In the spotlight: Mr.Paul Bevan

In the spotlight.....Mr. Paul Bevan, Secretary General of EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities bringing together the local governments of more than 130 large cities in over 30 European countries. EUROCITIES has argued in favour of an ambitious urban dimension in the future Cohesion Policy, with a greater role for cities in developing and implementing programmes.

What do you feel would be the most important changes in order to give cities a stronger profile in Cohesion Policy?

"The most important change would be to really give cities a place at the table, involve them as real partners. Article 5 of the new regulations mentions enhanced partnerships with urban areas involved in the preparation of the Partnership Contracts and progress reports and in the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the operational programmes. This is along the lines of what EUROCITIES has requested. Cities must be involved in deciding on priorities and developing programmes of action to maximise their effectiveness on the ground.

In its statement in June this year, EUROCITIES requested that the European Commission elaborate guidelines for Member States to work in partnership with cities. Each Member State could then draw up a list of cities in its own national context which would be the key enablers and drivers to deliver EU2020 on the ground, namely those that are:

  • Cooperating strategically with their metropolitan areas;
  •  Driving growth and innovation for their regions and beyond;
  •  Dealing with urgent and long-term climate challenges; and
  •  Actively facilitating inclusion and social mobility.

The new proposed structural funds regulations contain an article that mentions this list of cities, but it is not very clear how these will be selected and it is important to avoid arbitrary choices. We would welcome clear guidelines from the European Commission on this and would be happy to work with the Commission to develop them.

One of the most important changes in the new regulations is the introduction of possibilities for the delegation of funding to cities. We hope the new provisions will allow urban operational programmes (OPs) or sub-OPs supported through global grants or similar funding instruments to delegate funding. The provision on integrated territorial investments (ITIs) in particular seems to offer cities increased possibilities in terms of more delegated funding. It is also a novelty to set a minimum of ERDF funding that should be dedicated to urban ITIs. However, 5% does not seem much in comparison with the challenges cities face on their way to sustainable urban development. Concerning global grants, due attention needs to be given to the proportionality between the size of the grant and the effort required to administer it at city level as well as the given challenges it targets."

How could cities be supported to take up this role, given that regions have been strong players in Cohesion Policy for many years?

"Specific provisions on the involvement of cities would support them, as also mentioned above. For instance, concerning the article on partnership in the new regulations, we need to make sure that cities themselves are really involved in the partnership, and not just through their national association of cities. Cities – both via their national network organisations and their political leaders directly - must be involved in deciding on priorities and developing action programmes to maximise their effectiveness on the ground. As the level of political representation closest to the citizens, city leaders know how best to manage and coordinate actions to deliver results in their territories.

More support for coordinating funds is also needed. In the current period, for many cities implementing integrated development, the structure of EU policies and programmes can lead to sub-optimal use of EU funding. Better coordination between EU funds, in particular the ERDF and the ESF, would help to join up physical, economic and social development at the local level. Our reading of the structural funds regulations is that this should be easier in the future.

Another important means of supporting cities is through financial engineering. There is scope to improve existing tools, as well as to develop new ones in order to maximise the potential of Cohesion Policy. An ambitious urban agenda needs an urban tool fit for purpose: with a clear, decentralised structure, and simplified regulations, allowing direct access by cities. The framework needs to be sufficiently coherent and flexible to adapt to national circumstances and must have a clear communications strategy."

What are the most important current debates about the future of Cohesion Policy?

"The overall debate about the urban dimension in the next round of structural funds is, of course, from our perspective, one of the most important ones. EUROCITIES has argued in favour of an ambitious urban dimension to delivering thematic priorities as offering more scope for integrated area-based measures, planned and managed locally.

Another important issue concerns conditionality, and in particular macro-conditionality. EUROCITIES members believe that it is fair to establish conditionality based on performance. The proposed structural funds regulations reinforce the need to take an integrated approach and involve cities. Thus, it should be a condition of the Commission’s approval that Member States can demonstrate that their cities were directly involved in drawing up National Reform Programmes and Partnership Contracts.

Wherever an integrated approach has a clear advantage over sectoral approaches, conditionality could be helpful. In such cases the level of evidence should be proportional to the size of the budget.

 However, it is not fair to cut funding off from cities because of the failure of national governments to implement agreed measures linked to EU economic governance."

What in your opinion is the most positive contribution of Cohesion Policy to urban development?

"Cohesion Policy has favoured the development of innovative policies and projects that would not have been possible with traditional national sources of funding. This has helped to strengthen urban regeneration, tackle social deprivation and up-skill the labour force. Thus, Cohesion Policy has had a real impact on our cities and the people who live in them.

In the new draft regulations, the new provisions on community-led-development or on integrated territorial investments should allow for more innovative partnerships to be developed at various levels of intervention, and this would really allow for the strengthening of integrated urban development. EUROCITIES has advocated the need to support a more variable geography, and in particular the potential of functional areas with cities at their core, to drive forward integrated development in the wider area, in close partnership with the relevant stakeholders. This could be done through a mandatory partnership approach within each thematic priority. The framework at EU level should make it possible for funds that promote integrated local development to be channelled to functional area cooperation, on the basis of an agreement between the hub city (or cities) and its surrounding areas. Operational Programmes should support the appropriate functional partnerships for delivery. These partnerships should be driven by the local level. This would really support the development of innovative policies."