Urban policy for the common good

2 December 2020

Defining principles for modern urban development in Europe: that’s the ambition of the Leipzig Charter, which has been adopted in a new version at an informal meeting of ministers from the EU member states this Monday. The document is an update of the Leipzig Charter from 2007 and was developed jointly in a two-year participatory process at national and European levels.

The adoption was part of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  We asked Anne Katrin Bohle, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community in Germany, about the New Leipzig Charter.


Why did Germany decide to revise the 2007 Leipzig Charter?

The decision to revise the 2007 Leipzig Charter was taken in the early stages of planning for our current Presidency of the Council of the EU. By taking this decision, we followed the requests of our European partners and our own convictions. Back in 2007, Germany’s Council Presidency already afforded an opportunity for us to send out a signal at the European level in the field of urban development policy, highlighting the value of cooperative, integrated and participatory urban development.

In Germany, like in most European countries, urban development policy is – for good reason – a responsibility of local governments. At the European level, responsibility for urban development policy lies not with the Commission, but with the member states. For this reason, the New Leipzig Charter could be developed only in close coordination and intensive negotiations with the Euro­pean partner countries – and the Council Presidency is the perfect framework for doing that.


“We wanted to adapt the European urban development strategy to current challenges“


The reasons which called for a revision of the Leipzig Charter are clear. Over the past 13 years, urban development practice has changed at an incredible speed – many global challenges, but also opportunities, have arisen during this time. From year to year, even at the local level, people across Europe increasingly feel the impacts of digital transformation, climate change, migration, increasing social tensions and economic globalisation.

This is why we wanted to adapt the European urban development strategy to current challenges, setting some new priorities.


What are the objectives of the New Leipzig Charter and how are they to be implemented?

The objectives of the 2007 Leipzig Charter are still valid: the integrated approach, multi-level gov­ernance, a place-based focus and citizen participation. Among other things, we have included a principle which has by now become the hallmark of the New Leipzig Charter: urban policy for the common good.

The second objective is to strengthen cities’ ability to act. This objective encompasses a broad range of aspects, from legal and financial framework conditions and options for managing munici­pal infrastructures, through active and strategic land use policy to qualified staff.  These are very ambitious objectives and to achieve them, we depend on the cooperation of all government levels in the member states and cooperation with citizens and stakeholders at the local level, as well as the involvement of local authority associations and academia. The implementation of the New Leipzig Charter over the next few years will be a common effort.


How was the recasting process managed and which European stakeholders contributed what content?

We started the process of drafting the New Leipzig Charter two years ago. It is based on two pil­lars, namely a thorough scientific analysis of European urban development in the framework of an evidence-based baseline study on the one hand and a reciprocal national and European dis­cussion process on the other. At the start, the baseline study identified current urban priority top­ics, challenges and trends. The study formed the basis for the discussion process, which involved dialogue at the national and European levels. Overall, we had 12 sessions with our partners in Germany and Europe. The discussion results were analysed in member state bodies such as the Urban Development Group and at meetings of the Directors-General for Urban Develop­ment.


Urban policy for the common good


The New Leipzig Charter is an informal cooperation document and while it is not legally binding, it will set an example by defining objectives and good practices. This is also true for the current Leipzig Charter. This is why we attached so much importance to achieving a broad-based con­sensus among member states. The negotiations have been very intensive. This is evidenced for example by the introduction of the concept of “urban policy for the common good”, in German “Gemein­wohlorientierung”. The definition of the term “common good” differs widely between the EU mem­ber states. This is reflected, among other things, in the fact that there is no real equivalent in the English language for the German term “Gemeinwohlorientierung”. This makes it all the better that we have achieved agreement and can now strive together to achieve this objective.


What role can the New Leipzig Charter play for cities today?

Some member states have already developed or adjusted national urban development policies to implement the 2007 Leipzig Charter. These efforts were strengthened by the 2016 Urban Agenda for the EU, which was developed and adopted under the Dutch Council Presidency. But in both cases the rule applies that the principles of the New Leipzig Charter have to be implemented at the local level and with the participation of citizens. Against the background of our experience in Germany, we regard urban development policy as a necessary framework for local governments. This is the only way in which cities can focus more strongly on urban development in an integrated and par­ticipatory way, having the common good in mind.


How does Germany plan to implement the principles of the New Leipzig Charter?

When we talk about implementing the New Leipzig Charter, we should take into account three levels: implementation at the national level, the European dimension and the international con­text.

In regard to implementation at the national level, Germany was the first country to launch a na­tional urban development policy immediately after the end of its Council Presidency in 2007, in a joint initiative of the Federation, the federal states and local governments. The national urban de­velopment policy is based on the core elements of innovation, communication and urban develop­ment assistance, a tool which has proven its worth over the past 50 years. The interplay between these three elements has proved to be effective and thus our national urban development policy will continue to be a strong fundament for implementing the New Leipzig Charter in Germany. This is the reason why I am committed to strengthening Germany’s national urban development policy.

The ministerial meeting on 30 November has not only adopted the New Leipzig Charter. At the same time, the document “Implementing the New Leipzig Charter” has been adopted, which defines the next steps for the Urban Agenda for the EU. This means that the New Leipzig Charter is much more closely integrated at the EU level than its 2007 predecessor. The “Implementation Docu­ment” and the negotiations on the Commission’s European Urban Initiative, will be conducted simultaneously within the framework of the European Cohesion policy, will strengthen the impact of the New Leipzig Charter and produce synergies at EU level.

The Leipzig Charter – and with it urban development practice in Germany – has also gained im­portance over the past 13 years, internationally and beyond Europe’s borders and has been in­spired by new ideas from around the globe. The challenges that moved us to update the Leipzig Charter are of a global nature and concern all levels of government. The huge international inter­est in this topic is reflected in the fact that we received many inqueries from our international part­ners from almost all continents even while we were still working on the New Leipzig Charter. We want to continue the lively exchange with them and are more than happy to share our experience with implementing the New Charter.


You can read more about the New Leipzig Charter and download the full document here


Pietro Reviglio Policy Officer on governance