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Commissioner for Regional Policy
CiTIEs Forum – “The voice of cities must be heard”
'CiTIEs: Cities of Tomorrow Investing in Europe'
Brussels, 17 February 2014
Ministers, Mayors, colleagues and friends
It is true that I have been determined to raise the profile of cities during my time as Regional Policy Commissioner. Cities are too important to Europe to be treated as a side issue.
From the Greek polis to the present day, the special character of Europe has been forged in cities. We were a Europe of cities long before we were a Europe of nation states. Much of our history is urban. And, the Cities of Tomorrow are in large part the Europe of tomorrow.
CITIES should be should be central to our thinking. This is not just because so many Europeans are city-dwellers. Cities have a very particular quality. They are a concentration of all the interactions that make up our civilisation – our culture, our society, our genius for invention, as well as some of our darker tendencies. That is why they are a laboratory in which much of our future will be designed.
We should not forget that cities are drivers of development, providing services and amenities for communities beyond their own boundaries. When we support urban development it helps the surrounding rural areas too.
Cities already have a major place in the Commission's thinking. To take one example from my own portfolio, around half of all European Regional Development Funds will be invested in cities in this new financial period one way or another.
But the aim of this forum is to ensure that the urban dimension of EU policies is strengthened. If we are to launch an EU Urban Agenda, that should be its purpose. Over the next two days we will be asking you: Should there be one? What should it consist of? How should it work?
The answers you give will be a signpost for the next European Commission. It will also be a message to our Member States. We will report on this Forum to the Member States during the Greek Presidency, and hope that the Italian presidency will take forward the debate later in the year.
Our discussions here are also a first step towards co-ordinating an EU response to the international debate. I am delighted to have Juan Clos – former mayor of Barcelona – here today to explain why UN HABITAT has asked the EU to contribute its experience of urban development to help cities around the globe. We should take this challenge seriously. Firstly to help ensure that the post-2015 development goals reflect the realities of urban development. Secondly because sharing our experience can bring new opportunities. I would like to see our businesses develop innovative solutions for example in energy efficiency and then market them worldwide.
The idea of an EU Urban Agenda is not new. The Commission has supported urban development in different ways since the late 80s and intergovernmental co-operation has been developing over more than a decade.
But some of the best European initiatives take a while to mature, and the time is now right to move to an approach that is less piecemeal, and more results orientated. I believe it is not an accident that there have been calls for an EU Urban Agenda raised in a number of quarters more or less simultaneously. In the European Parliament. In the Committee of the Regions. By the incoming Trio of presidencies, and by other Member States working independently. The idea has been discussed by the Directors General of relevant ministries of the 28 Member States in recent months.
There will be different opinions about what an EU Urban Agenda should contain and how it should work. While cities are important in all our countries, we have a very varied urban landscape. Some Member States have more, and larger, urban concentrations than others. The powers and responsibilities of cities differ widely.
For me, the key thing is that the voice of cities needs to be heard more clearly.
European policy goals cannot be realised without the active participation of cities. So policy makers at all levels have to take greater account of the urban dimension.
The majority of EU policies have either an explicit urban dimension, or an indirect impact in cities, so we need greater co-ordination.
Cities are developing all the time, so we all need a better knowledge base and a more scientific understanding of how our modern urban existence is evolving.
I believe an EU urban agenda could improve the quality of policy making – at EU and at National level and I am convinced that an EU urban agenda could make cities more clearly partners for EU and national policy makers.
We are here to brainstorm. My Director General, Walter Deffaa, will be presenting our Issues Paper to you shortly, and I hope you will focus very directly on the questions that it poses.
I hope you will ask yourself not only what topics the new agenda should cover, but what kind of new relationship it could bring in between policy makers and cities, between the Member States and the Commission on urban issues. Should we limit ourselves to defining a shared vision? Or can we move beyond that to priorities for action, with precise objectives? Can we harness better the knowhow that we have across Europe so that we learn better from each other how best to develop our urban centres? And who should do all this? The answer might be the Committee of the Regions. Their President will be with us in the closing session of our conference tomorrow. It might be the City Associations represented here today. It might be the Member States acting in an intergovernmental format – and I am grateful to have some of them with us this afternoon, and tomorrow.
It is not for the Commission to provide you with answers, but to ask the questions. I have already heard some fascinating debates this morning, between members of the city associations, the directors general of relevant ministries in the Member States, and the mayors of our capital cities-
and I am now looking forward to hearing your views.