Video message by Commissioner Elisa Ferreira at the International Congress “Regeneration of Cities”, Lodz

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear colleagues,

This is the “make or break” decade for tackling the climate crisis. And Europe’s cities are the “make or break” places where this transition must happen. Around 75% of our citizens live in cities, we have bring them along if this challenge is to be successfully answered.

What will the new green economy look like? How will we change our systems and lifestyles? How can we ensure that everyone benefits and no-one is left behind?

The answer to all these questions – and more – will be found in Europe’s cities.

So my thanks to the city of Lodz and the open eyes economy movement for organizing this congress.

Cities represent three quarters of the EU population and almost as much of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the earthquake of Covid, many of Europe’s cities are still managing the aftershocks. But building back is an opportunity for a “great reset”, building back greener, building back better.

The European Green Deal sets out the roadmap to becoming the world’s first climate neutral continent. And local authorities are among the key pioneers on this road, showing the way to the future. We are proud of our cities!

But circumstances, from the war in Ukraine, to the continued loss of biodiversity in cities, mean we must all accelerate and intensify our efforts.

The 8th cohesion report, published in March, provides a wealth of data and analysis on Europe’s regions.

The report notes that the coming transformations, green, digital and demographic, risk creating new territorial divides.

The report identifies 3 key conditions for ensuring a fair transition.

First, investment is crucial. To build the necessary infrastructure, but also to overcome bottlenecks and build capacity and expertise in all regions of Europe.

Second, all policies must rediscover a sense of place. Transitions affect different regions in different ways and some places will be far more affected than others. Transformation must be managed in a fair way which leaves no region behind.

Third, there must be more multi-level governance. Local policies need local partners, as well as the expertise and competence of other actors, including national ministries. Cities are complex integrated systems: only by working together with all the competences will we be able to spark a profound green transformation across all these systems.

In the face of these challenges, what is Europe doing to help?

First we are providing investment. In the next few years, nearly 340 billion in grants under the Recovery and Resilience Facility, and nearly 400 billion euros under Cohesion Policy, for which I am responsible.

These two funds together create once-in-a-generation levels of European investment. Some regions will benefit from investment 3 or 4 thousand euros per inhabitant.

These two great European investment funds have complementary goals. The Recovery and Resilience Facility will support the recovery backed up by targeted reforms. Not just a return to the past, but a sustainable recovery, a greener, more modern economy.

Cohesion policy shares these goals of a better, greener recovery and long term growth, but with a particular focus on ensuring that all regions and cities participate in this recovery, and that no region or city is left behind.

And as Commissioner for cohesion policy, let me tell you what I say to all the regions: it is more than just money.

Cohesion policy is a method, which puts the emphasis on local areas and their needs, giving local people the tools to create their own solutions.

Rethinking the post-Covid-19 city and making it fit for a green and digital future, should be a bottom-up process. The various needs of local citizens should be the beacon, navigating the ship of local development. And the crew of local authorities, the private sector, researchers and citizens should work together, raising new sails of innovation, to drive the ship forward.

And this is what we encourage. For example, 8% of our largest Fund, so just over 16 billion euros, is earmarked for local strategies, run by local authorities and local people, aiming to tackle all the needs of the local area.

These integrated development strategies are part of our new policy objective “A Europe closer to citizens”, as part of our aim to make development more participative. Tapping into local people’s ideas and potential and local authorities, as the key to local development.

We already have good examples of this approach from the previous programmes. For example, our host city, Lodz, applied this approach to the regeneration of deprived neighbourhoods, getting local people involved in a local plan for regeneration.

Elsewhere across Europe, local people have been mobilised in projects including green energy, green redevelopment and green hubs.

And we are encouraging this spirit of local innovation in two other, specific ways.

First, through the European Urban Initiative. This will invest 450 million euros in innovative actions, especially for the green and digital transition. The idea is to find bright ideas which are transferable and scalable. Those sparks of the future, which can inspire Europeans and transform the way we do things.

The second new way we are encouraging local innovation is the New European Bauhaus.

All too often, the green deal is framed in terms of loss. The New European Bauhaus flips the script. and, using design thinking, dreams of new and better ways of living, that are not just more sustainable, but more inclusive and more beautiful. “Sustainability with style”.

Community gardens on the rooftops. Abandoned industrial sites turned into vibrant collaborative spaces. New open spaces, which are safer and encourage walking. Low emission events.

These are just some of the many new ideas, being generated under the New European Bauhaus. And the key to these ideas, is collaboration at the local level. Bringing together architects and engineers, local politicians and local people, to find local solutions, which can be replicated elsewhere.

I would also like to briefly mention two other important initiatives.

First, the Urban Agenda for the EU. Since its launch in 2016, the Urban Agenda has involved cities in the design and implementation of policies at the EU and national levels.

Two new Partnerships are planned. One on the greening of cities, including green infrastructure. The other on sustainable tourism.

A public call will be organized for the selection of cities and other partners. I invite you to follow the newsletter and website for more information.

The second important initiative is CARE: “Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe”. We know that cities are on the forefront of welcoming refugees from the war in Ukraine.

CARE enables Member States to mobilise unused cohesion resources from the 2014 programmes, as well as the fresh money under REACT-EU, to support infrastructure, equipment, products, employment, education and health, to those fleeing the war.

The open doors of local people make them the true heroes. And we are proud to support them.

In conclusion, it was Albert Einstein who said “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking”.

Dear colleagues, to change our world we must change our thinking. And this change of thinking must start in Europe’s cities.

We need a new localism, where local people experiment with new ways of doing things. We in Europe will support this, with our investments, and with new tools, from our new policy objective “Europe closer to citizens” to the European Urban Initiative to the New European Bauhaus.

But we also need to mobilise all the key players. The partnerships of cohesion policy. The multi-level governance of the Urban Agenda.

Your discussions today are the next step in the experiment and in the dialogue. So I wish you a fruitful discussion.

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