Written by Christiaan van Lierop,
Towns and cities are a core part of the fabric of Europe’s landscape and many of the policy challenges facing Europe have a disproportionate impact on urban areas. These range from issues such as social exclusion and migration to climate action and environmental deterioration. Crucially, however, Europe’s towns and cities also contain the solutions to these very challenges: as places where people and resources congregate, they provide unrivalled opportunities for promoting sustainability, energy efficiency, economic innovation and social inclusion. There is much to be gained by ensuring more effective coordination between the many policies impacting on urban areas and by taking account of the experiences of local and regional authorities in delivering policy on the ground. This can be achieved by developing a common framework of action – an Urban Agenda for the EU.
The Urban Agenda takes shape
After decades of debate, 2015 marked a turning point for the Urban Agenda. Discussions were taken forward by the Latvian Presidency, building on the ministerial agreement reached in Athens in April 2014, which gave further political backing to the Urban Agenda and identified urban poverty as a specific working field of strengthened cooperation, and on the conclusions of the November 2014 General Affairs Council, which made explicit reference to continuing work on the urban agenda. The Latvian Presidency sought to identify the specific challenges facing small and medium-sized urban areas, with the June 2015 Riga Declaration of ministers for territorial cohesion and urban matters providing political support to develop the Urban Agenda for the EU.
Listen to podcast: Launch of an Urban Agenda for the EU [Policy Podcast]
Within the EU, a shared vision of urban development has gradually taken shape at inter-governmental level. At the same time there have been increasing calls for concrete action and the development of an Urban Agenda to give city authorities and stakeholders a greater say in the process. To help guide these discussions, the European Commission launched a public consultation following its July 2014 Communication on the Urban Dimension of EU policies. Its findings indicated broad support among city stakeholders for an Urban Agenda for the EU. The European Parliament has also prepared an own-initiative report on the issue as part of this process, which was adopted at the September 2015 plenary session. The revised 2014-2020 Cohesion Policy framework introduced a number of new instruments intended to enhance the urban dimension of cohesion funding. With the launch of Urban Innovative Actions and the introduction of the first four urban partnerships, recent months have seen both a strengthening of the cohesion policy framework and the first concrete action towards rolling out the Urban Agenda.
Building on this momentum, the Dutch Council Presidency put forward an ambitious roadmap for the first half of 2016, which led to the signing on 30 May 2016 of the Pact of Amsterdam, a clear political commitment to deliver an Urban Agenda for the EU. After many years of discussion, the Urban Agenda for the EU has at last become reality. A concrete plan is now on the table to enhance the urban dimension of EU policy, and the Slovak Presidency of the Council has committed to continuing work on the Urban Agenda. Europe stands on the threshold of a new era in urban policy, yet the coming months will be critical for the success of this venture. In many ways, the EU’s new urban adventure has only just begun.