Over 70% of the EU’s population lives in towns and cities and this growth is set to continue in the coming years. Many of the social, economic and environmental issues Europe faces have an urban dimension and are most likely to have a larger impact in cities. On the other hand cities are where the potential for innovation lies to solve these issues.
Even though urban policy is not an explicit competence of the European Union, the last thirty years has seen different efforts in giving EU policy an urban dimension. Economic, social and territorial cohesion cannot have a true impact without urban authorities, and in the EU over half of total public investment is made by subnational authorities such as towns and cities.
Towards an Integrated Approach
Efforts have been made at different levels by different actors. The European Commission with the URBAN Pilot Projects and Community Initiatives allowed for practical experience to be gained. The main results showed that it was necessary to have a horizontal and vertical integrated approach to sustainable urban development, combining soft and hard investments and ensuring the involvement of stakeholders and citizens. The integrated approach was mainstreamed in the 2007-2013 programming period for European Structural Funds giving the possibility to all Member States and Managing Authorities to foresee measures to support sustainable urban development. In the current ERDF regulations for 2014-2020, this was further reinforced in Article 7 with increased financial resources and new delivery mechanisms such as the Integrated Territorial Investment.
At inter-ministerial level, work was undertaken in order to set a common understanding on sustainable urban development and to support the integrated approach. This has been done through a series of ministerial declarations that have shaped common European objectives and principles.
A new step to unlock the potential of cities: the EU Urban Agenda
Since 2011 there has been an increased effort to strengthen the urban dimension of EU policies with the European Commission and the European Parliament both taking action. A public consultation was launched by the EC in 2014 in order to understand the demands of cities and stakeholders. It was answered by stakeholders from across all Member States and confirmed the need for an EU Urban Agenda with specific objectives and a defined functioning. The aim is to improve the way EU policies are designed and implemented at local level. It does not seek additional regulations or funding but a working method more adapted to cities and which takes urban stakeholders’ opinions and practices on the ground into account.
The proposed EU Urban Agenda aims to strengthen the urban dimension of EU policies in three ways:
- Better regulation: improved links between the design of European policies and urban practices
- Better access and use of European funds in order to secure results
- Improving the knowledge on urban issues at EU level and encourage cities across Europe to share best practices
In 2015, urban stakeholders and Member States identified 12 topics which represent common challenges cities are facing. These are:
- Air quality
- Innovation and responsible public procurement
- Circular economy
- Integration of migrants and refugees
- Climate adaptation
- Jobs and skills in the local economy
- Digital transition
- Energy Transition
- Sustainable use of land (nature-based solutions)
- Urban mobility
- Urban Poverty (deprived neighbourhoods)
The process for the definition of an EU Urban Agenda brings together stakeholders at EU, national and local level to tackle urban issues in a more coherent and dedicated way. Partnerships, composed of experts from different DGs of the European Commission, Member States, cities as well as networks such as CEMR and EUROCITIES, will propose concrete actions through an action plan.
What does UIA bring?
The UIA will contribute to the Urban Agenda.
The Initiative is thematically aligned to the topics identified and on a rolling basis will launch calls for proposals for each theme.
In this way UIA gives urban authorities the opportunity to unlock their potential and test new ideas and solutions within these themes fostering a genuine bottom-up approach. The knowledge generated by cities involved in UIA will be available to practitioners and policy makers in Europe and beyond. It will also be used to feed into the work and discussion being made by the partnerships in the framework of the EU Urban Agenda.