EU ‘not listening’ to cities, says Commission

The City of London

The City of London

National governments’ privileged access to EU decision-makers in Brussels limits cities’ access to funding instruments necessary for dealing with significant climate change-related challenges, according to a Commission official and urban policy experts.

The “filter of member states” is blocking cities’ access to EU funding, Fabrizio Barbaso, deputy director-general for energy in the Commission’s energy and transport service (DG TREN), told a small audience in Brussels yesterday (8 October) during a workshop on sustainable cities organised as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities.

Member states have also failed to take the needs of cities into consideration when drawing up strategic spending plans for expenditure under the structural and cohesion funds, according to German Green MEP Gisela Kallenbach, who authored a Parliament report on the May 2007 Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities (EURACTIV 24/05/07).

Similar complaints were voiced last year during a EURACTIV interview with Hungarian Socialist MEP Gyula Hegyi, author of Parliament’s report on the Commission’s thematic strategy on the urban environment. Hegyi regrets that “as a group, citizens living in cities are not targeted properly by the [EU’s] funds,” and points to excessive EU budgetary resources spent on agriculture and regional infrastructure projects (EURACTIV 18/05/07). 

As the EU steps up its efforts to address climate change, the spotlight has shifted onto Europe’s cities, which are home to 80% of Europeans and consume a disproportionate share of natural resources relative to their surface area (EURACTIV LinksDossier). 

More EU monies and/or long-term, low-interest loans to fund urban transport upgrades could help cities cope, Alain Juppé, a former French prime minister and current mayor of Bordeaux, said during the workshop. But the current squeeze on financing due to the spreading economic crisis that has blocked the flow of capital in European and international money markets is a problem, Juppé admitted. 

Beyond more funding, better coordination between decision-makers at municipal, regional, national and European level could help matters, according to Ryszard Grobelny, mayor of the Polish city of Poznan, which will host a major UN climate conference in December 2008.

The Commission hopes the Leipzig Charter will help in this respect by providing a kind of “beauty contest” based on coordination, exchange and competition between cities, Barbaso said. 

A uniform methodology for assessing cities’ progress in achieving climate change related objectives, notably reduced CO2 emissions, would also help efforts to green European cities, according to Veolia’s CEO Henri Proglio.

Several of the speakers doubted whether a harmonised methodology would be appropriate for cities, however, citing the need for subsidiarity to accomodate diversity of decision-making in Europe’s municipalities. Grobelny suggested that the only place where the EU could provide practical help in terms of harmonised effort would be in the area of education, which would help to make city dwellers better aware of the challenges facing their local governments.  

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