On May 30 the European Ministers responsible for city policy will sign the Pact of Amsterdam. This is the establishment of the European Urban Agenda. What will be the effect on cities?
The EU focuses more and more on quality of life in cities and on what European citizens want. Nowadays, over 75% of the Europeans lives in urban areas, and Europe is informally starting to see regional and local authorities as partners for the application of EU policy. Policy issues as the ageing population, climate change and transport concentrate in cities and the European is fully aware of this.
Pact of Amsterdam
On May 30, 2016, the European Ministers responsible for urban policy (for the Netherlands this is the Minister of the Interior Ronald Plasterk) will sign the Pact of Amsterdam, in presence of the European Commisioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu. The Pact of Amsterdam is about the European Urban Agenda. This is a new approach to a range of European policy subjects which directly effect cities and citizens. In a range of preparation meetings with experts from the European Commission, EU Member States and cities 12 themes were defined:
• Jobs and skills in the local economy
• Urban poverty (in particular child poverty, deprived neighbourhoods and homelessness)
• 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
The EC has already started with a pilot on four of the themes.This cooperation between the EU and local governments has never been organised before and it has two goals.
WITH cities instead of FOR cities
The first objective is to involve cities more in European policy development, because cities have the knowledge and experience to know what works and what doesn’t and what will be beneficial for the citizens. Up until now, European Commission employees and national ministry employees of the Member States prepare this policy. The influence of cities on this is via their national ministers or via European lobby networks as Eurocities and the Committee of the Regions. This means the cities’ influence is always reactive and indirect. Cities themselves don’t have the role of policy makers for the aforementioned themes. With the Pact of Amsterdam this will change at least gradually, because cities will be involved in policy roadmap development on each of the Urban Agenda themes, together with representatives of the European Commission, of Member States and of relevant NGO’s.
The second goal of the Urban Agenda is to make European, national and local policy work more efficient and complementary. On all of the selected themes there exist policy measures at a European, a national and a local level. The Urban Agenda will make these policy measures work better together and will aim at eliminating superfluous regulation. This will give cities as much space as possible to tackle issues as air quality, poverty and growing numbers of tourists optimally. Cities will also be stimulated to share experiences with other cities, sometimes with support of European subsidies.
The ambition of the EU Member States is to involve cities in policy development and to support them in their own activities to increase livability, to solve societal challenges and to diminish climate change.
A Historic moment, but it could have been a little more ambitious.
The signing of the Pact of Amsterdam is a historic moment. For the first time, EU Member States acknowledge cities as partners in the development of EU-policy, within the policy making process between Member States and the European Commission. For now, only a few themes are selected, and we’ll have to see how much influence cities can really have. It all could have been a little more ambitious. But hey, this is Europe, things don’t go fast with all 28 Member States, and this is a great first step.
Indirectly Europe has already been acknowledging the important role of cities, for example by giving cities a specific (‘lighthouse’) role in research and innovation programmes as Horizon 2020, especially in the field of energy transition and the circular economy.
The Europe of the future is a network of cities
In my opinion, the EU focus on cities could be the solution to the decreasing public support to the European Union. Instead of bickering with 28 Member States about more (or less) Europe, the European Commission could focus on the locations where European policy has its effect: in the cities, with the citizens. In cooperation with those partners, the EU policies will be more adjusted to what the European citizens want and need. Eventually, this could lead to a European Union as a network of cities and regions. Without more power for the EU nor the Member States, but for cities, where it all happens. Of course, this will be too big a step for the European Commission now, but the Pact of Amsterdam is a step in this direction.
Audrie van Veen is expert in Europe & Innovation. As European R&D manager, Audrie advises at the Amsterdam Economic Board about innovative regional development. Find more of her blogs (in Dutch and English) on www.europeanology.eu.
Linkedin: Audrie van Veen