We are already on our way to Amsterdam: Countdown to the new EU Urban Agenda

We are already on our way to Amsterdam: Countdown to the new EU Urban Agenda

eprs-briefing-565865-developing-eu-urban-agenda“Europe is one of the most urbanised continents in the world.”

75% Europeans live in urban areas, where 77% jobs and 53% companies are concentrated. They are the place where daily life takes place with challenges and demands to face every day in an increasingly complex matrix. With regards to climate change, social innovation, transport, poverty and economic development, cities are key partners to a successful formulation and implementation of policies answering to those problems.

Since last year Riga Declaration, the European Union has come to grasp the full potential of European cities in the achievement of its objectives. The Council of the European Union provided the political support for the development of the first effective, coordinated, truly integrated, place-based, coherent European Urban Agenda in full respect of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality and of the EU Urban Acquis. From that moment on, the Dutch Presidency committed itself to take the lead of the process, making the new EU Urban Agenda one its top priority for the first half of 2016.

“Cities should be fully included in the mainstream policies. They should be seen as engines for economic growth and creators of jobs; cities as the frontrunners in Europe. It is about time to put forward the statement: Cities in Europe need to step out of the shadow and into the spotlights.

(Lambert Van Nistelrooij, Dutch MEP and promoter of the process)


Adjusting EU policies to citizens’ needs and make them count

The objective of the new EU Urban Agenda is to exploit the potential of European cities in terms of knowledge, expertise and resources by involving them in the formulation and implementation of a wide set of EU policies. By complementing policies at different levels (European, national, local), it aims at fostering (less and) better regulation, better funding opportunities and better knowledge exchange. The key of the whole process is a new, truly multi-level and shared approach, where no actor acts as the leader of the process.

A long process of consultation between EU institutions, Member States, local authorities, stakeholders and civil society representatives led to the selection of twelve thematic areas addressing the major challenges faced by cities today with the aim to promote the development of smart, green and inclusive cities.

The twelve themes:

• Jobs and skills in the local economy
• Urban poverty (in particular child poverty, deprived neighbourhoods and homelessness)
• Housing
• Inclusion of migrants and refugees
• Sustainable use of land and nature based solutions
• Circular economy
• Climate adaptation
• Energy transition (in particular energy efficiency and local renewable energy systems)
• Sustainable urban mobility
• Air quality
• Digital transition (in particular data collection, data management and digital services)
• Innovative and responsible public procurement

In addition, eleven cross-cutting issues will have to be taken into account when weighting action in each of the afore-mentioned twelve domains.

The eleven cross-cutting themes:

  • Good urban governance
  • Governance across administrative boundaries and inter-municipal cooperation
  • Sound and strategic urban planning
  • Integrated approach
  • Innovative approaches
  • Impact on societal change, including behavioural change
  • Challenges and opportunities of small- and medium-sized cities;
  • Urban regeneration
  • Adaptation to demographic change
  • Availability and quality of public services of general interest
  • International dimension

The political agreement we are heading to will set forth the start of multi-level, cross-sectoral partnership delivering specific Action Plans on each theme based on an open, transparent and bottom-up approach. Four pilot partnerships (Air Quality, Housing, Urban Poverty, and Inclusion of refugees and Migrants) were launched last December. All partnership will be characterised by a concrete, case-based and result-oriented approach to tackle the bottlenecks and potential of each area and deliver results.


Re-thinking the working method: Community-based Urban GovernancePP_Image-2

Beyond the priority areas and their objectives, the final version of the Pact will provide the definition of the working method of partnerships. Actions, actors, governance principles, monitoring and evaluation indicators will be included. As already stressed in Riga, actions will be assessed in terms of local and urban impact. Public-private partnerships and citizens’ participation will be championed through a multi-level, multi-sectoral and place-based problem solving approach.

“Ministers invite local and regional authorities:

[..]24.2. provide partnership in sustainable integrated urban development on the ground involving local community and stakeholders, and aiming to deliver effective urban solutions to challenges that go beyond one sector and administrative borders;

24.3. elaborate and implement integrated local strategies using a participatory approach, that is responsible and well-balanced in terms of spatial planning, respecting local assets and using existing tools for promoting sustainable development of urban area and its hinterlands.”

The last draft of the Pact shows the full endorsement of community-based participatory initiatives, stating:

“The Ministers agree:

[..]To encourage Urban Areas to stimulate community-based initiatives and cooperate with civic

urban developers (City Makers), who play an important role in creating innovative, resilient,

inclusive, economically stable and inspiring neighbourhoods and Urban Areas.”


Road to Amsterdam: what is next

The Urban Development Group just met on April 7th to discuss the third and last draft of the document, and it will gather again on May 12th to adopt its final version. On the same day, the Committee of the Regions delivered its opinion stressing three criteria that have to be taken into account to develop a truly successful bottom-up, multilevel approach, namely transparency, participation and the binding force of the Pact.

maxresdefaultOn May 30th the EU Ministers for Regional Developments will sign the Amsterdam Pact establishing the EU Urban Agenda. At a later stage, the EU Council will endorse and formalise its commitments though its binding Conclusions.

It will be an historic moment, re-writing the history of urban governance in the European Union after years of inaction. However, despite the fact that it  is the outcome of a large-scale effort to an open dialogue involving stakeholders in its formulation, the new document will represent only half of the puzzle. There remain doubts about the political fuel, powers, capacity, incentives and sanctions necessary to deliver results (see Professor Michael Parkinson’ opinion). As a matter of fact, an EU eager to recognize the importance of the city as the crux of policy implementation indeed represents a big achievement.

Betting on urban governance means contributing to a new, responsible and inclusive political culture, making citizens’ participation and active cooperation with both private and public sectors structural features of a new form of governance and a new meaning of “citizenship” at the neighbourhood and city level. Current institutional settings are still inappropriate to embrace the structural, qualitative transformation that such an ambitious idea entails.That is why a need-based, integrated, cross-sectorial approach built on creative processes and social innovative projects is necessary to start an urban revolution from the bottom.

Which is exactly what LabGov promotes.

We are already on our way to Amsterdam.