#17: Tilman Buchholz on... the German EU Presidency and the New Leipzig Charter

To you, why is the Council Presidency important for furthering urban matters in the EU? What role does the Trio Presidency play in this regard?

Urban development and policy is not an official competence of the European Union. So, instead, urban development is organised via informal intergovernmental cooperation. And here the rotating Council Presidencies have a core role to play. They are responsible for organising the regular meetings on a working level (Urban Development Group) and on DG level (DGUM). And it is up to Council Presidencies to put a special emphasis on urban development issues or highlight a dedicated theme and “upgrade” their Presidency by organising an Informal Ministry on Urban Matters.

The themes for the discussion in the intergovernmental cooperation are set by the Council Presidencies – and by highlighting certain themes the Presidencies can push forward and influence the discussion on urban matters in the EU. This agenda setting can also be linked to global (e.g. UN Habitat) and European policies (e.g. Urban Dimension of Cohesion Policy). Since the establishment of the Urban Agenda for the EU it is also a major task of the Council Presidency to follow the discussion around the partnerships and to steer the Urban Agenda process.

The main function of the Trio Presidency is to organise a consistent discussion around themes with a longer time frame and to avoid that we “jump” from one theme of a Presidency to the next one. A well organised Trio programme safeguards that three Presidencies follow the same narrative and that each Presidency builds on the achievements of the previous one. This can also facilitate the strategic further development of urban matters and should result in strengthening the intergovernmental cooperation in urban development in general.


What was the German Presidency's biggest achievement?

The biggest achievement of the German Presidency was the adoption of the New Leipzig Charter as the new strategic framework for integrated urban development in Europe at the Informal Ministerial in November 2020.

Very early on – already in 2017, when 10 years of the Leipzig Charter were celebrated – Germany decided to make integrated urban development a major backbone of its 2020 Presidency. In the preparatory process for the New Leipzig Charter that started in 2018 (and that included stakeholders from all Member States, Partner States, European institutions and organisations), we managed to agree on one very clear political message: “the transformative power of European cities for the common good”. The notion of the common good is a novelty in the context of European debates related to urban development and at the beginning of the process there was no guarantee that we could agree on this idea. The introduction of the common good as the red thread through the whole document should be regarded as a major achievement. The pandemic has demonstrated, more than ever, the relevance of the common good.

Another major achievement is that the New Leipzig Charter emphasises the role of local authorities to safeguard the common good and to balance public and private interests. The Charter also clearly addresses what cities need to be able to cope with all the future challenges they face – they need framework conditions on the national and on the European scale.

What is also important is that the Charter is deeply embedded in the long-term European urban development process, namely the Urban Agenda for the EU. The Implementation Document states that the principles of the New Leipzig Charter shall guide the next phase of the Urban Agenda for the EU. The Urban Agenda for the EU will also be one of the main vehicles to implement the messages of the Charter at a European scale.


What are your hopes for the German Presidency's legacy at the national and the EU level regarding the promotion of just, green and productive cities?

At the national level in Germany we will use the New Leipzig Charter as the framework to further develop the National Urban Development Policy – an initiative that was established after the adoption of the Leipzig Charter 2007 and that works as the main strategy to promote integrated urban development approaches in Germany. Following the guiding principles of the New Leipzig Charter, the National Urban Development Policy in Germany is currently focusing on “urban resilience” to answer the long-term challenges related to the pandemic. This work is also closely linked to the three dimensions of European cities as described in the Charter.

In general we hope that the clear political message of the New Leipzig Charter to establish or strengthen national urban policies will be heard in the Member States and that more Member States are encouraged to work in that direction. To promote this idea, a regular exchange on national urban development policies should be organised in the framework of the UDG and DGUM meetings – the Slovene Presidency has just started this exercise. The establishment of a permanent and dedicated Secretariat for Urban Matters in the framework of the European Urban Initiative that supports the intergovernmental cooperation could be very helpful in that respect. Regular monitoring/evaluation of the implementation of the New Leipzig Charter can also be used to follow this important angle of the Charter.

At the European level, we strive to continue developing a powerful Urban Agenda that is guided by the notion of just, green and productive cities. We are confident that the New Leipzig Charter will influence the next phase of the Urban Agenda, which will be agreed at the Informal Ministerial meeting under the Slovene Presidency. The principles of good urban governance laid down in the Charter could be used as cross-cutting issues and considered in the work of the future partnerships or other delivery modes of the Urban Agenda.

The three cities dimension of the Charter will be reflected in the future URBACT programming period. Finally, the Charter can also serve as a strategic reference for the urban dimension of Cohesion Policy. In Germany,  we are emphasizing the New Leipzig Charter’s principles in the Partnership Agreement that works as the framework document for Cohesion Policy at the national level for the new funding period.