EUROCITIES 2015 Copenhagen/Malmo, our annual conference, took place on 4-6 November.
The conference opened on Wednesday evening with the annual EUROCITIES awards, with Edinburgh, Gothenburg and Milan revealed as the 2015 winners (see here for more details).
The awards were linked to the theme of this year’s conference, ‘sustainable growth and quality of life’. Philipp Rode, executive director of LSE Cities, delivered a keynote speech the following day on this theme, in which he described the European model of compact cities as being more conducive to quality of life, more accessible and more sustainable when compared to examples of urban sprawl elsewhere.
A series of parallel roundtables then took place in a change to the usual mayors’ debate. This was an opportunity to give a wider platform for debate on some of the key themes of EUROCITIES work. Discussions focused on the following themes:
Where participants discussed local actions, technology and the revision of the National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive in the presence of Julie Girling MEP, European Parliament rapporteur on NEC. During the discussion, poor air quality in cities was described as a ‘public health scandal’. Participants highlighted the intrinsic link between air quality at local and national level, and said that cities can only take care of 10% of the problem, the remainder requires cooperation between different governance levels. This demonstrates the importance of a strong NEC Directive, something which we now have to convince member states is required. The issue of citizen engagement was also discussed, with participants concluding that this is necessary to guarantee results and that cities must work to bring about behavioural change among citizens. Participants claimed that ‘Cities walk the walk and talk the talk’, giving examples such as Porto’s clean bus fleet. We mustn’t take poor air quality for granted, they concluded.
This roundtable was about creating jobs and getting people into them. Participants discussed issues such as tackling skills mismatch through vocational education and adult training, for example. Knowledge intensive sectors were identified as having some of the greatest job creation potential, but there was also a discussion on how to attract manufacturing and production back to Europe. Participants explored how social clauses in procurement can be used to get people into jobs, and cities gave many examples of local partnerships with businesses for job creation. In the context of the refugee crisis, there was debate about the need to validate formal and informal education and talents from other countries and ensure adequate language training is available to those who have the skills but not the language.
Securing investment and local economic development
Participants discussed the need for clear rules to attract investment to cities, and shared innovative ways to raise finance, such as municipal finance. They talked about the use of ‘revolving funds’, for example using the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for an initial investment, and then reinvesting again. This means that the first investment must follow ERDF rules but subsequent investments don’t need to. Participants addressed some of the obstacles to attracting investment, such as bureaucratic processes at national and EU level, and the fact that the long term planning doesn’t always fit in with shorter political mandates. Devolution of powers but not money was also identified as a challenge, although it was acknowledged that an ‘empty envelope from the state’ can trigger new and innovative forms of investment. Participants concluded by recognising that the money is there, but that they need to translate this into investable propositions in order to attract it.
This roundtable addressed the need to reclaim the streets back from the private car. Unfortunately, the car is too often the quickest way to move around a city and it takes political courage and will to challenge this. Participants recognised that different solutions will work in different cities, and also acknowledged that the solution isn’t just about money, but about solving problems such as public transport issues. Freight also shouldn’t be ignored, and participants highlighted the need to create sustainable alternatives before taking anything away.
The themes of these four roundtables demonstrate some of the key elements of an EU urban agenda, which would provide a framework for better cooperation between the city, national and EU levels. All of these themes are part of a proposed list of themes informally agreed by member states and the European Commission and being taken forward in discussions on an EU urban agenda and also to test a new working method of partnerships between member states, cities and the Commission.
The conference also featured two closed political sessions, on refugees and on climate ahead of COP 21 (see here). These were an opportunity for frank discussion between politicians on their experiences and the challenges they face in confronting these issues.
The conference attracted some 400 participants, including around 70 politicians. There were plenty of opportunities for networking and a total of 93 cities were represented. For more information on the conference, visit www.eurocities2015.eu and follow the discussion on Twitter via #eurocities2015.
Pictured: Frank Jensen, mayor of Copenhagen & Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, mayor of Malmo, open the conference. Photo by Fredrik Johansson