15 November 2023

Fostering multilevel dialogue for SDG implementation

On October 24th of 2023, Urban Intergroup together with CEMR hold a two-hour event to discuss the challenges and opportunities for local and regional governments on how to successfully achieve the SDGs by 2030. This also was the opportunity to learn about different EU initiatives and tools supporting cities in their SDGs path.


Jan Olbrycht MEP (EPP, PL) introduced the discussion giving an open perspective about the urban issues in the EU, how the European Parliament and the European institutions are facing these problems, implementing the Urban Agenda correlated with the New Urban Agenda of the United Nations.


Gail McGregor (CEMR) mentioned that the conclusion of the New Urban Agenda of UN is clear: the subnational levels can play an important role in the implementation of SDGs. The regional reviews of the SDG’s implementation are important to get disaggregated information, but also, it is vital to highlight the subnational and local volunteer review of SDGs implementation, because this is the way to engage the citizens, maximising the participation of the youth, women and vulnerable people.


Bolstering synergies between level of governance


Lucian Parvolescu (European Commission) SDGs are  priority for the EU, that is why the Commission is looking to connect SDGs with the political program and the policy making on the internal and the external action. Some internal examples are the European Green Deal, the Recovery and Resilience Plan, SDGs are mainstream in the annual work programs in the Commission, the Eurostat Monitoring Report, etc. The EU is building a European consensus and collaborating with the European member states for the implementation of the SDGs, the EU voluntary review. Furthermore, The EU is actively encouraging the participation of citizens, businesses and stakeholders.


The Commission have arrived to a conclusion and it is that there has been progress in the achievement of 2030 agenda and many of the SDGs, but after the war, energetic crisis and COVID – 19 pandemic the advances have been slower than before. Nevertheless, many of the EU programs as the Green Deal need some time to show results, but the Commission hopes that this results can influence positively the SDGs.


Bruno Bessis (Councillor from French Ministry of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion), in France the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion has been developing sustainable city policies since 15 years ago at the light of the sustainable city plan. Since 2019, France has been adopting the 2030 agenda and developed some indicators to follow all of the advances in the implementation of strategies into the public policies to improve the social and environmental issues in the cities. France thinks that it is necessary to tackle six specific challenges for the regional and local levels to reach the SDGs. These challenges are:

In addition, France is strongly supporting the development of the reference framework for sustainable cities as a way to be aware of the importance of the local levels in the implementation and achievement of the SDGs.


Vitor Aleixo (Mayor of Loule, Portugal), in Portugal, work on the SDGs has been carried out in different spaces and actions not only at the national level, but also at the local level. This has been mainly from the Prime Minister’s office to the national association of municipalities, who have been developing strategies that include local actors such as business, civil society and universities in the creation and implementation of strategies for the development and fulfilment of the SDGs.


However, these actions must be seen beyond the local and national levels. In addition, at the regional level, the participation of the EU has been of paramount importance in the training already provided for the fulfilment of the SDGs. Despite this, there is still pending task to be carried out in the development of strategies for the SDGs and that is the dissemination of these strategies and their results to civil society in general. If there is no clear dissemination of progress, it will be increasingly difficult to involve new actors who are extremely necessary for the achievement of these objectives. Non-institutional actors must be more directly included in decision-making and in the development of strategies in order to obtain increasingly stronger results at the local levels.


Eva Banos de Guisasola (CEMR/PLATFORMA) showed the results of the European Territories Localise the SDGs. This study is based on a joint survey conducted in February 2023 by CEMR, PLATFORMA and UCLG, which coordinated with all its regional sections to produce a parallel global report on the implementation of the SDGs. Its purpose was to collect the most recent information on how and to what extent Local and Regional Development Government Associations and networks have been involved in localising the SDGs, both in Europe and among their global peers.


One of the most important result was the progress in raising awareness of the SDGs among citizens and municipal officials. Compared with 2022, progress this year has been deemed increasingly “medium” with 5% stating that progress had been “limited” compared to last year.


At the same time, there is a high level of interest in promoting or actively participating in concrete activities to raise awareness and spread the knowledge of SDGs among the population and local stakeholders in recent years. More than half of the respondents implemented strong and regular actions, while 22% developed limited actions, 20% reported average mobilisation and 5% did not take any specific action. This is only a part of all the inform data obtained by CEMR and PLATFORMA.


To finalise, Ms. Banos presented seven recommendations:


The true implementation of SDGs will not transpire without the specific inclusion of youth, women and vulnerable groups in decision-making and related activities to contribute to achieving the SDGs.


Experiences of effective SDGs implementation


Pedro Bizarro (CEMR) spoke about how the reference framework for sustainable cities works. It assists cities in translating this European vision of sustainable cities into practice. These strategies have a connection, as well, with the cities implementation of the New Leipzig Charter.


There is a 3-step process to implement this framework:


At the end, it is so important to sharing knowledge with the other city participants, comparing data about the indicator results showed in the Local and Regional Voluntary Reviews. This is an important activity to learning from each other and be aware of the advances and improve opportunities each city.


Jonas Scholze (European Urban Initiative) highlighted what the European Urban Initiative is doing for the achieving of SDGs in Europe. The European Urban Initiative (EUI), funded by the European Union, supports urban areas of all sizes with innovative actions, capacity and knowledge building, as well as policy development and communication on sustainable urban development.


The EUI offers strengthening capacities for cities in design in sustainable urban development strategies, policies and practices in an integrated and participative way. Furthermore, funding innovative actions in cities and sharing knowledge and capitalising on experiences are, as well, work of this organisation. Mr Scholze, showed how advanced  EUI is in its work with the cities and how it is affecting the implementation of the SDGs at the local levels.


Stina Heikkila (URBACT) mentioned how URBACT is supporting the SDGs localisation. URBACT promotes integrated development to support cities implement horizontal and vertical policy integration. Positive change can best be made when local authorities collaborate with different levels of governance (regional, national, EU) –vertical integration – and when they tackle challenges and problems in a holistic way that considers environmental, economic, and social dimensions at the same time – horizontal integration. In addition, it is so important to take into account to the citizens as an actor who legitimates all of the actions done by the multilevel authorities. This helps to build trust around the SDGs implementation.


Iraklis Stamos (Joint Research Centre) spoke about the pilot project ‘Monitoring the SDGs in the EU regions – Filling the data gaps – REGIONS2030’, launched by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, in collaboration with the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy for Eurostat and with the support of the European Parliament and the European Committee of Regions. This project is a follow-up to the latest report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which the report incentivises the creation of indicators to design a monitoring system for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at their territorial level.


Mr Stamos showed some of the indicators used by the JRC to following the advances in the SDGs implementation in the local, regional and national levels, looking for an approach of localisation of the strategies and taking into account all of the differences and particularities between the different cities and regions in the EU.


Please see the presentations shown during the meeting:

European Urban Initiative


French Ministry of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion


Joint Research Centre

24 October 2023

Mayors’ Agenda for Cities and the EU: Priorities and Challenges Moving Forward

On October 10th of 2023, the Urban Intergroup hosted an event with Eurocities on Mayors’ Agenda for Cities and the EU: Priorities and Challenges Moving Forward. Cities representatives, Members of the European Parliament, and the incoming Belgian EU Presidency discussed the priorities, challenges, and opportunities for collaboration between cities and the EU in the context of the forthcoming EU elections. Furthermore, it was a great occasion to present the findings of the Eurocities Pulse Mayors Survey, which included the main concerns of the mayors, and recommendations on how the EU can work in a better and closer with the cities.


The summary was created thanks to the curtesy of Eurocities. Please see the full summary on their website: https://eurocities.eu/latest/cities-and-meps-share-vision-for-green-prosperous-future/

MEP Mr Jan Olbrycht (EPP, PL) chair of the European Parliament Urban Intergroup, explained that there are many methods of formal and informal collaboration between cities and the EU, but “we are still missing a clear European Urban Policy.” He explained that efforts have been made to pursue an urban agenda at EU level, including suggestions for a Commissioner to coordinate urban policy and the creation of a special urban unit in the European Commission, but they have not produced the urban focus that is needed. Mr Olbrycht also warned of the growing tendency to make the contradiction between urban and rural areas, rather than recognising the importance of developing them together. “Step by step, Eurocities and its mayors must influence the European Parliament and the Commission, to ensure cities get the expertise and funding they need to tackle issues such as climate change and urban mobility,” said Olbrycht.


Andre Sobczak (Secretary General, Eurocities) began the meeting by presenting the Eurocities Pulse Survey. The survey, which collected the responses of 92 mayors from 28 countries, provides an analysis of the major trends, challenges and priorities that shape urban affairs in 2023. Over half of the mayors surveyed say that tackling the impacts of climate change is their biggest priority, including working together on climate neutrality, implementing the European Green Deal and investing in sustainable transport. Local challenges, including improving transport and housing, ensuring economic recovery and tackling energy poverty are also crucial for mayors.

In the survey, city mayors make it clear that the current resources they are being provided by the EU are not enough to tackle the many challenges they are facing. Many mayors also say they share the priorities of the European institutions, but they feel they are not included in EU decision making processes. The relationship between the mayors with the European institutions it’s usually difficult, but there is a claim from the mayors and it’s to let know to the European institutions that they don’t want only to wait for the solutions from the European institutions and then implement it in the cities, but get involved into the decision making process.

Eurocities expects from the European Parliament more direct dialogue, better access to funding and more flexibility in the European decisions because each city and region is very different, and at the end, to give to the cities more importance in the diplomacy.


Speaking at the meeting, Dario Nardella, Mayor of Florence, stressed that the European elections are taking place at a crucial time for the EU, when significant progress has been made on the European Green Deal and Europe has “showcased immense leadership and unity in combatting war, pandemics, climate and energy crises, and inflation.” He said that the European Parliament and other EU institutions have developed a better understanding of the need to collaborate with cities to address major challenges such as providing housing for all, integrating refugees, and navigating the digital transition.

To further boost collaboration, Nardella explained that a long-term, clear vision should be developed for cities within the EU. He also insisted that a systematic approach should be established to involve cities in shaping and implementing EU policies, and he called for a dedicated EU Vice-President with the mandate to integrate initiatives and policies for cities into a unified and clear framework. Finally, the mayor recognized the support from Urban Intergroup, especially from Mr Olbrycht, in helping cities with finding significant allies. He emphasised the importance of continuation of works of the Urban Intergroup during the next Parliament term.


MEP Marcos Ros Sempere (S&D, ES) stressed that many of the issues highlighted by mayors in the Eurocities Pulse Survey align with those of the European Parliament, particularly issues around the clarity and role of EU initiatives and the importance of sustainable urban transport.
Ros Sempere outlined the importance of EU Cohesion Policy, which he said is the main tool to end inequalities and support the priorities of regions and cities across Europe. While he recognised there have been bureaucratic difficulties with the policy in recent years, he stressed that it remains the best means of fighting inequality in urban areas.
Regarding the development of sustainable urban transport, Ros Sempere said it is one of the most important steps in tackling the climate and energy crises. He highlighted the EU’s proposal for a new Urban Mobility framework, which suggests measures to develop of safe, accessible and emission-free urban transport systems.


Ricardo Rio (Mayor of Braga) spoke about the importance of EU funding in achieving economic recovery in his city, which 10 years ago had an unemployment rate of 15%.
One of the many innovation economic actions adopted by the mayor and his administration was Invest Braga, the first economic development agency to be introduced at local level in Portugal. This was supported by Start-Up Braga, which supported start-ups and entrepreneurs and attracted IT companies to the city. Over 2,000 jobs a year were created, reducing unemployment to 5%, while Braga became the fourth-biggest exporter in the country.

Rio stressed the need to strengthen multilevel collaboration between all levels of the EU and to have the stronger involvement of cities in the budgetary process. He called for innovative EU investment in public-private partnerships at local level to stimulate economic growth, as well as the need for the European Investment Bank to invest in city projects and act as a dedicated advisory hub.


Anna Lisa Boni (Deputy Mayor of Bologna) made it clear that Europe’s cities are ready to work with the European Parliament and all the EU institutions to tackle climate challenges. She explained that in Bologna and in cities across Europe, climate action means working in an integrated way. This includes wide-ranging actions needed to develop sustainable urban mobility, create green and blue public spaces, build zero energy buildings, expand the circular economy and work on social issues, such as making social housing energy efficient, and tackling energy poverty. She said that the EU Mission for 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2023 has helped to speed up innovative climate action in cities, along with the EU Recovery Fund and Cohesion Policy.


MEP Ciaran Cuffe (Greens, IE) stressed that cities “have a very bright future.” He explained that Europe is in the middle of a transformation when it comes to tackling climate change, with cities leading this work, supported by collaboration and funding from the EU. He pointed to the new transportation plan that is being developed in Dublin, a city which has for many years given priority to car drivers, but is now developing initiatives that give space to public transport users, pedestrians, cyclists and those with mobility issues. To achieve this goal, he highlighted the importance of the EU’s Fit for 55 package, with its goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 50%, while he also urged cities to apply to the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility, which has only used 20% of its available funds.


Ann Persoons (European Council Belgian Presidency) presented the priorities of the upcoming Belgian Presidency in relation to urban policy. She explained that the Brussels Capital Region will be in charge of urban policy during the presidency, offering a “unique opportunity” for the views of cities to be heard in the European policy making process. Persoons explained that the Belgian presidency will focus on three key urban policy goals: defending the urban and metropolitan dimension in European policies, confirming the importance of large cities as European partners, and making sure that spatial planning and European governance are recognised as key tools to achieving European objectives.
To achieve these goals, several high-level events are being planned, including an urban policy summit in Brussels on 24 January 2024, which all the mayors of large cities have been invited to attend.


Please find the full text of the Eurocities Pulse and a policy paper on How the EU can work better with cities here and here

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