Gluing Europe together

In Budapest’s 14th district a new style of social housing is being proposed to tackle the issue of housing affordability. The E-Co-Housing model seeks to halve the waiting list for social housing by providing units of different sizes in the same building to house different sized families. The prefabricated design will ensure affordability, and the architect has already gone one step further by designing a net-zero energy building that respects principles of the circular economy, thereby fulfilling other strategic objectives of the city.
In Toulouse, meanwhile, the issue of providing adequate social housing has been challenged in a quite different way. Roma families are encouraged to move out of ‘bidonvilles’ (camps or illegal settlements) directly into adequate housing in the city. Roma families are offered housing solutions (desegregated in the city) accompanied by a social support programme, to ensure access to social services that are pre-conditions to a sustainable inclusion pathway to accompany housing inclusion.  
These projects are beneficiaries of European funding through the EU’s cohesion policy, but the range of projects such money can be attributed to is vast because the goal is to ensure a level playing field in economic development across the continent.
Other examples include:
  • In Brussels, Abbatoir, a large market, has carried out several projects, including one on urban farming . The city created Europe’s first large-scale ‘Aquaponic Greenhouse Farm System’ (a combination of fish and plant based farming)  along with a restaurant and guest garden on its roof. The idea is already set to be extended to other sites within the Brussels Capital Region.
  • Warsaw has constructed several ‘park and ride’ schemes that allow people to leave their cars behind, while making better use of public transport, and has constructed a series of safe bicycle routes connecting the peri urban area with the centre. In its schools educational and vocational training is coordinated with entrepreneurs. And in the Warsaw metropolitan area, nurseries ensure day-time care is available for children under three, while their parents go to work.

What is cohesion policy?

“No region will be left behind” – this is the avowed motto of, Elisa Ferreira, new European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms.
So what does cohesion policy actually do? Primarily, as former Commissioner Corina Cretu said in comments reflecting on her mandate “Cohesion Policy ensures that every region, city and village can benefit from the European project…[and] is about solidarity and prosperity for all.”
This idea of solidarity, ensuring no one city or region is left behind, lies at the heart of the cohesion policy and those working on delivering it. As the principle investment tool of the EU all cities and regions can and do connect to it, for investment and infrastructure as well as social projects.
Although the cohesion policy can be complicated to navigate, being made up of many different funds, some of this is aided by programmes such as:
  • Urban Innovative Actions which gives urban areas throughout Europe an opportunity to test out new, unproven, ideas for tackling urban challenges;
  • Interreg Europe which gives local authorities the chance to cooperate on projects by matching them with other partners;
  • URBACT which builds connections between cities to develop their ability to share knowledge and expertise that can tackle shared challenges.

We expect the new programming period, post 2020, to bring positive changes in terms of further reinforcing synergies between these programmes. According to the proposal of the Commission, the urban dimension of cohesion policy, i.e. the part dedicated to sustainable urban development would remain low – with 6% of the European Regional and Development Fund earmarked for the next budgetary cycle. While this would represent a slight increase, as Anna Lisa Boni, secretary general of EUROCITIES points out, “we need to make sure that the funds can be used more effectively to respond to local challenges. Challenges that mayors, elected representatives closest to the citizens, encounter day by day. On one hand, we need stronger guarantees for cities to be involved in shaping cohesion policy programmes. On the other, we want to make sure that the rules actively help cities to address complex problems by combining support across the different funds more easily.”
As the place where most people live, cities are pushing for a greater say in shaping EU programmes like cohesion policy.
The Urban Agenda for the EU, which gathers together policy makers from different levels of government to discuss issues that have an impact on cities, has gone some way in addressing this, with its emphasis on better coordination of EU instruments. Its partnership approach, which concentrates on 14 thematic areas reflecting common urban challenges has come up with many recommendations, but for a city network like EUROCITIES it still does not fully reflect the way cities work.
People live in real places like urban neighbourhoods or rural towns, not in policy silos
— Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General, Eurocities
To take one of the earlier examples, the case of Warsaw. This model works precisely because Warsaw and 39 of its surrounding communes, acting together as ‘Greater Warsaw’, agreed to jointly use European funds. The system of ‘Integrated Territorial Investments’ makes it easier to develop a joint investment strategy across the Warsaw metropolis and it has brought results:
  • €50.5m (EU support) Bicycle tracks 
  • €33.1m (EU support) Park-and-Ride parking lots 
  • €34.3m (EU support) Job creation, support to startups, innovation, preparation of investment lots, economic promotion of metropolitan area 
  • €16.9m (EU support) E- tickets, e-administration, e-learning, e-health
Cohesion policy itself is made up of differently sources of funding (principally the European Regional and Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund).
According to Boni, this can make it difficult for urban authorities to negotiate and simplification is needed going forwards.
“Cities often need to set up integrated programmes to tackle complex challenges in their local realities and that can involve both physical facilities and support services, for instance fostering social inclusion in deprived neighbourhoods. It is thus key that the allocation and functioning of EU funds respect and reflect such needs to operate through a place-based and integrated approach. Because people live in real places like urban neighbourhoods or rural towns, not in policy silos.” 
The EUROCITIES network suggests that a European Urban Initiative, a proposal of the European Commission for the post-2020 funding period, organised under cohesion policy could create links between the different programmes mentioned above, that would bring Europe closer to its citizens and would be a much needed next step to maximising the potential of working with cities through the Urban Agenda for the EU. 

Alex Godson Eurocities Writer