Zaragoza’s green revolution may stay local

10 February 2021

Zaragoza has ambitious plans for renewable energy and mobility that could see it become a poster city for the European Union’s Green Deal.

But with national governments preparing their Coronavirus national recovery plans, Zaragoza’s mayor has expressed concern that the city’s “extraordinary potential” could be ignored.

When it comes to renewable energy, Zaragoza is a true El Dorado. Blessed with three rivers, year-round sunshine and open, wind-swept plains, the capital of the region of Aragon plans to become a net producer of green energy by 2025 – a completely realistic target.

“We have already the renewable energy available, but we need to transform the usage of this energy into clean energy,” said Miguel Angel Ania, technical advisor in mobility and public appliances to the city council of Zaragoza. The council has a host of projects related to mobility that could make full use of this wealth of green energy.

Through a mix of wind and solar power, the city hopes to produce 400% of its own energy demand through renewables in four years’ time and to drive down CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2030. This will be achieved through public transport fleet electrification, a roll-out of pedestrian and bicycle access to 100% of the city, on-demand mobility, CO2 absorption through reforestation, and much more.

It’s safe to say that Ania and his colleagues will be busy. What’s more, many of these projects form the bulk of the city’s submission to Spain’s national recovery plan, alongside 10 other projects related to innovation, digitalisation, energy efficient housing renovation, the environment and green renewal.

Only the crumbs of EU funding for cities?

But Zaragoza’s Mayor, Jorge Azcón, has expressed concern that Spain will suffer as the central government is not listening to local governments.

“I hope the current negative trend of minimising the role of municipalities in the management of EU funds will be corrected, because it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the extraordinary potential that municipalities offer to solve the problems of our citizens,” Mayor Azcón told the press on 4 February.

Mayor of Zaragoza, Jorge Azcón

National governments must submit their final recovery plans to the EU by the end of April to receive funding as part of the Next Generation EU, which will provide up to €750 billion via the Resilience and Recovery Facility (RFF) and the EU’s long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).

But the European Commission’s initial proposal contained no specific provision for cities in the establishment of the recovery funds, meaning that many mayors were feeling left out in the consultation process.

A survey by Eurocities of 47 cities across 18 member states during the period that national governments should have been collecting ideas from local authorities found that 70% of cities felt insufficiently consulted.

Spain will receive €140 billion of the EU recovery fund, totalling more than 18% of the overall sum up for allocation. But while Spain may receive a large slice of the pie, cities may be left with the crumbs.

Mayor Azcón told the Committee of Regions last week: “The reality is that in Spain in 2020, there has been no anti-covid aid from the Government of Spain for municipalities, while the Autonomous Communities did receive €16 billion.

“In addition, the forecast of the national government is that the municipalities will manage only 4% of the aid provided by the European Union for Spain.”

The central government doesn’t listen to cities

In December, the Spanish government called on the country’s regional governments to submit proposals for projects eligible for EU financing, but mentioned only that cities and towns would have a “very important role” in implementing the projects. Despite this, many Spanish cities told Eurocities that they had not been involved as relevant stakeholders in discussions.

This could mean that cities across Spain will suffer a double disadvantage: they will receive less recovery money than needed, and the national plans they shall implement are missing key inputs from cities such as Zaragoza. And, according to Ania, these plans are feasible and impactful for other cities.

“Other towns could do the same if the situation is improved by the European Commission. We started before the Green Deal, we have some years of advance. But with a push from the Commission, I’m sure that any town could do the same,” he says.

But with the Spanish economy estimated to have shrunk by 12.4% in 2020, the central government needs Spain’s cities’ help – and ideas – more than ever.

Luckily, cities may see more involvement in national recovery plans after the European Parliament pushed to give cities greater involvement in the process – a change that has been approved by the Parliament’s in a plenary session this week.

With these new provisions, action now may ensure a stronger outcome for cities like Zaragoza.

#TalkWithCities – Europe’s recovery will start in cities, and they’re ready to invest in new green jobs and infrastructure. The EU is prepared to distribute funds for this recovery to member states, but 70% of cities surveyed by Eurocities believe the national consultation process has been insufficient as it has failed to adequately involve cities. Find out why Europe’s leaders must talk with cities.