EPRSLibrary By / January 28, 2015

The international dimension of European Urban Policy

Written by Isabel Moran Vidal Cities in the European Union Nowadays, 71.7% of the population of the European Union (EU)…

Written by Isabel Moran Vidal

Cities in the European Union

Nowadays, 71.7% of the population of the European Union (EU) lives in urban areas . Cities play an important role in implementing policies related to culture, economic and social development, climate and environment. Moreover, in order to achieve the goals stated in Europe 2020 , the input and participation of cities is crucial.

At the Open Days 2014 , one of the presentations was devoted to the international dimension of European Urban Policy.

There is a growing awareness of the fact that cities and local authorities should be properly involved in the policy-making of those EU policies affecting urban issues, as the moderator, Bas Verkerk, Mayor of the city of Delft, stated. He’s rapporteur of the CoR opinion on an Integrated Urban Agenda for the EU. The European Commission had also launched a public consultation during summer 2014 in order to gather the views from relevant stakeholders on the need for an urban agenda and its objectives.

International relations in urban policy

Fotolia_63694853_© Dmytro Tolokonov_Fotolia
© Dmytro Tolokonov / Fotolia

The European urban model, which takes account of social, economic and environment development on an equal basis, has become a model of study for EU foreign partners as Ronald Hall (DG REGIO) underlined.

The EU has broad experience in dialogue with third countries on several different policies. Urban and territorial development issues features very high on their priorities. This is usually the case for countries with rapid economic growth leading to territorial disparities. The EU has already signed memoranda of understanding on regional cooperation with China , Russia , Brazil , Ukraine , Moldova , Georgia , Chile , Argentina (draft), Peru , Japan , Central American Integration System (ongoing) and Mexico .

Those dialogues have strong support from the European Parliament (EP). The institution recognises the political and practical importance of cities. The European Commission has a specific EP mandate to promote internationally the EU regional policy model given in 2008 which has been renewed annually until 2014. In 2009-2013 it was placed under the preparatory action heading Enhancing regional and local cooperation through the promotion of European Regional Policy on a global scale . Some examples of specific actions are : URBELAC (Latin America) together with Interamerica Development Bank (2010-2013) ; China-Europe training on Regional Policy CETREGIO (2010-on going) ; EU-Japan exchange on urban policy ; Regional programme exchange EU-Brazil (2009-2010).

In 2014, there is a new preparatory action entitled: World cities: EU-third countries cooperation on urban development and concerns the international dimension of EU regional and urban policy, establishing an exchange of experiences and best practices in the field of territorial and urban development.

Experiences on the stage

Four different experiences of international cooperation in urban policy were presented: Union for the Mediterranean, Organisation for Economic and Co-operation Development (OECD), Covenant of Mayors and Interreg.

Union for the Mediterranean is an organisation composed of 41 countries and co-chaired by the EU. Urban development is one of the pillars of cooperation. This organisation advocates a bottom-up approach, working on a project by project basis. From their experience, a key point to be stressed is the capacity of local actors in order for the implementation of these projects to succeed.

The OECD representative gave an overview of their collaboration with the EU, such as with Eurostat on regional and metropolitan area databases . Also as there is not a clear single definition of what a city is, OECD-EU have worked together on a new definition entitled Functional Urban Areas .

DG Energy presented the Covenant of Mayors as an example of development of an urban policy into urban diplomacy. This action is the consequence of local authorities voluntarily committing themselves to go beyond the 20% of CO2 reduction through the implementation of Sustainable Energy Action Plans, concentrating on what they can do better at their level: urban mobility, urban planning, building or renewables. Working directly with cities was a new experience for the Commission. The action benefited from a strong commitment and quickly expanded outside EU boundaries, giving it an unexpected international dimension. Nowadays more than 5500 cities in 54 countries have joined the project.

Finally, the new Interreg Europe (2014-2020) was introduced. All EU-28 are eligible now for the programme, plus Switzerland and Norway. An overview of URBACT III , which helps in the exchange of best practices and networking between urban planners and local experts, was also offered. This programme focuses on cities, but more on social aspects than does Interreg.


Regional and Urban Policy has become an essential component of international exchange in EU relations. It supports the implementation of specific EU policies and initiatives, promoting the international image and reputation of EU. Even if European experiences might not be of direct application to other countries, our know-how can inspire their own policies.

Further reading

What is a city? In focus on urban areas / EPRS, February 2014.

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