May 16 2012
EU cities should be ‘engines of growth’
In a recent report Paul Bevan, Secretary General of EUROCITIES, has argued that cities should be the engines of the European economy. He believes that changes to the EU’s regional policy represent an opportunity to ensure that cities contribute fully to the recovery
The number one objective for the next long-term European Union budget has got to be growth. Beyond the euro crisis, however it develops, Europe faces intensifying global competition. Cities are the engines of the European economy, generating 85 per cent of gross domestic product. Their performance – how well they function, their liveability, their attractiveness to investment and talent – is therefore critical to Europe’s success. The continent’s cities have to be at the heart of any policy aiming to create growth, jobs and a sustainable future.
The productive and creative strength of cities lies in their density. They are places where diverse people and activities are concentrated. Because of this, intelligently coordinated development policies can have a tremendous impact. But this same concentration and diversity can, if left unmanaged, lead to growing problems of congestion, segregation, poverty, pollution and, ultimately, economic stagnation. The European Commission has recognised this by proposing a special place for cities in the next round of structural funds for 2014 to 2020.
The European Union’s major cities must be directly involved in the national partnerships that are going to decide the EU investment programmes. City leaders should be included as important partners with a greater role in strategic policy making. Their knowledge of their own metropolitan economy, its needs and opportunities, will make limited funding stretch as far as possible, with the greatest impact. Quite simply, getting input, ideas and direction from the people on the ground brings better results.
Paul believes the regulations governing how EU funds should be used must insist on a strong urban focus. One proposed innovation is that at least 5 per cent of the national allocation is earmarked for integrated urban development. No doubt this will help cities in those regions and countries where urban investment has been neglected in the current funding period. But with 75 per cent of the population it would be extraordinary if cities’ overall share of structural funds were to be so dismally low. This minimum percentage is for special programmes of integrated development, not for all urban investment. There should be a clearer requirement on member states to direct more EU funding to improve the functioning and attractiveness of our cities, not less; and certainly not just 5 per cent.
Member State governments must be required to offer city authorities and metropolitan areas the opportunity to manage EU programmes themselves. Local challenges will not be effectively addressed otherwise. Many cities are ready and willing to take the lead on EU investments in harness with public, private and third sector partners at local level.
The European Commission proposes that a list of cities to be offered delegated EU funds is drawn up in each country. It is essential that these lists are fair and justified, based on opportunity and need, not political favour.
There are a few cities I can think of in Scotland which should be considered.
Each Member State should develop clear criteria in dialogue with its cities. There is no reason why the list should not include metropolitan areas too. The commission should hold governments to account on the transparency of this process. Defining such a list of cities in partnership contracts or operational programmes will help ensure that EU funding finds its intended goal.