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Commissioner for Regional Policy
Reform of Regional Policy: A reinforced role for European cities!
Conference: "European policy in practice: the case of Athens" /Athens
12 December 2013
The new funding period (2014-2020) marks a shift from past practices with the emphasis put on making investment in regional economies instead of transferring funds between regions.
The focus will no longer be on infrastructure but on the promotion of economic activity and regaining competitiveness through investment in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), innovation and energy efficiency.
Our ambitious reform makes Regional Policy targeted and results oriented.
It is also important to stress the strategic approach. Operating without a realistic, feasible and long term programme is no longer an option. Urban interventions funded by EU should directly generate wealth and create employment.
We witness an ever increasing role of urban centres which is taken into account in our reform. 70% of the EU population live in cities. Cities show concentrations of our greatest problems like unemployment and other social problems.
But they are also laboratories for solutions: that is where most innovation takes place, bringing new opportunities for jobs, new technological solutions to make growth more sustainable. Cities are engines of growth – centres for research and knowhow.
Europe 2020 strategy for growth and jobs cannot be delivered without active participation of cities.
We believe cities have to be higher on the agenda for European and national policy makers. This is why DG REGIO has be renamed as Regional and Urban policy and has a new coordinating function within the Commission.
Urban development has a long history within Cohesion Policy. Cities have gained enormous experience during the previous programming periods.
This has also spread to the wider policy. “Integrated intervention” and “bottom up approach” are now basic elements not just for urban development but for the whole of Cohesion Policy.
In the current period 40% of ERDF are invested in cities, in the coming period it will amount to more likely to be around half.
The new Cohesion Policy will address cities more directly: with specific urban investment priorities; the obligation to invest at least 5% in integrated programmes bringing together sectors and funds. Finally €330 million for cities to pioneer new approaches.
Legislation also provides for urban innovative actions (€330 million) and Urban Development Network for promotion of capacity-building and exchange of experience.
We have to stress the need for cooperation, in particular for cities in the periphery of Europe: openness and exchange of ideas are key elements for success and can be the source of inspiration for designing operations, working methods and governance.
Urban interventions are becoming more and more complex, with problems seriously aggravated due to recession. Cities like Athens and other Greek cities have to deal with large scale social issues with limited financial and human resources.
In this context, cities need to use ESI funds in a holistic (integrated) approach to deal better with multi-faceted problems. And make the optimum use of available financial resources.
BUT: it is not just about money. We want to lay down the foundations for a new European Urban Agenda where cities have a bigger role. This is something the Member States are supporting.
Cities have to be directly involved or even responsible for design and implementation of economic development strategies and urban development projects e.g. where to locate transport infrastructure or investments in innovation.
This will need major change in approach to policy-making and governance.
Athens can be a frontrunner in finding innovative solutions to urban challenges – this is the possibility to turn a problem into an opportunity.
In a short period of time, Athens has done a lot. It needs to build on this work to exploit its potential.
Athens already has experience in management of Structural Funds with "re-launching Athens" project. I am very pleased to see the good balance of both social and entrepreneurial/innovation fronts.
Now we have to define and negotiate the urban development operations in the next programming period and how they will be implemented.
I urge you to consult widely with stakeholders and be careful in selecting and implementing interventions. There is an absolute need to be committed to the strategic approach.
Achievements as a result of EU funds are best way of communicating your success to citizens. It is important that EU interventions in Athens become a tangible part of everyday life and improve lives of all citizens.
Cities need to be seen as key partners for national and European authorities. They need a new approach and new governance, not just more money.
This is why I have initiated a direct dialogue with mayors of capital cities.
I will host a major event in February (17th/18th) in Brussels to explore this with experts from all levels. This will also include the first meeting of the Urban Development Network. You are all very welcome.
I am also very happy to see this on the agenda of the Greek Presidency, for informal ministerial meeting.
The Future of Europe will be designed in cities. If we don't get it right in cities, we won't get it right at all.