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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Johannes Hahn

Commissioner for Regional Policy

Turning Cities into Centres of Opportunity

World Urban Forum

Medelin, Colombia, 8 April 2014

Ministers, friends:

Creating decent living and working conditions for the people of the 21st century, is increasingly a challenge that must be tackled in cities. My message today is that if we are to succeed, we need really effective multilevel governance, to bring the international, the national and the city level together.

I believe there is no one single model for the cities of tomorrow, but we can learn from each other. Yesterday, I visited Medellin to see for myself some of the impressive innovation that has helped to transform the city. In turn, I hope that you will visit the European Union's exhibition here which showcases some innovative examples of urban development in Europe. I would also recommend our workshop on experience-sharing between EU and Latin American cities.

We are asked at this Forum to focus on equity. To me this means opportunity for all.

Despite Europe's relative affluence, we still have significant disparities of wealth between our countries and within them. In some of our most prosperous cities, there are pockets of poverty. As we emerge from the recent financial and economic crisis we are working to ensure that the benefits of recovery are widely shared – and particularly in cities.

The Regional policy that I am responsible for in Europe, is all about reducing economic disparities, bringing on less-favoured regions, and ensuring that the more prosperous ones function as motors for growth elsewhere.

This approach is not simply about redistribution of wealth, although we maintain a priority focus on the poorest regions. It is above all about intelligent investments to help every region and city achieve its potential.

We do this by focussing above all on three key factors

  • First, boosting the research and innovation capacity of each region. Experience shows that national competitiveness has a close link to investment in innovation – and that innovation must have a strong regional base to succeed. We are working with each region to identify its particular assets, and to develop a smart specialisation strategy to guide partnerships in innovation and research

  • Second, supporting the small and medium sized enterprises. These are the companies that create the most jobs, and contribute most to growth

  • And third, investing in the low carbon economy, to ensure environmental and economic sustainability.

I have recently introduced a major reform of this policy, which obliges all our member states to devote the lion's share of EU regional development funds to these three priorities – because they are the ones that in Europe, will do most to create opportunities for jobs and growth in a decent living environment.

To ensure that we get the most out of these funds, the reform requires all partners to set objectives with targets and indicators – so that the taxpayer can judge if the money is being well spent. And we have set certain conditions, so that funds will only be made available if the necessary groundwork has been carried out beforehand.

What you may call equity, we call cohesion, and I would make the following points:

  • We need to invest in poorer areas, but not only there. All our regions, all our cities need to be constantly reinventing themselves to keep pace with economic change

  • We will never achieve completely equal conditions – but we can reduce disparities, by helping each region, each city, to identify and maximise its assets

  • AND the donor – or in our case the net contributor to the EU budget – does not lose from the investment in poorer regions and cities. The giver benefits from creating more dynamic markets nearby.

Today, nearly three quarters of our 500 million inhabitants in the EU live in cities. We are the second most urbanised continent behind Latin America, though our cities are smaller on average and tend to be more evenly spread across our territory.

One of my priorities as European Commissioner has been to develop the effectiveness of our urban policies.

First, I have raised the profile in Europe of cities as the laboratories in which solutions to our problems will be found.

With their dense populations, cities are concentrations of our worst human conditions – social tensions, unemployment, criminality, disease and environmental degradation. But with their tight network of actors and expertise they are also the ideal test beds for new solutions: for smart transport and housing policies to reduce CO2 emissions; for imaginative spatial planning to ensure that growth is inclusive; for cross-fertilisation between academe and enterprise to develop innovative new technologies and products.

Second, I have championed the idea that cities are key partners for the EU

In the EU we are following a strategy – called Europe 2020 - that attempts to build smart, inclusive and green growth. These three cannot be separated. A dynamic, knowledge based recovery that is not socially inclusive will lead to unstable communities. And social cohesion will be tested, if we do not manage resources well: water, of course, but also energy efficiency in our housing and transport.

It is clear that Europe 2020 cannot be implemented without cities. It is in the centres of population that the strategy will be rolled out, and if we do not succeed in cities, we will not succeed at all.

Cities – and efforts to promote equitable growth in cities – pose some new challenges to governance.

Around a third of the EU budget is devoted to cohesion, and around half of that will be spent in one way or another in cities. The question is how to invest well.

Traditional city investments have focused on different sectorial policy objectives such as waste water, transport, housing, and so on. The challenge is to integrate these sectorial investments into coherent city strategies. Energy efficiency, climate action, mobility, spacial planning, integration of marginalized communities: we have to look at the big picture and bring all these things together

I calculate that around two thirds of European Commission policies impact on cities. It is my task to try to ensure that we have a joined up approach. Uncoordinated interventions waste money, and reduce impact.

Co-ordinating action in cities is a challenge inside every administration. No one can afford the luxury of operating along sectorial lines with individual ministries or departments acting separately. To create cities of opportunity, we must do better.

But the governance challenge goes further than this.

Cities cannot become the motors of our economies in isolation. EU level, and national policy makers must recognize the economic, social, and environmental importance of cities, and understand better the dynamics of urban development.

Furthermore, cities themselves must be given a bigger voice. In Europe the powers of the Mayor of a major city can vary a great deal, and we are a long way from a unified approach to engaging our cities in debates on policy. BUT I have argued to give cities more say in the programming of European funds. And, beyond this, I believe they should be more present in national and international debates on human development. The cities are at the sharp end, and we should listen to them.

So there are two issues governance issues we all need to tackle: a stronger and more direct involvement of cities in policymaking and a better coordination and coherence of policies at all levels to reflect city needs

In February this year I organized a major Forum to reflect on how we can strengthen the urban dimension of EU policymaking, and on how we can better recognize cities' key role in rolling out EU and national policies. The main objective of the CITIES Forum was to stimulate a debate at European level on a new urban agenda.

I was delighted to welcome UN Undersecretary-general, Joan Clos, at that Forum. I know he agrees with me that we need strong national urban agendas to complement the international and local levels.

Together – from the global to the local level -we have to ensure that cities are no longer an afterthought in our policy making, but an explicit priority.

I said at the start that there is no single model for ideal city development. Europe does not provide a blueprint for any other part of the world. We are, however, very keen to share our experience – the mistakes, and the successes.

We have a growing number of dialogues on cohesion policy around the world, - quite a number here in Latin America. Urban development is a major theme in these dialogues, also with China, that I visited last November. Europe's cities are open for business to the rest of the world, and we know they will succeed best in partnership with others, which is why the EU strives for free trade around the world.

Above all, I am looking forward to seeing Europe play its part in the debates ahead – on the development agenda post 2015 and in the HABITAT III conference in 2016.

In all this the EU will stand for better governance to build stable societies where inclusive prosperity can take root and flourish. And where cities are centres of opportunity.

Thank you


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