governments contribute to the European Pillar of Social Rights on the ground and through pledges. At the moment, more than 100 politicians have committed to the Pillar through Eurocities’ political campaign.”

Cities implement solutions to deal with social challenges

“We also observed a decline in working conditions and rising of working poor, which seems to be a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy,” adds Ganzerla. Inflation increased prices, but for the most part salaries haven’t been adjusted to this increase.

Cities are at the forefront of achieving the ambitions of the European Year of Skills. Through cities’ capacity to build cross-sectoral partnerships with local businesses and education agencies, local authorities can ensure access to re- and upskilling opportunities for vulnerable and marginalised people to enable everyone to participate fully in social and economic life.

For example, local governments address the digital divide by ensuring that digital infrastructure and basic digital skills training are accessible and adapted to the needs of vulnerable communities and individuals.

“We are very active in skilling, upskilling and training from young to senior employees. Europe is facing a labour shortage, especially in certain sectors, such as long-term care. Cities are also part of upskilling and reskilling. Many cities work with employment services or have job centres to connect with the economic ecosystem,” explains Ganzerla.

Municipalities are fully aware of the need to upskill for a just green transition, including making green re/upskilling opportunities available to vulnerable and marginalised groups, especially young people and women.

“We are ready to use the new opportunities under the European Green Deal to support the creation of new green jobs and ensure upskilling and reskilling by bringing together local businesses and training providers via local skills pacts,” stated Nardella in 2021.

Cities must be heard

For Ganzerla, “We see changes at the local level. We see results. There’s a lot of interest from cities to learn from each other.” Indeed, during the energy price peaks, many Eurocities members inquired about how fellow municipalities were tackling energy poverty.

Eurocities connects municipalities through learning experiences, facilitates the exchange of good practices and encourages local and cross-border cooperation. The network helps local authorities implement better policies for social inclusion through mutual learning programmes and by building local capacity.

In Europe, a majority of people live in cities, whose social and inclusion policies guarantee diversity and fairness. National and EU governments should invite local authorities to the discussion table to ensure that policy decisions can be implemented on the ground and meet local people’s needs.


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer