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The urban dimension of EU policies- Key features of an EU urban agenda

Response to the European Commission public consultation

Brussels, 25 September 2014 | Published in Urban
Photo: Vadim Timoshkin
Photo: Vadim Timoshkin

Housing Europe as well as its German member organisation, GdW, respond to the public consultation of the European Commission on the topic of "The urban dimension of EU policies- Key features of an EU urban agenda".

"Europe continues to be faced with challenges related to the economy, the climate, the environment, and society at large. Most of these challenges have a strong urban dimension. But although cities’ role for economic, social and cultural development, and their potential for a more resource efficient habitat, have long been recognised, the policy response at European and national level has been slow and piecemeal, with many but poorly integrated sectoral initiatives", this is the brief framework set by the European Commission regarding the public consultation on the EU urban agenda. 

Housing Europe has underlined, among others, the following issues:

  • The EU urban agenda should contribute to creating a stable environment and recognition where housing is key to growth and equal societies.
  • The EU urban agenda should help to address the common challenges for affordable housing providers in every possible way, financially, socially, environmentally etc.
  • The urban agenda must avoid the pitfall of promoting a single "model” of urban development
  • As far as the "Cities of Tomorrow" report is concerned: The Cities of Tomorrow report makes a good diagnosis of the challenges facing cities (in particular the growing social and spatial segregation) but does not provide realistic solutions to it. The role of the EU urban agenda is to understand how best help cities to cope with those challenges. This should be the case when the European Commission prepares its Country Specific Recommendations.
  • EU urban policies should always arise from the needs identified at the local level. That is why cities and local stakeholders should participate in the definition of the policy goals, as well as in the implementation of the concrete policies developed at the European level.
  • A bottom-up approach should be taken, so that all initiatives and ideas arise from the local needs and are enriched with the contributions of regional and national entities.
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GdW stresses on the other hand the following:

  • Considerations on an EU "urban agenda" should be informed and guided by the follow-ing:
    • The EU has no jurisdiction over urban development.
    • At the same time, though, individual sectoral policies of the EU do have substantial impacts on the development of the cities of its Member States.
    • The cities are the drivers of growth, innovation, education and integration, but they al-so are melting pots for social problems within the EU.
  • The keywords "coordination, integration and bundling" describe the key objectives of an "urban agenda" appropiatly. However, the expectations in this context should not be set too high.
  • It is appropriate to note that the work on an "urban agenda" does not have to start at zero. Instead, it should build upon the large number of existing documents - particu-larly those that emerged from cooperation between Member States. In this context, the process should be based on the Leipzig Charter and the other documents of Member State cooperation.
  • What is really needed is an improved "early warning system" for planned new EU policy approaches, or those that are to be modified, so as to allow for a broad debate on their impact on cities. It is then the task of cities and their organisations to participate in such a debate. To do so, cities and/or their organisations in the Member States and at the EU level must provide more administrative force for EU matters.
  • The acceptance and effect of an informal "urban agenda" depends on the consensus on the contents among decision makers, to whom it is addressed.
  • During participatory processes, it is important that the objective of an "urban agenda" as an informal instrument for integrating the urban dimension into the EU's general and sectoral policies is communicated right from the beginning without being changed in the course of the process.

You may read both complete responses by downloading the pdf documents below.

Aedes recalls there is a pressing need for accessible and affordable housing in many urban areas. Reforms and competition policies required by the EU influence these local challenges. At the same time urban development policies and social housing strictly remain national and local issues. Any involvement from the EU must embrace and understand the fragile logic of local ecosystems. European macro-policies can become disruptive, and even ineffective, at the local level.

In this respect it should be crucial that, when cities signal problems with the provision of their local services of general economic interest (SGEI) due to EU interventions, this should get the fullest attention from the EU. The European Urban agenda must recognize that housing is more than a market item and constitutes a fundamental right. For social and affordable housing the involvement of dedicated housing bodies with local roots and long term interests remains crucial.

An EU Urban agenda must also take stock of the trend that people in cities and neighbourhoods participate in projects to improve the well-being of their own communities. Community-based initiatives can be effective but require a different mind-set and governance. Prescriptive EU policies may be difficult to combine with such cooperative efforts. Attention should go to foster cooperation between local actors. The possibility to use ESI-funding for community-led local development is therefore a welcome support.

In this respect an EU Urban agenda should remove such barriers. Ideally, it could be an instrument to move EU policies closer to the daily needs of people in cities and bring tangible results. More specifically, Aedes proposes:

  • to strengthen the general impact assessment procedures and the impact of the Country Specific Recommendations with a special urban chapter
  • closer involvement of local authorities and actors actively pursuing these goals, such as Housing Europe and its members should be actively involved on housing and related services in the European Urban Agenda.
  • the continuation of the Urban intergroup in the European Parliament as a crucial platform and it would be a great
  • the inclusion of a regular socio-economic monitoring of the biggest European urban areas based on the EU2020 goals.