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Member of the European Commission responsible for Regional
Plenary Session – Committee of the Regions
Dear President Delebarre,
My esteemed colleague Commissioner Barrot,
Dear Members of the Committee of the Regions,
First of all, let me express my warm thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.
This is a very particular moment – right after the political compromise on the inter-institutional agreement securing the financial resources for the new regional policy, in the eve of the agreement on the legal package and in the middle of the negotiations with Member States on the content of their programming documents for 2007-2013.
In other words, we are right now in a crucial period during which the active involvement of the local level – both cities and regions – in the promotion of sustainable economic development in Europe will be determined.
We in the Commission have always been convinced that both regions and the cities play a decisive role in promoting growth and jobs in Europe. Why?
Because cities and regions are the engines of economic growth and job creation and because they represent the level which is closest to the citizens. We all know that it is necessary to involve European citizens more actively in our reform process (Lisbon agenda) in order to increase the understanding how our joint objectives will contribute to greater and better shared prosperity.
Europe's cities and regions must be given a strong voice in this reform process and we, the decision-makers, must carefully listen to them.
I am therefore very happy that the Spring European Council has explicitly acknowledged the need to involve “representatives from regional and local authorities” in our reform agenda. I would like to congratulate you that our Heads of State have explicitly mentioned the important role of the Committee of the Regions in this process and has encouraged you to continue your important work.
I am also very happy about your draft opinion on our working paper on the urban contribution to jobs and growth. In this context, I would like to express my thanks to Mr. Häupl (Mayor of Vienna) for the precious work he has carried out.
More than ever we share a common vision:
• First, a strong belief in the importance of actions to promote sustainable cities
• Second, a desire to see this translated across the whole range of EU policies and for these actions to be carefully co-ordinated.
• Third, the importance to include the regional and city levels in the programming of urban actions within the Structural Funds (subsidiarity).
• Finally, a desire to design an intelligent urban policy, informed by the urban audit and the exchange of experience under URBACT, disposing of a wide menu of options and drawing on a full range of financial tools. The design of an intelligent urban policy was, of course, the underlying theme of our working paper.
Our challenge now is to translate this vision into action. My message to you today is that the new round of the Structural Funds opens up many opportunities for the regional and local level. We are offering you all the tools to take decisive action in promoting sustainable urban development.
I can assure you: the Commission will be vigilant to ensure that the cities and the regions play an essential role in the preparation and implementation of the next generation of cohesion programmes. Still, many tools which we offer remain optional. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to play as active a role as possible in this process, making the voice of Europe’s regions and cities heard.
Cohesion policy 2007-13: rising to the challenge
As you know, Cohesion policy is rising to the urban challenge. By mainstreaming urban actions from 2007 onwards, we intend to increase their visibility, scale and effectiveness. It also ensures synergy between all of our interventions in urban areas.
We have been quite specific in the draft regulations. 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 information on the approach to 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.
Moreover, I have sought to rally support for the principle, already set out in the draft regulations, of an increased involvement of regions and 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 and regions are closely involved in both the design and implementation of programmes.
From 2007 onwards the new Member States, for the first time, will have an opportunity to apply full scale urban policy. This opens up new possibilities for the exchange of best practices. Many cities in the new Member States may be soon faced with the challenges similar to those which take place in old Member States (i.e. ghettos of poorer living districts, constructed in the Communist times).
And already today there is a large common agenda, covering issues ranging from technology transfer, the functioning of academic institutions in the urban environment or public transport. Certainly, cities in new Member States will bring in to this agenda their own solutions and ideas which will enrich the policy. We should try to mobilize this potential in the coming months.
Working paper/communication on cities and cohesion policy
Our working paper “Cohesion Policy and cities: the urban contribution to growth and jobs in the regions” is designed to assist Member States, regions and cities in this process. It offers a menu of tools for an intelligent urban policy, building on the successes of the URBAN Community Initiative and the lessons learned from the URBACT network for exchange of experience.
The menu approach is because we recognise that the situation differs from one city to another, from one region to another and from one country to another. There is no single path to sustainable urban development – there is no “one size fits all” solution. Instead, we need a “variable geometry” approach, on the basis of the needs and institutions of cities, urban areas and regions.
The menu covers a very broad range. It includes:
• Building the attractiveness of cities, in terms of transport, services, the environment and culture. These are crucial to attract investment, as well as mobile workers in high tech and high added value sectors.
• Striking a balance between different cities. Strengthening the strategic role of metropolitan areas, while still controlling urban sprawl and making small and medium towns more attractive. Reinforcing the links between urban, rural and suburban areas.
• Supporting entrepreneurship, SMEs, innovation and the knowledge economy.
• Improving employability and decreasing disparities between neighbourhoods and social groups.
• Tackling crime and the fear of crime.
• Improving the governance of urban interventions. This means engaging all relevant stakeholders, promoting an increased role of municipalities, achieving the right spatial balance and encouraging good planning and management practices.
• Networks and exchange of experience, building on the success of URBACT.
• Intelligent financial engineering, providing a framework to make effective use of non-grant instruments in urban renewal and development. As you know, 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 solutions to the financing of projects for urban renewal and development using a combination of grants and loans.
Reply to the draft opinion
I was very pleased about your draft opinion on our paper. As I have already noted, we share a common vision. It was especially important to me to have the Committee of the Regions on board in this process, since regions and cities are my managers of choice for Structural Funds programmes.
I found your observations and reactions very helpful. We will incorporate many of your suggestions in our Communication on cities and cohesion policy which is currently under preparation. To pick just a few examples, the following changes are all based on your opinion: the increased emphasis on the diverse situation of cities, the social economy as a source of innovation and job creation, the working poor and the aging population.
Moreover, in line with your comments on taking account of the urban dimension across EU policies, improving co-ordination between Commission departments and interinstitutional dialogue, we have recently established in the Commission an interservice working group on urban affairs. This includes the specific goals of ensuring co-operation between Commission services and promoting dialogue with other EU institutions as well as city associations. The first meeting of this group took place on 23 March.
On proposals for a more structured dialogue with regions and cities, I have to say that I found the “Territorial Dialogue 2006 – Making partnership work: regional and local authorities for growth and jobs” which you organised on 1 March to be very helpful. I believe it is essential to involve regions and cities more closely in the implementation of the Lisbon goals. I would therefore like to see this meeting continue and I am willing to play an active role in future events of this kind.
On matters such as including local authorities in the programming and implementation of Cohesion policy and setting aside money for sustainable urban transport, you know that the Commission shares your opinions. You can count on our support – we will do all we can to encourage the Member States in this direction.
Finally, I am always pleased to receive your support for information tools like URBACT and the Urban Audit. These are essential in my view for intelligent and well-designed urban policies. Your active involvement is the key to making both URBACT and the Urban Audit work – I know I can count on you.
These are our proposals:
An increased emphasis on urban issues in the mainstream of cohesion policy.
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 delegating urban actions to city authorities.
A broad menu of options, including flexible financial instruments such as JESSICA and tools for exchange of experience such as URBACT.
However, we need your active involvement to realise our joint ambitions. We are counting on Europe’s regions and cities:
• We need your full support as we close work on the urban communication as well as the Structural Fund regulations and guidelines.
• We would like to see you play an active role in future dialogue on urban issues, both at the national and European levels.
• We need you to play as full a role as possible in the planning and implementation of the Structural Funds.
• Finally, we need your full participation in the day to day work of URBACT and the Urban Audit.
I look forward to working with you over the coming months and years and to hearing your comments and reactions right now.
Thank you for your attention.