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Brussels, 22 July 2014
Q&A on an Urban Agenda and the urban dimension of EU policies
1. What's the importance of today's communication on an Urban Agenda?
Nowadays the majority of the European population live in urban areas and cities form the backbone of our economy and society. European – and national – polices have major impacts on cities and depend on cities for their implementation. It is therefore crucial that EU policies have an urban dimension. The pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy, smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, cannot be achieved without the active involvement of Europe's cities. Issues like unemployment, climate action, and social inclusion, have to be tackled in cities if we are to achieve the objectives the EU has set itself.
2. Why is there a need for an Urban Agenda?
Although many EU policy areas already have an urban dimension, not everything works as it should: Urban realities and cities' needs are not always reflected in our priority setting, policies that intervene and are implemented in cities are not always well coordinated If we continue to consider sectors like the environment and transport separately, we will never get the best results, and we will fail to exploit the potential of cities to address our major societal challenges. An Urban Agenda could help us to adopt a more joined-up approach, and bring together the efforts of different levels of governance: EU, national and regional, as well as ensuring that strategic planning can cross administrative borders.
3. What has happened so far?
Several major stakeholders, such as the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and city stakeholder organisations, have demanded an EU urban agenda. Further support was given at the CITIES Forum in February 2014, a major event organised by the European Commission to stimulate a debate at European level on how we can strengthen the urban dimension of EU policymaking and how we can better recognise cities' key role in rolling out EU and national policies.
The two main aims of the EU Urban Agenda identified so far are: 1) better coordination and coherence of EU policies to reflect city needs and 2) stronger and more direct involvement of cities in EU policymaking.
The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and Eurocities have adopted policy statements on an EU urban agenda; the Committee of the Regions has developed its own initiative opinion. The Member States have agreed to work on particular urgent urban topics through a rolling agenda.
4. How could an Urban Agenda be implemented?
It is clear that the development of an EU urban agenda is not a single process resulting in a single document or charter. The CITIES Forum gave a strong an indication that new legislation is not the favoured way forward and that the principles of subsidiarity need to be respected.
The existing intergovernmental cooperation provides a framework for pursuing the EU Urban Agenda. All governance levels need to be involved and work together to strengthen efforts to improve urban policy making. While respecting the principles of subsidiarity, more concerted action at EU level can help to ensure that policies that impact on cities or where cities are the key implementing partner are coherent, and conceived with urban areas' needs in mind.
The Urban Agenda should provide a working method to tackle key challenges. It takes as its starting point "Cities of Tomorrow" which outlined a common approach to EU's urban development.
However, many issues remain open. We hope that this communication and the public consultation will stimulate discussion and bring valuable inputs.
5. Who can contribute to the debate on the Urban Agenda and how?
Everybody is welcome to contribute to the public consultation on the Urban Agenda. We particularly encourage stakeholders and competent authorities at the national, regional and local level to provide their opinions and suggestions to the new Commission and the new European Parliament.
Building on the results of the CITIES forum the consultation asks a set of questions aimed at further clarifying the need for an EU urban agenda, what its objectives should be and how it could function.
Contributions to the debate on an EU urban agenda can be made electronically by following the instructions found here:
The consultation will be open until 26 September 2014.
6. European cities are diverse – would an Urban Agenda follow the 'one size fits all' approach?
The aim of an urban agenda is not to make European cities less unique. Diversity is a valuable asset. Different cities have different potentials and face different challenges.
However, in Europe we have an explicit agreement on values and overall objectives concerning the character of the future European cities, the principles on which an ideal European city should be based and the principles of urban development in the European territory. We also have consensus on specific urban objectives and values, how these objectives should be attained and the instrumental role cities can play in implementing Europe 2020. These have been set out in the Leipzig Charter for Sustainable European Cities and the Toledo declaration.
The urban agenda should promote exchanges of best practice and the sharing of experience to ensure the best possible development not only of cities but of metropolitan regions as well as small and medium-sized cities.
7. Why don't we have an Urban Agenda already? What was the result of the communication on the Urban Agenda from 1997?
The idea of an urban agenda is not completely new. In 1997 the Commission released a communication with the title "Towards an urban agenda in the European Union" which initiated a public debate on the urban dimension of EU policies.
This debate resulted in the publication of the document "Sustainable Urban Development in the European Union: A Framework for Action" and the first Urban Forum in Vienna in November 1998, which led to strengthening of the urban dimension of structural funds and the financing of urban pilot projects and urban community initiatives.
However, there have been repeated calls for a more robust urban agenda. Although past efforts were valuable, the EU now has a significantly more urban profile, and the key economic and social challenges we face must be addressed in cities.
8. Which policy areas would be affected by an Urban Agenda?
Most areas of public policy making impact on cities directly or indirectly – from employment, support to SMEs and innovation to environment, energy efficiency and transport.
This consultation provides an opportunity to discuss how we can work together on areas such as these, taking Cities of Tomorrow as the starting point.
Table: EU policies with an urban dimension
9. What happens next?
The Commission will present preliminary results of this public consultation at a conference organised by Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union to be held in Rome.
The public consultation should gather ideas from stakeholders to further clarifying the need for an EU urban agenda, the objectives it should include and how it could function. On this basis, the Commission will decide upon next steps.