Commissioner for Regional Policy
A More Prominent Role for Europe's Cities in EU Regional Policy
URBACT Annual Conference/Copenhagen
3 December 2012
Minister, Lord Mayor, cities of Europe
It is a pleasure to be here with so many city managers and experts on our new urban reality. Europe is increasingly urban – and we have to ensure that policy thinking keeps up with this shift.
You will know that I started my political career in the City of Vienna, and from the beginning of my mandate as European Commissioner, I have underlined my determination to raise not only the profile of cities in EU policy, but to increase understanding of the challenges and opportunities.
We are meeting at a time when Europe is taking key decisions about the years ahead of us. The budget discussions are not yet concluded, and the negotiations on the reform of Structural Funds in their final stages. It is a good moment, I think, to give you my thoughts on the way ahead.
In the next programming period we will focus efforts and investments much more tightly than before on a set of strategic priorities. This is about better spending of taxpayers' money – and about achieving more visible and measurable results.
Those priorities are set out in Europe 2020 which sets our targets in the fields of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Three quarters of adults in employment. 3% of GDP to be invested in innovation. 20% increase in energy efficiency. 20 million fewer people at risk of poverty. There has been much talk in Brussels in the past couple of years about these objectives and how to achieve them.
I can tell you one thing very clearly: we will never achieve them without Europe's cities.
Over two thirds of Europeans live in cities, where the concentration of population means we see the greatest risks of social deprivation, and the greatest opportunities for prosperity crowded together.
In cities we see the worst of our problems, and the best chances for solving them.
To achieve the goals of Europe 2020 we need to nurture our small and medium sized enterprises, and foster innovation. Cities have a special potential for both. In Denmark nearly half the working age population in cities has studied at college or university, while the figure is under a quarter in rural areas. Patent applications per capita are more than twice as high in metro regions compared to other regions in a number of EU countries.
Or, take climate change. Cities are places where up to 80% of CO2 emissions are produced due to transport, housing and modes of consumption. But they are also the places where policy changes can bring greatest impact.
We need to translate Europe 2020 into clear urban objectives. Cities have to be at the heart of our planning for the next period. But curiously, cities are not at the heart of the debate.
Think away from the headline figures under discussion in the negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework for a moment, and just think about where the money will be spent.
I am sure everybody here has a good idea where the greatest pressure comes from to maintain levels of spending in rural areas. But where is the lobby for urban investments? Who is making the case for the growing population in cities to be matched by a shift in our investment priorities?
In the current period I calculate that around two fifths of ERDF funding will be spent in urban areas, alongside a substantial chunk of the European Social Fund (13%), and that is before we count research or any other sectoral investments.(FP7 for 2007-2014 €56 billion
CIP Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) €3,6 billion)
The 5% of the Regional Development Fund the Commission has proposed to devote to integrated investments delegated to cities is intended as a minimum for a certain kind of investment. Not a proposal for the whole, which is already so many times greater.
So, the volume of funds is substantial. Nevertheless, we need to make sure that cities are properly catered for in the next generation of spending programmes.
As we get down to work on the new Partnership Agreements that the Commission will negotiate with each Member State, and the new Operational Programmes, I believe there is a new role for urban policy, and a new role for the urban community. By which I mean, you.
Anyone who has worked on city management knows the importance of an integrated approach. No sector is stand-alone.
This is why we in the European Commission have launched a new drive to ensure our sectoral activities – not only funding, but legislative and other policy actions in fields as diverse as energy, mobility, climate and research – are brought more coherently together.
The directorate general for Regional Policy is now the DG for Regional and Urban Policy – with a mandate from President Barroso himself, no less, to co ordinate the urban initiatives of the Commission as a whole.
In the first instance, this will mean better communication between policy actors in DGs making up about two thirds of the European Commission, and streamlining our input into the new programmes.
Of course, the need for an integrated approach was also behind our 5% proposal – where we suggested this minimum for integrated investments to be managed directly by cities themselves.
I believe firmly in the need for cities to take their place as European actors, partners in tackling European objectives. This is the era of the city, and you should be taking your places on the European stage.
However, in negotiations so far, the Council has preferred to limit the minimum obligation to integrated investments with cities consulted on the choice of projects. The European Parliament has not yet taken its final position.
Those who believe that cities are ready to assume more responsibility in handling investments for our future should continue to lobby for this greater role. It is not too late.
However this particular issue is resolved, there is a role for all of you in ensuring that cities are addressed in a coherent and adequate manner in the future programmes.
The Commission has stressed the need to involve stakeholders in designing the new Partnership Agreements and specifically that cities should have a place on the monitoring committees of the new operational programmes. But those who want to be treated as partners will need to step forward.
I urge you to follow the process over the coming months closely and actively. Play your part. Share your experience. Make sure your voice is heard.
As our urban areas metamorphose before our eyes, and demographics change, our understanding of the real dynamics of cities struggles to keep pace with the changes.
Urbact is and will continue to be an essential pillar of our efforts to meet this challenge. With 300 cities involved, there are many of you to thank.
For me, the key in the next period will be to ensure that the knowledge we gain is properly used and transmitted.
You have developed Action Plans. Now is the time to bring your experiences into the next programming period and lobby for their implementation.
The experiences you gather need to be linked more effectively to mainstream programmes. I want URBACT to support the development of national urban networks so that cities, line ministries, managing authorities and academic institutions can all benefit.
AND, I want URBACT to provide more practical help for cities, rather as we did with the "Support for Cities" scheme in the past, to ensure that new knowledge informs future projects.
URBACT should take its place alongside other initiatives that will help us build up a new understanding of our city world. We have proposed that in the new budget, funds should be set aside for Urban Innovative Actions to pilot new ways of tackling urban challenges. These will be an important contribution to building our cities of tomorrow.
I sincerely believe that the future of our societies is being designed in cities, and the prospects for recovery and growth are chiefly determined by how we operate in our population centres.
If we can get things right in cities, we will get them right in Europe.
I hope you will work with me to spread a broader understanding of the importance of cities, and to ensure in the year or so ahead, that we design the right programmes to bring the greatest possible benefit to our citizens.