EU ministers outline ‘European City’ ideal


The Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, signed by European ministers on 24 May, lays the foundation for a new integrated urban policy in Europe, focusing on helping cities tackle problems of social exclusion, structural change, ageing, climate change and mobility.

EU ministers responsible for urban and spatial development laid the foundations for a new urban policy in Europe, on 24 May 2007, with the signature of the “Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities”, at an informal meeting on Urban Development and Territorial Cohesion, organised by the German Presidency. 

With this charter, the 27 member states have, for the first time, outlined an ideal model for the “European City’ of the 21st century and agreed on common strategies for urban-development policy. 

  • Strengthening the inner city 

According to the charter, the primary aim should be to attract people, activities and investment back to the city centres – which are the engines research, innovation and economic development in Europe – and to put an end to the urban sprawl phenomenon, as this simply increases urban traffic, energy consumption and land use. 

Focus should be on regeneration of existing residential and business areas in inner cities, with a greater mixture of living, working and leisure areas, making cities more exciting and vibrant, but also more socially and economically stable. 

  • Assisting ‘deprived neighbourhoods’ 

Member states agreed that doing something about deprived neighbourhoods should receive particular attention and be considered as a “public task” because the existence of such neighbourhoods jeopordizes attractiveness, competitiveness, social cohesion and security in cities. “There must be no ‘no-go’ areas in Europe,” the text states. 

  • Better funding 

The charter also urges the Commission to ensure that cities are at the heart of European funding policies. 

So far, of the €350 billion structural and cohesion funds for 2007-2013, €19.5bn has been earmarked to support EU cities. But the Leipzig Charter makes it clear that member states will have to do more if they are to be able to face up to demographic change, global warming and economic structural change due to globalisation pressures. 

It recommends that governments make more use of public-private partnerships to enhance investments in city infrastructure. 

German EU Council President Wolfgang Tiefensee said that the fact that living in cities was becoming increasingly popular was "a positive development, and one that we have to boost...Industrial sites are being put to new uses. Living and working on what used to be derelict industrial sites is becoming attractive. In short: Europe's cities are currently experiencing a renaissance, and policymakers have to shape this renaissance." 

"We have to join forces to do something about one-sidedness and monotony in urban development. The era of individually-optimised residential and business areas, oversized shopping centres and large traffic spaces is over. There must be a greater mixture of areas for living, working and leisure in cities. This can make cities more exciting, vibrant and socially stable", he said. 

He added that tackling social exclusion and isolation in individual neighbourhoods was "imperative" and that policymakers must not tolerate downward spirals and the stigmatisation of certain city districts. 

"Longterm and stable economic growth will not be possible unless whole cities remain socially balanced and stable," Tiefensee added. 

He highlighted youth unemployment as one of the major challenges. "With an unemployment rate among young people under 25 years of age of 18.6 %, cities have to compensate for enormous fluctuations. Here, urban development policy also has to offer solutions," he said, adding: "In particular, we have to devote even more attention to the educational requirements of children and young people in these urban areas. If more than one half of young people in these deprived neighbourhoods leave school without any qualifications, there are bound to be problems in the future." 

Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner said: "Cities and urban areas are home to most jobs, businesses and higher education institutions. They have been and they will be the engines for regional, national and European economic growth. On the other hand, many cities are confronted with severe problems of social exclusion. Despite progress in areas like waste and water management, trends in urban transport and urban sprawl are alarming. The battle for sustainable development will almost certainly be decided in cities…We need cities in good shape, wisely using their resources in an innovative and sustainable way, cities for all, for us today and for future generations."

Eurocities, the network of major European cities, underlined the importance of the European dimension in integrated urban development. "This dimension is crucial in two ways. Firstly, by virtue of the impact that EU policies have on cities and on the policies they can or must implement at local level. Secondly, due to the impact that city-level actions, particularly collective action by a number of large European cities, can have in addressing the major challenges that Europe is facing today, recognising that the majority of Europeans live in urban areas." 

Eurocities CEO Catherine Parmentier said: "Cities are committed to delivering higher social and environmental standards and ensuring that everyone is able to enjoy a good quality of life. They have a major role to play in helping to deliver the objectives of European policies and strategies in favour of cohesion, employment, economic growth and sustainable development. The national governments have much to gain from the knowledge and expertise which exists in our cities." 

Hungarian socialist MEP Gyula Hegyi welcomed the Leipzig Charter as recognition that, up to now, the importance of the city has generally not been taken sufficiently into account in EU projects and funds. "Imagine that 80% of EU citizens are living in towns and cities. And their interests are not really represented. 40% of our entire budget goes towards agriculture. The rest goes towards cohesion and infrastructure funds, and most of this money also goes to the countryside…As a group, citizens living in cities are not targeted properly by the Union's funds." 

Cities generate 75-85% of the EU's GDP. Creating a high-quality urban environment is a priority of the renewed Lisbon Strategy – to "make Europe a more attractive place to invest and work" – in order to enhance its potential for economic growth and job creation. 

But many European cities are suffering heavily from congestion, pollution, high noise levels and social exclusion. As the source of almost three quarters of energy consumption, cities also have a major role to play in the fight against climate change. 

While the EU does not have any direct competence in urban affairs, its cohesion policies as well as sectoral policies in the areas of transport, environment and social affairs, for example, can have a significant impact on cities and on their capacity to deal with these challenges. 

An integrated urban development policy, combining all these policy areas and involving actors at all levels – local, regional, national and European – is thus needed. 

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