Who’s got the money? What role for cities in post-Covid recovery?

7 October 2021

The money is already being doled out – €24.9 billion to Italy, €231 million to Slovenia, UK nul points, as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made her way around European capitals this summer. But how will the so-called National Recovery and Resilience Plans help us to ‘build back better’. Or a different question: will they?

Throughout the design process of these plans, cities were sounding the alarm bells for national governments to talk with cities. Despite this, a recent survey conducted by Eurocities contends that not only were cities insufficiently involved in the design process, but they are also being left out of the implementation phase.


The funds, Europe’s plan to recover from the economic and social turmoil of the Covid19 pandemic, aim to help countries create jobs and to design a green and digital future for all.

“With these clear priorities, it is going to be down to local and regional administrations to do most of the legwork, and so it makes sense that national governments have these conversations with municipalities in their territory,” says Pietro Reviglio, Policy Officer at Eurocities, who led on the survey of 28 cities from 16 countries.

This position has been supported at the EU level, which made local level dialogue mandatory in the design and monitoring process. Nonetheless, over 63% of respondents evaluated the process put in place by their government to consult cities as insufficient and point out that they are further being left out of the governing structures overseeing the management of recovery.

City stories

For the minority of respondents, just 5%, who judged the evaluation process as ‘good’ the existence of pre-existing political or administrative structures, such as established dialogues between city associations and the national level, were seen to be the main drivers.

The city of Ghent, for example, was in frequent formal and informal contact with the Flemish representation of local municipalities and the central Flemish and Belgian governments. This good cooperation is based on years of groundwork, starting in the early 2000s with the creation of the ‘Policy of the big cities’ that created an environment where either side was already aware of the other’s ambitions and concerns. The result is that city projects are included in Belgium’s plan, which could help create bicycle lanes and digital city halls, for example.

See here for examples of what Riga, Bologna, Budapest, or Zaragoza would all like to see.

What’s next?

Most respondents to the survey are convinced that the local level support for the national recovery plans will help speed up their implementation by connecting the dots on different initiatives to better reflect the actions that are most needed on the ground. In this context, there is a window of opportunity for local administrations to be better recognised and supported in this crucial role to achieve a green, digital and just transition.

In their submissions, last Spring, 79% of cities surveyed proposed projects on public transport services, 53% included projects on renovation, and 47% wanted to go forward with the digitalisation of education and public services.

“Investments in ambitious projects such as those set out in the city plans can accelerate the sustainable transition,” says Masha Smirnova, Campaign Manager for the Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal. “Not adequately involving cities in the post-Covid recovery risks bypassing the urgent needs of people and will further delay the possibility to stick within a 1.5C future. With COP26 coming up, and the recovery underway, there is a golden opportunity to really ‘build back better’, but that can only be done if city voices are heard and supported with real action,” she adds.

Read the full survey results here.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer