importance of cities

Anna Lisa Boni, secretary-general, EUROCITIES shares her reflections on the growing importance of cities as agenda setters

The growing importance of cities as agenda setters has been recognised globally in the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda of the UN. This reflects a movement more generally to reality check policy making, by giving more of a say to those that implement it on the ground. Cities are the right scale to build partnerships that bring policy closer to citizens.

In Europe, the Urban Agenda for the EU, launched in May 2016, is a good starting point. It recognises the added value of bringing cities, member states and the Commission together on matters that concern us and our citizens. It is a new way of working together and a learning process for all partners. We need to keep the process flexible and adapt as we move along, to be able to make the most of this opportunity to join up all levels of government to work together for better solutions.

One year in, the 12 thematic partnerships envisaged in the Pact of Amsterdam, as the key instrument to deliver the agenda, have all been set up. They are at different stages of implementation but all are working on better regulation, better funding and better knowledge sharing on their specific topics. We are invested in these partnerships and we want to continue to work with partners to match urban challenges and solutions to EU objectives and ensure clear outcomes for cities.

Using the tools of the urban agenda to involve cities in finding solutions to common challenges will help create a stronger EU, especially if these outcomes are used to feed into longer-term EU policy development. The Urban Impact Assessments also offer cities a channel to flag up potential concerns with policy developments directly to EU decision makers. As such, they recognise the role of cities as implementers of a broad range of EU legislation and the importance of including cities in governance processes.

Better collaboration on policy in this way should mean better ownership across the different levels of government in how policy is implemented. This is particularly important when considering the financial framework post-2020. Cities need a more effective approach to funding that addresses urban challenges, allowing cities to draw on and combine different EU funding streams to deliver integrated solutions locally.

Strategic challenges encountered on the local level are also European ones. City authorities tackle issues around worklessness, migration and the environment (and many others) on a daily basis. City authorities play a pivotal role in meeting these challenges by connecting EU investments with local needs. But cities’ say in long-term investment decisions, notably through EU cohesion policy, is minimal.

importance of cities
Anna Lisa Boni

Modernising cities

Beyond the specific tools of the urban agenda, we need to continue to ‘urbanise’ existing work process at EU level, such as the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Smart Cities and Communities, where EUROCITIES coordinates the action cluster on business models, financing and procurement. We want to boost integrated approaches to EU financed projects that involve cities as partners and in policy developments that impact cities.

Another way to share ownership of decision making and outcomes, can be through knowledge exchange. Sharing rather than competing is also a core function of city-led networks, like EUROCITIES. We directly engage over 140 of Europe’s largest cities at both political and expert level across a broad range of policy issues. Our well-established working practices act as a multiplier for the debates and outcomes of the urban agenda, allowing our broader membership to contribute and benefit.

We want to make partnerships and multi-level governance a priority. Cities are the perfect scale to test out innovative solutions that benefit their citizens. These solutions often make sense in different contexts and can be shared between cities or upscaled by feeding into national and European decision making.

In the coming months, our campaign ‘cities4Europe, Europe for citizens’ will be doing exactly this, by sharing innovative city practices that engage our citizens directly. A stronger EU starts with the citizens, and cities can help make that happen.

EUROCITIES is the network of major European cities, with over 140 members, representing more than 130 million people. Visit: to learn more.


Anna Lisa Boni

Secretary general


+32 2 552 08 88

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