The Urban Agenda for the EU, its 'green' actions and the European Green Deal

18 March, 2021


On 18 March 2021, the EUKN held a Policy Lab jointly organised with the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning of Sloveniaon the urban dimensions of the European Green Deal (EGD) and its interlinkages with the ‘green’ Partnerships of the Urban Agenda for the EU (UAEU). This event forms part of a series of tailor-made activities undertaken by the EUKN Secretariat to support its Member Slovenia in its preparation for the Slovenian EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2021. These activities aim at contributing to concrete messages that will be presented to ministers under Slovenia’s Presidency on how to support cities dealing with regulatory obstacles when trying to reach environmental goals.

As indicated by the programme of the event, the first part of the Policy Lab consisted in a broad panel discussion with a diverse range of experts and respresentatives (please consult the list in the right column). Positioning the UAEU's ‘green’ actions within the wider political debate and institutional context, the panellists shared their perspectives on European cities' commitments, experiences in implementation and achievements concerning the EGD and the UAEU Partnerships. 

In the second part, three interactive Working Groups (WGs) built upon the 2020 Policy Labs for Slovenia (Read the report here) and addressed their key findings, specifically related to  Nature-Based Solutions (WG1),  the Circular Economy (WG2), and the Better Regulation strand of the UAEU (WG3). The WGs offered a platform to reflect on the regulatory obstacles faced by cities when trying to achieve their environmental goals and how to address these barriers. 

In the following, some of the event's highlights, including key statements from the panel discussion and the main content of the WGs, as well as prospects on the next steps are outlined. 

First Part: Panel Discussion 

Anthony Agotha, European Commission
In order to take better advantage of the EGD, Mr Agotha called on the Thematic Partnerships of the UAEU, and cities in particular, to connect to each other and share their practices. In order to create high-quality programme proposals for the EGD, he emphasised that combined knowledge and exchange among cities were vital. The Senior Diplomatic Expert also highlighted that the EGD represented a paradigm shift that was only possible to implement by integrating social justice, noting that from the beginning, the Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans has said: 'This will be a just transition, or there just will be no transition.'

Vanesa Castán Broto, University of Sheffield
Ms Castán Broto acknowledged the EGD as a future strategy but also expressed her concern about its underlying rationale - the pursuit of economic growth - as well as the reduction of possible futures to just one narrative. Highlighting the fact that interventions in urban environments have unequal impacts, the Professor for Climate Urbanism advocated for implementing the EGD with a diversity and equity-focused approach. She emphasised that the EGD will only create just outcomes if diverse perspectives on the definition of what is ‘valuable’ in the urban environment are taken into account.

Jan Olbrycht, European Parliament
The MEP stressed the need for concrete actions for the future of the UAEU. Declarations like the New Leipzig Charter are of importance, as they define common goals, he noted, but these need to be translated into specific practices through the UAEU Partnerships and the implementation of multi-level governance. Mr Olbrycht suggested 'let’s first prove that multi-level cooperation is possible. (…) Secondly, let’s work together, not discuss together. Let’s prepare something concrete like the Action Plans.' He argued that cities and regions will only participate if they can foresee concrete actions and results, and that, as the UAEU showcases, the urban dimension is not limited to Cohesion Policy but is present in all EU policies, just like the horizontal strategy of the EGD.

Kieran McCarthy, European Committe of the Regions
Mr McCarthy reminded the participants of the Policy Lab of the impressive achievements of the voluntary Partnerships whose details often go unnoticed. According to him, these accomplishments should be communicated more to citizens. Although he noted that there is still a lot of work to do in terms of connecting the UAEU’s ‘non-green’ aspects to its ‘green’ actions, he was very positive about the high enthusiasm of cities to commit to becoming ‘greener’. To him, the Fit for 55 Package is a welcome example of the BR strand of the UAEU.

Louise Coffineau, Eurocities
By presenting numerous examples of cities’ commitments to climate neutrality, Ms Coffineau made clear that cities are a frontrunner in the sustainable digital transition. The Policy Advisor argued that the EGD is an enabler for cities in that it drives investment. For the future UAEU, she suggested that the European Commission and Member States must continue collaborating with cities as they need support in reaching their objectives. Also, a more active involvement of the Directorate-Generals of the Commission and more resources are needed, according to her, for implementing and developing a stronger and more forward-looking governance for the UAEU. Ms Coffineau further emphasised that reinforcing the relationship between the EGD and the UAEU offers an opportunity, in that the Deal's priorities could be met through the UAEU’s Partnerships.

Second Part: Working Groups

WG1: 'Supporting cities to implement Nature-Based Solutions'
WG 1 discussed the 'green' existing strategies and regulations for the implementation of NBS and the creation of a European platform collecting translated legislation and projects on NBS from different Member States. The group concluded that NBS should be approached in an integrated way and considered a tool rather than a goal. Moreover, NBS should be made more visible and should target specific, rather than broad, audiences based on their main contributions to society.

WG2: 'Creating the conditions to boost Circular Economy in cities'
WG 2 provided insights into cities’ practical applications of CE approaches through urban resource centres, which are centres that promote the CE at local level, as Eileen Crowley outlined in her presentation. The participants of the WG also dealt with the legal barriers to implementing the CE and how to overcome these barriers. Two main strategies for the latter undertaking were identified. To overcome regulatory obstacles to adopting the CE, legislation needs to be influenced and/or one needs to adjust to the barriers in a strategic way. Other possibilities to overcome legal barriers were collected, like the consideration of CE initiatives as pilot projects. A reflection on the importance of the type of CE activities for a high participation rate followed this discussion. Inclusivity, visibility, continuity and positivity of acticivities were stressed as crucial factors to incentivise the participation in CE projects. 

WG3: 'Achieving Better Regulation through the Urban Agenda for the EU'
WG 3 first pinpointed achievements and shortcomings of the current BR pillar of the UAEU. Among other things, the group acknowledged that the UAEU Partnerships have identified relevant legal frameworks for urban issues. At the same time, the participants emphasised that BR actions lacked a strong focus on how to improve EU legislation. For the next phase of the UAEU, several recommendations were formulated. To name only a few, the WG advised the Partnerships of the UAEU to develop a lobbying strategy for influencing legislation and recommended to approach BR from a multi-level governance perspective. Furthermore, the group underlined that future BR actions should include recommendations which are directly related to EU policy and legislation.  

Next steps

In the upcoming months, the EUKN Secretariat will be working on formulating concrete messages that will be presented to ministers under Slovenia’s Presidency on how to support cities dealing with regulatory obstacles when trying to reach environmental goals. This document will be available in June on the EUKN website. 

Moreover, the outputs of the Policy Lab will be contribute to the upcoming Slovene Presidency as a whole. They will be used to represent the interests of European cities, to revise the Pact of Amsterdam and to preserve the Partnerships of the UAEU as the modus operandi of common action in order to solve present issues in the intersection of urban development and environmental policy.