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Member of the Commission responsible for Regional
European Congress of URBAN Networks and Cities ‘Acquis URBAN’:
From Vision to Action
Dear Minister(s), dear State Secretary
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentleman,
fellow practitioners in the field of urban development,
It always gives me great pleasure to speak at urban events. I find particularly inspiring the mix of passion and professionalism which urban actors bring to the Structural Funds. I know that Europe’s towns and cities have benefited from the hard work of many of you. Your passion and professionalism has led to many concrete achievements. Within the URBAN programmes themselves and within the URBACT network for exchange of experience.
I find it particularly important to be discussing the urban dimension of cohesion policy for the first time in one of the new Member States. My thanks to the cities of Graz and Maribor as well as to the German-Austrian URBAN network for organising and hosting this special event. Although the URBAN Community Initiative does not yet cover the new Member States, these actions are a very important part of the Structural Funds. I hope to see many URBAN-type actions in the new Member States in the coming period.
Today my message to you is therefore as follows: We will offer many interesting new opportunities to the cities as of 2007 such as a higher profile for urban actions, an extension of eligible measures and existing learning tools, improved governance as well as new financial instruments. However, many of these actions remain options. It is up to you in cooperation with the Member States and the regions to make use of them. The new round of Structural Funds will be prepared over the course of this year. I would like to encourage you to make your voice heard within this process so that we can reinforce the urban dimension of our policy.
Why do we need cities?
I hardly need to remind you of the importance of cities for the wellbeing of Europe as a whole. Towns and cities are not just the motors of growth, jobs, innovation and technology. They are the home to most jobs, businesses, public administrations as well as centres of learning and culture. Cities are centres of change, risk-taking and innovation and the cutting edge of European competitiveness.
But there is a darker side to many of our cities. We have not forgotten recent events in France and, in the not too distant past, in other Member States. Social exclusion and deprived neighbourhoods are still an issue in Europe today.
Those are the reasons why we proposed to strengthen our efforts for cities within Cohesion Policy. Europe’s cities play a vital role in the Lisbon priorities – on the one hand they are strategic locations for achieving these priorities and the final beneficiaries of much of our financial support. On the other hand, they are active partners in the implementation of the priorities. With the support of my fellow Commissioners, I have taken a number of concrete steps to promote the urban agenda:
How do we intend to strengthen the role of the cities?
First, through an increased emphasis in the mainstream on urban areas, both in terms of integrated URBAN-style interventions and in terms of the Lisbon goals.
The draft Community Strategic Guidelines published last July underline the importance of the urban agenda. Moreover, on the basis of the working paper on cities and cohesion, we are strengthening the ideas and recommendations on urban policy for the final version of the Strategic Guidelines, due to be approved in summer/autumn 2006.
The working paper on cities and cohesion, which we prepared for the Ministerial Informal Meeting on Sustainable Communities in Bristol in December 2005, gave concrete examples of how cities can contribute to the goals of growth, jobs, social cohesion and a better urban environment. It was subject to a public consultation, which closed in February. The numerous reactions (i.e. 90 contributions) we received from cities, regions, Member States and associations were overwhelming positive and the results will now be fed into the Community Strategic Guidelines. Notably, in terms of strengthening the territorial section with guidelines for action in cities and adding a section on innovative financial measures. In addition, I have asked my services to transform the working paper on cities and cohesion into a Communication to the other institutions.
The national strategic reference frameworks to be submitted by the Member States should include priorities for sustainable urban development (Gen. Reg. Article 25.4.b). Similarly, operational programmes to be submitted by the regions should include an integrated plan for sustainable urban development (Gen. Reg. Article 36.4 and 5). This plan should include a clear description of urban development priorities. In practice, I am hoping to see in many programmes a priority axis dedicated to urban issues, with a list of cities/urban areas covered.
In terms of the nature of urban actions in the mainstream programmes under both the Convergence and Competitiveness objective, they would continue the “URBAN method” whereby the various issues facing an area are tackled in an integrated and holistic manner (ERDF Reg. article 8). This means for example, that they could include actions such as:
Second, I have sought to position Cohesion Policy as a key instrument for the Lisbon strategy. Already in the current period, 50% of Cohesion Policy expenditure supports the most important Lisbon priorities. In 2007-2013, we propose that the majority of cohesion expenditure will be spent on the jobs and growth agenda. These investments will include R&D, innovation, human capital, business services, improvement of energy efficiency and development of renewable energies and in convergence regions major infrastructures related to European networks. Cities will obviously play a decisive role in these investments, not least because they are strategically placed to bring together key local partners.
Third, I have sought to rally support for the principle, already set out in the draft regulations, of an increased involvement of the cities in the implementation of Cohesion Policy. Concretely, this involvement can include delegating the implementation of actions such as urban regeneration to the city authorities themselves. Personally, I believe that urban programmes are most effective if cities are closely involved in both the design and implementation of programmes.
Fourthly, a modern urban policy requires flexible and intelligent instruments. Good financial instruments as well as good information tools. For the coming period we are creating innovative financial instruments, such as JEREMIE which provides seed capital to SMEs. In addition, the Commission has proposed to launch, in cooperation with the European Investment Bank and the Council of Europe Development Bank, an initiative for sustainable urban development: Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas (JESSICA). Its objective is to provide a ready-made solution to financing projects for urban renewal and development using a combination of grants and loans. Under the JESSICA initiative, the managing authorities of our programmes would be able to:
provide funding for a wide variety of public-private partnership, or other urban development, projects that are capable of repaying in the long-term the resources invested in it, in total or in part;
avail of a more simple and more flexible management of funds for urban development;
achieve greater leverage from scarce grant resources for urban development, by attracting contributions from international financial institutions, banks, the private sector, etc.
This is a key to developing business activity in the most difficult social circumstances.
Moreover, we are continuing and extending the Urban Audit and the URBACT network for exchange of experience and best practice. Both are valuable information tools and should serve as key inputs to well-designed urban interventions. In particular, I recommend to you the URBACT programme as a toolbox to improve the management of urban development. We intend to expand this in the coming period, both in terms of the number of participants and of topics covered.
Finally, we in the European Commission have established an interservice working group for urban development. The group responds to a request from the European Parliament, expressed in the Beaupuy report. It offers us a point of contact for the Parliamentary committee on Regional Policy as they extend their remit to urban affairs. And it offers us a structure for taking forward the work done under the Dutch, Luxembourg and UK presidencies on the role of cities in the implementation of the Lisbon agenda.
In addition, it will provide us in the Commission with an opportunity to define a comprehensive and coordinated approach to urban development. And to use in a coordinated way all our policies to promote urban priorities. Last but not least, I would like to remind you of the upcoming 2008 review of EU spending. We must make our urban actions transparent, rational and coherent. We must also be prepared to support them with solid evidence and data.
These are our proposals:
An increased emphasis on urban in the mainstream. An integrated approach to the problems of urban neighbourhoods in difficulty, a determined effort to build on the strengths of cities to further the Lisbon agenda. The possibility of delegation of urban actions to city authorities. Flexible financial instruments and tools for exchange of experience.
The timetable, as you know, is tight. The new Structural Funds regulations and guidelines are now entering the final phase of negotiation in time for adoption by the summer. National Strategic Reference Frameworks are already in preparation. Operational programmes should be transmitted and negotiated in the second half of this year.
I therefore encourage you to participate fully in the preparation of National Strategic Reference Frameworks and then later in the preparation of the Operational Programmes. Make sure your voice is heard. In fact, I would like to see as many partners and practitioners from the city level as possible involved in the preparation and implementation of Structural Fund programmes.
The future is in your hands. We in the European Commission have given you the tools – it is up to you in the Member States, Regions and cities to carry out the job.