EU ministers to meet in support of sustainable cities

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On 24 and 25 May, EU ministers responsible for urban and spatial development will meet in Leipzig to adopt the Leipzig Charter on Sustainabe European Cities. Apart from the adoption of the charter, a main purpose of the Leipzig meeting will be to “politically emphasise” the importance of cities in the formulation of future EU policies.

  • “Integrated urban development”

The Leipzig Charter recommends urban development policy-making that goes beyond traditional public administrations to include the input and involvement of wide range of “economic actors, stakeholders and the general public” at a local, regional and European level. 

This “integrated” approach is also considered a “key prerequisite for implementing the EU Sustainable Development Strategy” (EURACTIV LinksDossier), which “calls upon business, NGOs and citizens to become more involved in working for sustainable development.”

The charter declares that an “appropriate framework” for integrated policy-making should be established at national and European level, but it does not propose any specific actions or structures. Rather, it provides general guidelines and recommendations, urging policy-makers to address several focal areas: public spaces, better infrastructures and energy efficiency improvements, and “proactive” innovation and educational policies.

  • Focus on “deprived neigbourhoods”

Linking economic development with sustainability, the Leipzig Charter devotes considerable attention to problems such as high unemployment and social exclusion. Though not explicitly mentioned in the charter, the experience of heavy rioting in French cities in 2005 may be one of the reasons why the problems of “high unemployment and social exclusion” are given considerable attention in the charter. Once again, an integrated urban development policy is suggested as a possible remedy, particularly with respect to improving local economies and labor markets, education and training for young people, and affordability and efficiency of urban transport. 

  • More EU funds 

The charter emphasizes that member states should “have the opportunity to use the European structural funds for substantial integrated urban development programs.” 

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), an international standards and membership organisation focused on the property market, "welcomes the Leipzig Charter as recognition by Member States of the importance of sustainable development or urban areas, whilst at the same time regretting that the Charter does not seem to include a follow-up programme or action points." 

Concerning the issue of EU funding, the Parliament on 10 May adopted a report urging that "structural fund aid should form part of an integrated strategy for boosting the accessibility of housing" under the exisiting funding mechanism of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

In November 2006, European Environment Agency (EEA) published a report on urban sprawl, which criticised the EU for its lack of a more "effective" urban-planning policy (EURACTIV 26/11/06). The report also warns that EU funds are "major contributors" to urban sprawl and that the EU should also adopt clear "policy guidelines to help avoid the environmental pitfalls that a sudden injection of funds can encourage."

 

Whilst the EU does not have any direct competence in urban affairs, sectoral policies in the area of transport and environment, for example, may have significant impact on cities.

The importance of cities (and regions) in the overall economic development of the EU has been the focus of several EU ministerial meetings between 2000 and 2005. These meetings form the background and basis for a number of elements contained in the Leipzig Charter. Five studies commissioned by the German government, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, were also used to support the charter.

At EU level, the Commission's 1990 Green Paper on the Urban Environment and the establishment in 1991 of the Expert Group on the Urban Environment signalled the start of a number of urban-related initiatives. These culminated with the adoption in 2006 of the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment (EURACTIV 16/01/06), which allows the use of cohesion funds to support investments that improve the quality of the urban environment. 

In 1999, the EU also created a non-binding intergovernmental framework called the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) to guide and coordinate the work of member states towards a "balanced and sustainable development of the Union territory." The development of urban areas is a central part of this framework. 

 

  • September 2007: adoption of the Commission Green Paper on Urban Transport, which will address in particular congestion and pollution problems. 
  • Eurocitites:Website
  • European Sustainable Cities and Towns Campaign:Website
  • Association of European local authorities for sustainable energy policy:Website

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