Official report: Building Bridges between the EU and the Global Urban Agenda: an Interregional Debate on New Urban Governance

During the Habitat III conference in Quito, EUKN organised an official side event on 17 October: "Building Bridges between the EU and the Global Urban Agenda: an Interregional Debate on New Urban Governance". This event zoomed in on the relation between the New Urban Agenda and the Urban Agenda for the EU. The debate was set up as a dialogue between Europe and other regions in the world. Four European experts presented the European partnership approach and four experts from Asia-Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East reflected upon this approach to explore common grounds.

Background of the Side Event

On May 30th, 2016, the EU ministers responsible for urban matters have adopted the Pact of Amsterdam with the support from cities, the European Commission, and other European organizations. The close relation between the two agendas is the topic of an interactive debate with key actors involved in urban policy and development in Europe and outside Europe. The Urban Agenda for the EU embodies a form of new urban governance that is also relevant for the New Urban Agenda. The Partnership approach, based on a close cooperation between various stakeholders at different governmental levels, is at the heart of the Urban Agenda for the EU and it is also a key element in the governance model of the New Urban Agenda.

The Pact of Amsterdam clearly states the relation between the Urban Agenda for the EU and the New Urban Agenda: “The Urban Agenda for the EU will contribute to the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, notably Goal 11 ‘Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ and the global ‘New Urban Agenda’ as part of the Habitat III process.” The Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU) is supposed to function as the key EU delivery instrument of the New Urban Agenda (NUA). The interregional debate has formulated lessons to cross-fertilize the two strategic urban agendas and the way in which different regions in the world can learn from each other in order to successfully implement the New Urban Agenda.

Summary of the Discussion

The session had two panels: the first panel focused on the development and implementation of the Urban Agenda for the EU, the second panel was a reflection on the Urban Agenda for the EU by experts from Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

Urban Agenda for the EU

Mr Nicolaas Beets, the Dutch Urban Envoy responsible for the establishment of the Pact of Amsterdam, started by explaining urban policy in Europe, the rationale behind the Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU), the political process leading to the Pact of Amsterdam, and the partnership approach. The “urban year” 2016 was the right moment for adopting an Urban Agenda for the EU. The most innovative aspect of this European urban agenda is the partnership approach: a close and equal cooperation between different governmental layers (from local to supra-national) and various stakeholders (policymakers, practitioners, knowledge partners and civil society). Between 2016 and 2020, the UAEU Partnerships will address challenges identified in a consultative process before the adoption of the Pact of Amsterdam.

Ms Elena Szolgayová, representing the Slovak Presidency of the EU, provided two examples of how the partnership approach of the Urban Agenda for the EU really can have a positive impact on urban development in the EU by discussing the Partnership on Housing and by explaining the regional cooperation in Europe in the field of urban development. As a representative of the European Habitat III bureau she discussed the linkages between the two urban agendas.

Prof. Engelbert Lütke Daldrup, former State Secretary of Germany, responsible for the adoption of the Leipzig Charter at the time of the German Presidency of the EU and now working at the Senate of Berlin, spoke on behalf of the Mayor of Berlin, Mr Michael Müller, and EUROCITIES, the network of larger European cities. Prof. Lütke Daldrup focused of the new role of cities in the Urban Agenda for the EU. The city of Berlin is a strong advocate of the partnership and the multilevel governance approach. Comparing the two agendas, Prof. Lütke Daldrup stated that the Urban Agenda for the EU focuses on the potential of cities to enhance the competitiveness of the European Union whereas the New Urban Agenda from the Habitat III process concentrates on social aspects and people’s way of life.

In the second panel, three UN experts living and working in Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America reflected on the governance model of the Urban Agenda for the EU and the proposed New Urban Agenda.  The experts were: (1) Mr Stefanos Fotiou, ESCAP, Thailand (2) Ms Edlam Yemeru (ECA, Ethiopia) and (3) Mr Ricardo Jordan (ECLA, Chile).

Multilevel governance and multi-stakeholder involvement in other regions in the world are as important in other regions as in Europe. The role of cities differs per country and per region, but many of the challenges are identical and all regions acknowledge that the role of local authorities in urban policy needs to be stronger.  Decentralization is taking place in all regions. Funding the new activities of local authorities can be an issue though. The new partnership approach in the EU could serve as an example for other regions and these experiences from the EU and other regions could be shared with each other.

Therefore, it is important to establish stronger linkages between Europe and the other regions in the world in order to exchange good practices in relation to new urban governance. It was also concluded that there are a lot of similarities between the different regions and that sharing of knowledge and experiences would be needed. In that sense, it would be a good idea to explore possibilities for setting up an interregional platform for cooperation between the different regions.

Recommendations/ways forward from the discussions 

(1)   The context is the regions is different, but there are common issues (urban-rural relations, multilevel governance, multi-stakeholder involvement)

(2)   The culture of cooperation as described in the New Urban Agenda should lead to further inter-regional cooperation between Europe and other regions in the world.

(3)   The sharing of knowledge and experience remains an important tool to improve policy making.

(4)   The Partnership approach of the Urban Agenda for the EU is an interesting tool for implementing the NUA.

Participants in the panel discussions were interested in exploring how regional cooperation can be strengthened. It was decided to write a joint proposal to explore possibilities for setting up an interregional platform. The result of the meeting was that there are a lot of similarities between the different regions. The main new elements in the New Urban Agenda are supported by all regions, such as decentralization and multilevel governance.

Synergies: has any new partnerships, or other type of collaboration emerged during or after the event?

A potential collaboration between the different regions has been discussed in the form of setting up an interregional platform. This proposal will be developed after Habitat III.