Towards the EU Urban Agenda: results of the Latvian Presidency

The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development of the Republic of Latvia details the importance of small and medium-sized urban areas in the context of the EU Urban Agenda

Approximately 70% of Europeans live in cities and towns. They play a significant role in territorial development of the EU, and in achieving the strategic European Union goals, due to the concentration of people, economic and social activity. On the other hand they face different challenges which require purposeful and coordinated actions at all governance levels. Therefore, for a number of years EU level discussions have taken place on the need for an EU Urban Agenda. However, no political agreements have been taken on its content until now.

In order to advance the previous work during its presidency, Latvia proposed to have an intergovernmental agreement on the overall framework of the future EU Urban Agenda. On 10th of June during the informal meeting of Ministers responsible for territorial cohesion and urban matters, the EU Member States, institutions and relevant stakeholders agreed on the Riga Declaration “Towards the EU Urban Agenda”. It is a significant step in EU Urban Agenda development, as the Declaration gives clear guidelines on how the EU Urban Agenda shall be developed, what principles should be respected and what elements need to be included. It also defines the recommended actions to be taken at different governance levels (EU, national, regional and local), in order to foster sustainable development.

According to the Declaration, it is proposed to develop an EU Urban Agenda which provides an operational framework and effective instruments to improve the urban dimension in European policymaking. This includes better policies, territorial impact assessment, more tailor-made and places sensitive EU-funds, opportunities to exchange knowledge and best practices, research, and promote cooperation.

It highlights the importance of such principles as subsidiarity and proportionality; true partnership among involved parties; diversity of different urban areas; integrated, crosscutting, a territorially based approach focusing resources where it is really needed; coherence between urban and other territorial development issues; respect of national and regional specificity. With this Declaration, the Ministers agreed to contribute to the further development of the EU Urban Agenda. The European Commission is invited to make EU Urban Agenda a priority, as well as to take concrete and immediate actions in that regard. The regional and local authorities are also invited to take a more active role in this process, taking into account that their specific knowledge on the local circumstances, needs and opportunities, can provide the best solutions for its inhabitants.

Particular attention within the draft Declaration is paid to the small and medium-sized urban areas, which was a specific priority and contribution of the Latvian presidency to the EU wide debate on the future Urban Agenda. It includes statements acknowledging the significant role of small and medium-sized urban areas in a wider territorial development, as well as emphasising the need to respect these areas when developing and implementing the EU Urban Agenda. Small and medium-sized urban areas (SMUAs) have been less explored both in policies and studies so far.

Up to now, the focus has been mainly on the role and issues of metropolitan areas and large cities. Nevertheless, it deserves undivided attention, taking into account that 24.2% (1) of the Europeans live in small and mediums sized urban areas with a population of 5,000 to 50 000. In total there are 8,350 SMUAs in Europe. These urban areas fulfil important economic and social functions, being centres for jobs, public and private services, modes of local transport, as well as centres for local and regional knowledge production, innovation and infrastructure for a large share of the European population. Therefore, they are essential to avoid rural depopulation and urban drift, promoting more balanced overall regional development. There is a significant existing and potential collective contribution of SMUAs to EU common strategic goals, especially regarding employment, climate change and energy sustainability and fighting poverty and social exclusion.

The development of the EU Urban Agenda is significant in terms of better competitiveness and economic development of cities and towns, high quality of life of its inhabitants, and sustainable development. Urban development must be both socially responsible and environmentally innovative. The better economic, social and environmental performance of urban areas will have a positive impact on surrounding areas, thus balancing territorial development.

There is still a lot of work to be done in order to agree on the content of the EU Urban Agenda. The most immediate work relates to the agreement on the priorities of the EU Urban Agenda, also the common working methods. These issues will be discussed among EU Member States, EU institutions, partners, involving also regional and local authorities. The political agreement regarding the content of the EU Urban Agenda is expected during the Dutch Presidency.

1 Research report “Challenges of Small and Medium-Sized Urban Areas, their economic growth potential and impact on territorial development in the European Union and Latvia”, written by HESPI and EUKN and consulted by ESPON on behalf of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of European Union (The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development)


Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional

Development of the Republic of Latvia


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