Poster screenRSA Workshop ‘EU and the city’

14 October 2016, Urbanism, BK, TU Delft

This 9th workshop of the RSA Research Network on EU Cohesion Policy focused on the urban dimension of EU Cohesion Policy (CP) and other European policies. While the EU has no formal competence on urban policy, the cities are increasingly important and explicit target of its policies, as recently highlighted by the adoption of the Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU). In fact, cities are home to 70% of EU citizens, generate about 70% of jobs and generate about 85% of the EU’s GDP, but also are where a lot of Europe’s problems are magnified, from the tensions on migration, air pollution to poverty. At present, 15 billion euros are to be invested in cities as part of CP in 2014-2020 and new ‘urban’ instruments are being rolled out, while the UAEU is supposed to coordinate and facilitate the use of existing policies to achieve more impacts for cities through new kinds of multi-level and multi-sectoral partnerships. The way in which these new instruments and frameworks are actually taken up and implemented remains an open question. The workshop endeavored to shed more light on this issue. IMG_4195

DSC04261Pedro Campos (Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Affairs, Netherlands) kicked off with an insider perspective on the process that lead to the emergence of the UAEU, which was the top priority of the Dutch EU presidency in 2016. He gave a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes negotiations on the Agenda, the institutional tensions (e.g. on the competence creep by the European Commission and fears of the Member States that the Agenda would create a direct link between the Commission and cities, bypassing the central government), as well as the approach and challenges to implementing the Urban Agenda in practice.

DSC04237Wil Zonneveld (TU Delft) stressed the tensions between the Member States (MS) and the European Commission that the UAEU inevitably brings. Interestingly, this manifested itself even in the discussion on the name for the Agenda, with the EC wanting it to be called EU Urban Agenda, to reflect its key role in its implementation, but finally due to opposition of the MS, the parties settled for an agenda for the EU, reflecting its multi-level governance nature. Campos added to this that many sectoral ministries in different MS are not convinced about the merits of the integrated approach that UAEU requires, thus making the UAEU effective and embraced across the EU a major challenge. Zonneveld also remarked that the ‘urban’ focus is much more concrete than the earlier attempts at refocusing the debate on EU Cohesion Policy towards a ‘territorial’ agenda and asked about the linkages between the ‘urban’ and the ‘territorial’ agendas. Campos argued that the connections are clear as the UAEU considers the broader region and, for instance, urban-rural relations.

DSC04241Bas Verkerk (former Mayor of Delft, present Mayor of De Bilt, Netherlands) gave his perspective on the UAEU, being closely involved in its making as a mayor of a mid-sized city (Delft) and member of Member of the Committee of the Regions’ Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy. Verkerk that 2 million people in the EU live in small and medium cities, which underscores the need to avoid a narrow focus of the UAEU on big cities and instead consider agglomerations and urban regions and their (often rural) hinterland within which people live, work, commute, produce food, energy, etc. Finally, he urged the national governments and the EU to acknowledge the importance of the cities and their links with the citizens and stakeholders through ‘quadruple helix’ interactions. Zonneveld commented on the talk again reflecting on the difficult relations, sensitivities and rivalries across the layers of government that manifest themselves in the urban dimension of EU Cohesion Policy. Verkerk reacted by stressing the need for the EC to get out the ‘Brussels bubble’ and engage more closely with the municipalities to get a better understanding of the challenges and issues that the local leaders and citizens face. The partnerships as part of UAEU could indeed help to break the said ‘ bubble’ and foster more direct relations between the EU and the local levels.


Brice Lamenie (CNRS) opened the first research session with his talk on the implementation of Integrated Territorial Investments (ITI) in the Paris metropolitan region, which brought ERDF funding to Paris for the first time. The institutional set up in the Paris region, however, is extremely complex, with overlapping boundaries and competences of the region, department, inter-municipal cooperation bodies, and municipalities. Lamenie stressed the limited spatial effects of EU spending in the Paris region, partly due to clashes between regional and local priorities, centrally located and peripheral municipalities, political influence on distribution of funding, as well as insufficient linkages with regional and national policies.


FraDSC04282ncesco Cappellano (Mediterranea University of Reggio Calabria) then discussed the transfer of the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) from the US to Europe through ITIs, drawing on the case of Calabria, Italy.  Cappellano argued that creating transportation hubs can indeed strengthen the urban-rural links while making the public services more accessible to populations living around them, which in turn should contribute to the EU’s territorial cohesion goal.


DSC04294Later, Maarten van Ham (TU Delft) launched the afternoon proceedings discussing the increasing inequality across Europe which manifests itself particularly strongly in social segregation in cities. His team’s research, the outputs of which were recently published in a Routledge Regions and Cities book series, investigated the spatial consequences of growing inequality across thirteen European cities. The analysis of factors such as globalization, human development, welfare and housing regimes allowed for predicting the degree of social segregation, however, actual segregation patterns offered some surprises. For instance, despite scoring relatively low on inequality and having the image of ‘social paradises’, cities like Stockholm and Vienna have shown higher than expected and increasing segregation levels, while cities in post-communist countries like Riga and Vilnius the segregation levels were lower than expected. The study concluded that inequality and segregation in cities increase and can be explained due to a combination of factors such as welfare regimes moving towards more neo-liberal solutions, post-industrial restructuring, rising real estate prices, and the effects of the crisis. Van Ham ended with a remark that what matters more than inequality for understanding the challenges that European cities face is urban poverty and its spatial distribution. In fact, social segregation leads to reducing social cohesion, damaging economic competitiveness of cities, social conflict and rising crime. The problem is, however, that at present often policy focuses on dealing with symptoms of segregation (e.g. by social mixing and upgrading neighborhoods) rather than its root causes, which can only be tackled with a focus on social integration and education.


LRG_DSC04298André Müller (BBSR) followed up by investigating the actual use of Community Led Local Development (CLLD) and ITI on the ground. He stressed that ITI is not compulsory, hence its implementation is foreseen by 20 MS, in Germany for instance, some Länder are not prepared to use ITI, while others keenly adopt it. CLLD and ITI are supposed to supposed inter-municipal cooperation however, their application requires tailoring tot he local, regional and national circumstances. Which is why Müller argued against adopting a one-size-fits-all approach for those new instruments.


IMG_4206Pietro Verga (Gran Sasso Science Institute) then provided further empirical evidence on how CLLD works, drawing on the case of Berlin to show how this tool can help tackle urban deprivation and inequalities. Verga asked how the tool works in practice, who participates in the Local Action Groups (LAGs) that are set up and, crucially, who benefits from the scheme. His findings indicate that there is a risk of elite domination in the LAGs and exclusion of the representatives of the deprived residents, which undermines the legitimacy and inclusiveness of the tool.


DSC04257In the ultimate session, Sonia de Gregorio Hurtado (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid) presented her research on the implementation of the URBAN initiative in Spain. While she argued that since in Spain there were no national urban policies berfore, the EU urban initaitives have had a significant influence on the development of a domestic policy, however, she highlighted deficiencies in the way in which URBAN was implemented, with lip service paid to notions such as integrated approach or community participation.


DSC04311Her talk was followed by the presentation by Elisavet Thoidou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) who explored the phenomenon of urban agriculture in Athens, supported among others by URBACT. She argued that urban agriculture could offer numerous opportunities to engage various local stakeholders and combat poverty in a context of crisis, while supporting urban regeneration, adaptation to climate change and other goals related to sustainable urbanisation.


Finally, Vasilis Margaras (European Parliament) rounded off the discussion with an inquiry into the potential role of urban-rural linkages and cooperation in the Urban Agenda for the EU. While recognising the importance of this issue, echoing some of the points made in the keynotes, he stressed a variety of governance challenges and tensions that operationalising policies and instruments to support urban-rural partnerships would bring about.


In sum, as highlighted in the concluding remarks by Dominic Stead and Marcin Dąbrowski, the urban dimension of CP presents a number of opportunities for making this policy’s impacts more relevant and tangible, while possibly also making the policy ‘closer to the citizens.’ However, the studies discussed at the workshop pointed to a whole range of governance or operationalisation challenges and open questions. For instance, how to deal with the possible asymmetries in participation in the urban initiatives or a bias towards the big cities or urban actors in some countries, which are better positioned to play a leading role in the emerging urban partnerships? Which actors and which territories will be able to exploit the possibilities offered by UAEU and which will not? How to tackle the already visible tensions between the Member States and the levels of government on the growing role of cities in CP? How to prevent the capture of the emerging urban collaborative networks (e.g. via CLLD) by the specific groups?  Finally, what are the boundaries of ‘urban’ – should the urban dimension be concerned with the wider urban region or perhaps even consider the effects of urban interventions beyond the area in question? Should the urban initiatives as part of CP focus on addressing the symptoms of urban poverty and segregation, or perhaps consider more long-term investment in education and social integration? These are just some of the issues that the future research on the increasingly prominent urban dimension of CP could tackle.DSC04313 (1)

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