Work with cities to shape Europe’s future – Guest essay

2 July 2024

In the first of our new series of guest essays, Helmut Dedy, Executive Director of the Association of German Cities makes the case for an EU that works with cities to shape Europe’s future.

The citizens have made their decision in the European elections. There are both clear trends and less clear aspects. The political spectrum seems to be shifting more and more towards the political fringes, towards the populists and extremists. And it continues to diversify. New parties are gaining ground faster than before. This makes the range of political parties broader and more differentiated, but perhaps also more fragile and less predictable

What does this mean for cities in Germany, for cities in Europe? Municipal politics often thrives on achieving the broadest possible political consensus that includes all the people in our cities. Achieving this consensus will get more and more complicated.

We will have to explain our policies better. This applies to the local level just as much as to the European level. Striving for consensus is good if consensus is possible. Where consensus is not possible, those who genuinely care about a good future for our cities must come together and move forward. Let us not leave our cities, let us not leave Europe to the populists.

The local level is the level where people experience European politics directly

It is inevitable and pragmatic to give the cities an active part in implementing European legislation. The local level is the level where people experience European politics directly. It is the local level where it is determined whether and to what extent it is possible to involve people in political decisions, and create acceptance for these decisions. Therefore cities are the central level of implementing European regulations and strategies.

Some European legislation has been improved when cities have been engaged by law makers early in the process. Unfortunately, this opportunity is often missed by the European Commission and Parliament and that slows down implementation and leads to problems at the subnational level. Evidently, this causes frustration also for the citizens and local companies

I invite the new legislators to work with us to shape Europe’s future. Involve cities and their associations in the European legislative and decision-making processes in a structured and continuous manner.

We need a 'go-to person' in the Commission’s college who champions cities and ensures urban matters are included

Here is how: 

  • Both the Association of German Cites and Eurocities ask for a new Commissioner or at least an envoy on urban affairs. Other local networks have joined this call. This speaks volumes! Cities and local governments feel left out and underrepresented in the way previous European institutions have operated and decided on issues affecting urban life and cities’ competences. We need a ‘go-to person’ in the Commission’s college who champions cities and ensures urban matters are included.
  • We need an annual European city summit initiated by the new Commission to establish a direct strategic dialogue between mayors and EU Commissioners, MEPs as well as national ministers responsible for urban matters. 
  • All Commission services should make use of territorial impact assessments when proposing EU laws. This would enable the horizontal and cross-departmental nature of urban affairs to be considered.  
  • Legislative procedures must be checked for subsidiarity and respect for local self-government by means of an impact assessment.  
  • The European Parliament needs to swiftly set up a new Committee on Regional Development with urban matters at its core.  
  • Members of the European Parliament should launch a new urban intergroup.  
  • All parliamentarian committees should be required to invite city representatives to hearings where urban matters are involved.

Let me be clear. The EU is already supporting cities through various programmes and initiatives, which we expect will continue. The European Cohesion Policy remains the key element to initiate transformation processes. However, for Cohesion Policy to benefit cities, it must be both reliable and flexible.

EU programmes relevant to local authorities need to be better coordinated

The role of the New European Bauhaus (NEB) in the transformation of cities in the building sector needs to be defined. The cities need to be able to apply directly for NEB projects. EU programmes relevant to local authorities need to be better coordinated. The cities selected for the EU Mission for 100 Climate Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030 need continuous support from all: the Commission, the European Parliament and the member states in order to succeed. The Urban Agenda and the New Leipzig Charter are irreplaceable tools that need to be further implemented and enforced.  

The new European Parliament and Commission must be set up quickly to tackle the big issues of our time: Climate change, geopolitical conflicts, migration, demographic changes, and digitalisation are key challenges, while Europe’s economy must be kept robust and competitive. The next EU enlargement is also around the corner. Our cities play a pivotal role in modelling the transformation, tackling the challenges, and fostering social cohesion.

German cities are ready to play their part in shaping Europe's future

German cities are ready to play their part in shaping Europe’s future. 


Helmut Dedy Executive Director, Association of German Cities