Yesterday I attended the launch of URBACT III, the European Territorial Cooperation programme aiming to foster sustainable integrated urban development in cities across Europe. This event was a key opportunity for city experts and practitioners to explore how URBACT can further help improve urban policies in Europe.
Nowadays, three Europeans in four live in urban areas. Our continent is the second most urbanised one in the world behind Latin America. It is no exaggeration to say that economic growth in the EU will come primarily from its towns and cities.
Creating jobs, enabling good living conditions, improving energy efficiency in housing or developing sustainable transport: those issues have to be tackled in our cities. The voices of cities need to be better heard and reflected in EU policies, as they are in the driving seat to implement those policies.
EU Cohesion Policy is already putting the urban dimension at the very heart of its policy. More than half of the ERDF resources will now be invested in urban areas, and around EUR 15 billion will be directly allocated to integrated strategies for sustainable urban development.
In this context, URBACT plays a major role in facilitating networking, experience and exchange of good practices between cities. Since its existence in 2003, it has empowered over 500 cities. For the new period 2014-2020, more than EUR 74 million of EU funds will be allocated to the URBACT III programme to further enable knowledge sharing and capacity building.
Cities are key to Europe's future, and the EU should respond more effectively to the challenges facing our urban areas.
The involvement of our cities and towns in EU policy making is one way to do this. Over the past years, a growing number of voices at EU, national and local level have argued that we need an EU Urban Agenda, a joined-up coordinated approach encompassing all EU policies with an urban dimension.
An Urban Agenda could help us better adapt EU policies to urban realities, improve coherence and synergies between all policies, and better involve cities in the design of those policies. Such an EU Urban Agenda must be more than paper but result in concrete actions on the ground.
My services are currently finalising a report, which is summarising the main results from the consultation that was launched last year on the EU Urban Agenda, what form it should take and how it could work.
The second CITIES Forum, which will take place on 2 June, will be an excellent framework to hold a debate on all these issues and to ensure that cities are being put higher up on the political agenda. I count on the contributions of our URBACT stakeholders to this process.