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Urban policy is heading south-east - opening up for changes

Delivering 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030 is one of the new EU-missions that will help solve the major issues of our time. In the spring of 2023, when Sweden takes over the EU Council of Ministers, we will have the opportunity to impact the development towards more sustainable and inclusive cities and communities.

At RISE we are actively working on supporting cities and communities in their sustainable transformation. This support covers a wide range of issues like climate mitigation and adaptation, social value creation and digitization, and involves stakeholders from both public and private sector, academia and civil society. Cities are more and more connected and relevant not only in their local, regional and national contexts, but also in international arenas, most notably within the European Union.

So what EU urban policy trends do we see, and why is this relevant, also in a national (Swedish) context?  Below I share some thoughts on what is happening now, potential directions of the EU urban policy, and what could lie ahead?

EU is working on seven-year planning budgets, and with rotating six-month EU presidencies. In the spring of 2023 Sweden is chairing the EU Council of Ministers, a unique opportunity for EU Member states to contribute to set long-term goals and prepare a common agenda determining the topics and major issues that will be addressed by the Council.  

The current EU budget covers 2021-2027, and one novelty in this current period are the so-called EU Missions. They are a new way to bring concrete solutions to some of our greatest challenges, with ambitious goals to deliver tangible results by 2030. One of five EU Missions are directly related to cities: 

“Deliver 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030 and ensure that these cities act as experimentation and innovation hubs to enable all European cities to follow suit by 2050”.  

In January 2022, 377 European cities applied to be part of this mission, and in April 100 EU cities were selected from all 27 EU Member states, as well as 12 additional cities from associated countries. Seven Swedish cities - Gävle, Gothenburg, Helsingborg, Lund, Malmö, Stockholm, Umeå – are in this select group. All seven Swedish cities are also part of the strategic innovation program Viable cities and its ”Climate-neutral cities 2030” initiative.  In the previous EU programming period 2014-2020 one of the core urban investments was the Smart Cities lighthouse initiative.  Over that seven-year period, 48 Lighthouse cities and 72 Fellow cities were selected and funded as part of this initiative.  

Analyzing the overlap between the two succeeding initiatives across the two programming periods, we see that 30 cities have been part of both initiatives. These are marked with a blue diamond in the Cities mission map below, and include three Swedish cities (Gothenburg, Stockholm and Umeå).  It is worth noting that only ten of the EU Member states are represented here, and that only four of these 30 cities are EU capital cities. Within the new 100 Mission cities, all 27 Member states were represented, and 20 are EU capital cities. The cities vary in size and location, although it is also worth noting that there was a clear under-representation of Smart cities Lighthouses in south-eastern Europe, which is now addressed within the Cities mission.  

This geographic and structural shift opens up for an even stronger national engagement in the future development on European urban policies ahead. After the current Czech EU presidency, it is time for Sweden to chair the EU Council of Ministers in the spring of 2023. This is a unique opportunity to take the next step on one of the new urban-related initiatives from Ursula von der Leyen – the so-called New European Bauhaus, striving for more beautiful, sustainable and inclusive cities and communities. Can this concept be integrated even more clearly in the Cities mission moving forward? That will, however, have to be a topic for a coming blog.