Drones over the cities. How to seize the opportunity?
On 23rd of January 2024, the Urban Intergroup, under a leadership of Jan Olbrycht MEP, organized a conference on “Drones over the cities. How to seize the opportunity?” The event organized as a way to create a dialog between representatives of local authorities and European Institutions regarding the drone usage in urban communities. The speakers emphasized the importance of approaching the subject with caution because of many risks connect to use of UAVs but also highlighted many opportunities that this emerging market can provide for all Europeans.
The conference began with opening remarks from Jan Olbrycht MEP who welcomed distinguished guests and proceeded to give everyone a brief overview of the URBAN Intergroup character, tasks, focuses and organisation. Mr. Olbrycht spoke about the emergence of drones in connection with Russian aggression in Ukraine, and how they are now in consciousness of many nowadays. “The question is whether we know how to use them. This is a very interesting tool. It can be used to spy on or attack someone, but are we ready to use it for something positive, like city management.” he said. Mr. Olbrycht also raised questions about a possibility of using drones as control and monitoring tools, which can be both at the same time very beneficial for city management and potentially create a risk of breach of privacy rights of citizens.
Kazimierz Karolczak – chairman of a board of the GZM Metropolis, spoke about drones from the perspective of managing of a very big urban community. Before addressing the main topic, Mr. Karolczak spoke briefly about the GZM goals, as a biggest metropolis in Poland. He emphasized that the Silesia is an example of market growth of drones and a perfect region to learn and study from. He urged the lawmakers to create a legal framework for deploying UAVs in cities as a management tool, to embrace the technology developed in recent years. “The key point is that we as Europeans, as Poles are wait for rules to size those opportunities, to operate drones in cities and to really start this market”
Vasilys Aguridas, leader of Urban-Air-Mobility Initiative Cities Community and UAM CIVITAS Initiative spoke on urban air mobility as a system of utilising drones in an urban environment. Mr. Aguridas emphasised that the definition of what is urban air mobility is very much dependant on the local characteristics and it would be inadequate to use one formula for all regions. There are very real safety dangers potentially connected with usage of drones in cities and Mr. Aguridas stated that convincing the local communities about the safety of those systems must be a priority. There is also a need for working with local politicians to create much needed political capital for the implementation of “urban aviation”, which is one of the goals of Initiative lead by Mr. Aguridas. “It is more about a socio-political ecosystem. It is not about what the technology can do for us but what we want technology to do for us.” he concluded.
Justyna Siekierczak, Member of the Board of the Polish Chamber of Unmanned Systems, underlined the chamber role as a supporter of the effort of the cities with their tasks connected to drones. Ms. Siekerczak spoke about the problems regarding the UAV market including regulatory difficulties and criticised some of the decision made by European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA). “Drones are an essential part of the digital transformation of the European Union and we should ask how to size this opportunity? We should use mature implementation but above all create regulation that simplify drone implementation.” Ms. Siekierczak pointed out instances of overregulation of some categories of drones, which makes it very difficult for local authorities to use them effectively.
Ivo Cré – Director of Policy and Projects – POLIS, who spoke about the needs of local authorities to implement drones as a tool for urban management. Mr. Cré underlined a problem of lack of professionals, who are educated in a field of drones – “Cities want to employ people who actually know about those topics. The industry will benefit from the fact that the local authorities can be sure that the people who they talk to are competent. So we need an EU level certification of people, so it is clear who knows and who can talk about this field.” There is also a need in the eyes of Mr. Cré, of involving representatives of the cities in the decision making process when the next rules for the drones will be created.
Magda Kopczyńska, Director-General in DG Move in the European Commission, endorsed many of the points raised by previous speakers. Ms. Kopczyńska said the EU needs to be conservative when it comes to drone safety, but very aggressive when it comes to supporting European drone manufacturers. According to Commission estimates, by mid-2022, more than 1 million drone operators had been registered and more than 650,000 certificates had been issued in the 27 member states, so it is a very fast growing sector. Ms. Kopczyńska emphasised that EASA and the Commission must act in such a way to create a good environment for companies in this market to prosper, especially for small and medium enterprises in this market. “As always with any innovative sector, as always with any new emerging technology. There is this important balance to strike between creating a level playing field that is safe without hindering, and blocking the most innovative actors in the area. This is the dilemma that concerns the Commission.” Ms. Kopczyńska said while promoting a risk-based approach to the issue.
Luc Tytgat – Acting Executive Director of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), started by addressing the concerns raised about the EASA actions by the previous speakers. He underlined the Agency’s commitment to create a looking forward but at the same time a safe approach to the issues facing drones implementation in the urban environment. Mr. Tytgat also emphasized the EASA commitment to make Europe the safest continent for aviation, but at the same time the openness to work together with local governments when implementing the rules. Mr. Tytgat also promoted the use of IT tool called Innovative Air Mobility Hub, which was created to for both industry actors and local representatives to help them use drones under current legal framework.
Ciarán Cuffe MEP, member of Committee on Transport and Tourism, from Ireland, started his speech by compering situation of micro mobility 5 years ago with situation of drones nowadays – “Prospect of free floating bicycles and scooter was seen as something that maybe will completely transform our cities perhaps for the better. I think 5/10 years in, yes, there are use cases for those micro mobility devices but they are not completely transforming our cities. I think that in the same way the introduction of drones may not be as much of a game changer as perhaps some will suggest.” Mr. Cuffe explained that in his opinion the best case for use of drones is not in the cities but in the most remote areas and caution should be advised about visions that drones as a quick fix for transport problems of urban areas and saviour for us all. “We all are brought together by a vision of cities that are cleaner, quieter, greener and the jury is still out as to whether drones can deliver that.”
Władysław Ortyl, representative of Committee of the Regions and President of the Podkarpackie Region in Poland, focused on the perspective of local governments on the issue of drones. Mr. Ortyl said that after many talks with various local representative it is clear to him that the drones are very much an issue that should and will be solved on the local level. “The rise of the drone market is immense, but we need to talk into account the The European Green new deal, changes in public opinion after the Russian aggression in Ukraine but also need to support the private sector and safety of citizens.” Mr. Ortyl call for not only passing legislation regarding drones regulation but at the same time, building a structure that would help to implement those rules by local communities.
Presentations showed during event:
Manifesto for Metropolitan Partnerships
On 8 November 2023, the Urban Intergroup welcomed METREX to an event to discuss a Manifesto for Metropolitan Partnerships. MEPs and deputy Mayors from across Europe to discuss the 7-point manifesto from METREX, which has high ambitions to change the relationship between the EU and metropolitan-level government. The event was moderated by Henk Bouwman and MEP Fabienne Keller. METREX is a network of over 50 European metropolitan regions and areas and exists to share practical solutions to address local and regional challenges and aspirations.
In opening the event Jan Olbrycht, Member of the European Parliament and president of the Urban Intergroup, urged METREX to focus efforts on the people who will prepare the next European budget, work on which will begin after the coming elections. Mr Olbrycht set a cautious context, outlining changes being discussed at the European Commission including a possible merger of the Committee of the Regions with Employment. This change, for example, would have a serious effect on the Cohesion Policy, on which so many regions and areas rely for funding.
Jakub Mazur, the first deputy mayor of Wrocław and president of METREX, opened with a reckoning on Europe’s changing position in the world. Mr. Mazur cited a Financial Times report that compared the EU and US economies, which 20 years ago were almost on par. Today, however, the EU economy only measures in at 65 percent. Mr. Mazur believes that the answer to rebuilding Europe’s global position is Metropolitan Partnerships – the theme behind the Manifesto. “It is a new era for metropolitan areas”, said Mr. Mazur, calling for significant new financial and structural backing to see that these Partnerships can help Europe regain its global competitiveness.
The manifesto was presented by Łukasz Medeksza, a member of the METREX board and from municipality of Wrocław. Mr. Medeksza spoke about the interconnections and richness of metropolitan regions being a defining factor behind their potential. Metropolitan regions can aim big in terms of inward investment, with Mr. Medeksza citing a new semi-conductor facility due to bring around 2,000 jobs to the region around Wrocław. This, Mr. Medeksza said, points to the fact that real metropolitan areas are not solely about public institutions, but rather they are a mesh of public, private and other sectors. Mr. Medeksza reported that metropolitan regions and areas are home to over 60 percent of Europe’s citizens, with 80 percent of migrants settling within them. But while they produce nearly 70 percent of EU GDP, they account for around 70 percent of emissions. Which on one hand means they are a useful place to focus attention on climate mitigation measures.
Speaking about the latent potential of metropolitan regions, Mr. Medeksza highlighted their varied institutional structures as one of the stalling points to greater success. This varied and sometimes informal governance has proven difficult for the EU to grasp. ‘Metropolitan Partnerships’ is therefore a useful umbrella under which to organise and present an identity. Metropolitan Partnerships are not only relationships between actors within territorial areas, but also with European institutions.
The EU has always been a “club of states”, said Mr. Medeksza, however he stressed that the metropolitan level is the obvious actor to deliver objectives such as green deal and tackle challenges like housing and migration. Above all, Mr. Medeksza said, “our manifesto is about rediscovering the real engines of Europe in turbulent times of global change. It is about making the EU more efficient. About regaining the global competitive position of the EU, and preserving quality of life.”
Representing the department of strategic development and cooperation in the city of Brno and the Eurocities working group on metropolitan governance, František Kubeš spoke about a lack of formal structure and recognition for the metropolitan level in Czechia. Despite this, Brno has been active in working where possible at the metropolitan level to solve certain challenges. Mr. Kubeš spoke about his positive experience of using the ITI instrument – Integrated Territorial Investments – which has given Brno the license to operate at this level, the results of which have been very successful. Mr Kubeš welcomed the manifesto as a way to advocate for positive change.
A panel of European and local politicians, moderated by the vice president of the Urban Intergroup, MEP Fabienne Keller, was asked to respond to the manifesto and its seven calls-to-action.
Marco Griguolo, the deputy mayor of the metropolitan city of Milan, praised metropolitan regions as one of the principal actors to achieve European goals. Mr. Griguolo called for formal recognition nationally and internationally of a metropolitan level that is adaptive to the many and diverse issues Europe faces. Mr Griguolo reinforced the Manifesto’s call for a commissioner dedicated to the metropolitan dimension, which could support the international coordination and development of this level. Enhancing links was a strong theme promoted by Mr. Griguolo, who called for better physical connections between people, markets and institutions, a position Milan understands well a major transport hub and a gateway between Italy and Europe.
Gianana Panatau, the general director of the Bucharest Metropolitan Area lntercommunity Development Association, welcomed the manifesto’s position in advocating for a metropolitan funding program. This level of backing would give metropolitan areas a stronger voice, according to Ms. Panatau, and the means to include a wider array of stakeholders in development processes. Ms. Panatau spoke about the need for greater parity between a strong city and its peri-urban and rural neighbours. Adding that it is not enough to have a buoyant city in isolation – quality of life comes from economic development, not just economic growth. Overall, Ms Panatau believes, the demands within the manifesto will help to make sustainable development projects easier to deliver, bringing citizens a better quality of life.
MEP Ros, who is the Socialists coordinator for REGI Committee, spoke about the importance of a new institutional framework that compliments metropolitan regions and areas, which in turn would boost efforts against climate change, war, housing and the effects of Covid. Mobility, home working and different lifestyle choices are impacting the social and physical composition of cities and Mr. Ros therefore welcomed the timing of the manifesto and the call for wider use of metropolitan partnerships. Mr. Ros welcomed also the focus on different dimensions from urban to rural, but suggested the inclusion of ‘peri-urban’ areas which are, within his native Spain, complex spaces to analyse and understand. Concluding, Mr. Ros called for more widespread territorial planning, which he believes would bring about more coordinated development across metropolitan regions and areas. This form of approach would also enhance of the prospects of integrating the territorial agenda for 2023 which, Mr. Ros believes, has not yet been implemented successfully.
Robert van Asten, deputy mayor of The Hague, gave his support for the manifesto and offered context about the challenges that the metropolitan level can tackle in the metropolitan region of Rotterdam / The Hague (MRDH). MRDH includes some large cities and key sites such as the harbour of Rotterdam, and therefore, according to Mr. Van Asten, some significant spatial challenges such as housing and mobility. Mr. Van Asten supported the idea of metropolitan areas being at the table when policies are made, which would bring the unique sensitivity and perspective that comes from the spatial level. Mr. Van Asten ended with a pledge to help initiate an intergroup within the European Parliament dedicated to metropolitan regions and areas. This, according to Mr. Van Asten, would allow colleagues to collaborate and come together around their interest in metropolitan regions and areas.
MEP Andrey Novakov, member of the European Parliament and member of the REGI committee, recalled a recent mission to Ukraine to meet Kyiv mayor Klitschko. Here, Mr. Novakov saw first-hand the “immense power” that comes from unity and cooperation between the city and surrounding villages that comprise the metropolitan level. Mr. Novakov is involved in evaluating and advising on the Committee of Regional Development. For the first time this analysis includes the NUTS 3 level to capture the success of projects at the local political level. What is emerging is a difficult position for the EU with regards to access – and perceived access – to funding. If projects are deemed a success, this is because of an effective local politician. If the projects fail, it is the result of complex funding requirements imposed by the EU. Mr. Novakov therefore called for greater simplicity for cities and regions to access necessary funding. The RRF (recovery and resilience funds) was a popular and effective source of funding precisely because it was relatively quick and easy to access.
Mr. Olbrycht closed the event by describing metropolitan regions as “a concrete solution for the problems that exist between urban and rural areas”. Mr. Olbrycht urged METREX to focus the manifesto campaign on the right people in the European Parliament: look to those that will work across political parties, and to those who are the future of the EU, such as the young MEPs present on the panel today.
Please find the full text of the Manifesto here.