Cities are partners towards a more positive future for Europe

The EU needs to listen more and engage more with its citizens. It can take inspiration from and use its cities for this purpose to find ways to create societies where people come first, argues Daniël Termont.

Daniël Termont, is president of EUROCITIES and mayor of Ghent (Belgium).

The future of Europe depends on the future of our cities. Cities can be partners towards a stronger, more positive EU, which will deliver better results for citizens.

The EU is sitting at a cross roads. Ahead of the 2019 European Parliament elections, the impact of Brexit, political upheaval in Catalonia, and national elections in several member states have yet to become clear. Ongoing discussions about the next long term EU budget, and specifically funding for our cities, risk undermining the EU’s raison d’être to benefit the lives of all people.

Local authorities are responsible for the implementation of more than 70% of EU rules. From finding housing for refugees to meeting climate change targets, we make the EU a reality for people every day.

As the level of government closest to citizens, we can bridge the gap and help the EU regain the trust of its people.

For us, the question is not whether we need ‘more’ or ‘less’ of the EU as we know it. It is how best to arrive at a Europe that demonstrates results, regains the confidence of citizens, while also showing global leadership on vital issues such as climate change, equal opportunities, quality of life and high standards of public services. 

Making the EU fit for the future

To make the EU fit for purpose we must strengthen our tools for working together. The EU has already taken some positive steps towards the inclusion of cities in decision making. For instance, the Urban Agenda for the EU promotes cooperation and dialogue between all the different levels of government. Going forward, we are asking the EU and member states to keep this strategic lifeline for cities, and make it even stronger, with clearer links to the policy and decision-making processes at EU level.

Cities are drivers of development and we recognise our responsibility towards our surrounding areas to ensure that benefits and opportunities created in cites are shared across Europe, through partnerships and collaboration.

The EU’s cohesion policy is the strongest expression of solidarity, strengthening prosperity and territorial cohesion across Europe. It shares resources from the EU budget for projects all over Europe.

However, the future EU budget, currently linked to discussions such as Brexit, and EU defence objectives, could end up in severe financial cuts for cities. We can’t let this happen. A strong Europe that is close to its citizens, needs strong and inclusive cities that are able to reach all people. That’s why we are calling for a robust cohesion policy post-2020, with universal coverage and a reinforced urban dimension, which will equip cities to deliver solutions that make sense for citizens and Europe.

The EU needs to listen more and engage more with its citizens. It can take inspiration from and use its cities for this purpose to find ways to create societies where people come first.

Cities have experience in doing things differently. By creating public policies together with our citizens, we tap into an innovative potential that often matches urban and European needs.

The Cities4Europe, Europe for citizens campaign in May 2018 will engage citizens across Europe to understand their aspirations and expectations for the EU in the future. We want to take the next step and actively demonstrate what citizens and cities can do and are already doing at local level, such as creating participative budgets, experimenting with e-democracy or setting meetings with local residents to discuss urban planning.

Urban challenges are European challenges

Looking ahead, urban and European challenges continue to be strongly connected. We need to take action together to deliver results where it matters to citizens.

Tackling poverty, inequality and a lack of affordable housing in our cities is urgent, and is putting our European social model – and ultimately our welfare states – at risk. The European pillar of Social Rights is a much-needed initiative and we are ready to work with all levels of government to ensure that its principles improve the quality of life of all of our citizens, especially those who need it the most.

Our cities are also where environmental challenges come together and where we have the potential to show the way forward. New challenges include stimulating a more circular approach to our goods, services and consumption and the associated opportunities for job creation. We need an EU framework that tackles barriers, supports knowledge sharing and capacity building, and creates buy-in from all sectors, while also respecting local diversity.

Let’s seize the opportunity to change the way things are done in Europe. The conclusion of the year-long discussion on the Future of Europe white paper must move us towards a stronger EU, that is closer to its citizens, more socially just and resource efficient. With cities on board, we can get there!

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