“We can do things that national governments cannot”

15 June 2021

How do we make our urban systems more circular, our buildings and urban mobility more sustainable? How do we transform our energy and food systems? What is the future for tourism and urban design?

Urban leadership is needed to make the green and digital transformations possible – this understanding was shared by speakers at today’s Future City conference, where Eurocities President, Dario Nardella, gave a keynote opening address.

The pandemic has accelerated many of the transitions that had already started in our cities while at the same time widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. But, according to Nardella, the focus now on recovery has opened the door to making our cities both more sustainable and inclusive over the coming years.

A strong consensus of urban leaders around the world

Nardella, who also attended the first-ever G7 Urban Summit last week – one day ahead of the G7 summit – in the UK, said that he was “struck by the consensus amongst the urban leaders globally” on how we can go about making liveable cities for people. “It means tackling the climate emergency and poverty challenges in our urban areas. It also means ensuring the digital transformation is put to good use for people and public policies,” he added.

This ‘how’ lies at the heart of the mandate of city leaders. “We can do things that national governments cannot,” explained Nardella.

“We can bring people together around common goals. We can build coalitions for change at local level. We have leadership of place, with responsibilities for the areas surrounding our cities as well. We can share experiences and learn from each other, as we do in Eurocities,” said Nardella, sharing a vision of how transformation can be made possible.

Mayors’ Alliance: a city-to-city cooperation for the European Green Deal

Often this type of city-level effort goes under the radar in the design of national government policy – which Nardella pointed out was the case for many cities in the recent design of the National Recovery Plans. However, it’s also the reason behind city-to-city cooperation and many other city-level initiatives, such as the soon to be launched Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal. This alliance is set to showcase the work done by cities to implement the European Green Deal locally and show that a sustainable transition to a climate-neutral society is possible.

“But we cannot be successful if we work alone” – Nardella emphasised this point, stating that “we need the right legal frameworks, adequate resources and partnership approaches to be able to move forward faster.”

A good example of this is the digital transition, which is vital to meeting the goals of the Green Deal. As part of the Living-in-EU movement, Eurocities is working for digital solutions that create places where people enjoy living and working.

On the issue of resources, Nardella said that, following a decade of under-investment in cities, “the pandemic and crisis have hit us hard”. Consequently, he noted, “our public budgets are stretched beyond limits.”

A new pact between cities and the EU

One of the top ambitions for the recovery investments in the coming years is to get Europe on the path to a sustainable and inclusive recovery. “We must make sure that the national recovery plans boost the urban transformation needed,” said Nardella, returning to his main point.

Nardella also reiterated a point he has made previously that it’s time for a new pact between cities and the EU.

“My wish is for EU governance to be rewired to enable a much stronger and joined up collaboration between the EU and our cities. The urban agenda for the EU has laid the ground for this. The Conference on the Future of Europe is the right opportunity to boost the collaboration between levels of government and for the EU to embrace the transformational power of its cities towards a climate-neutral future for people,” he concluded.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer