Leipzig Charter adopted
Informal EU Council meeting on urban policy embraces integral approach
The Hague, The Netherlands -To achieve the objective of sustainable cities, an integral approach to urban issues must be chosen. In addition, the European structural funds should be made available for local projects that embrace this integral approach. This is the most important message of the Leipzig Charter, which was adopted by the European ministers responsible for urban policy on 24 May. The ministers also decided to continue the European Urban Knowledge Network (EUKN), the knowledge exchange network for European cities.
The main feature of the informal meeting of the Council of Ministers in Leipzig was the discussion of the Charter. The Leipzig Charter is a step towards an agenda for a ‘European large cities policy’. The Charter is an initiative of the German EU Presidency. By adopting the document, the EU recognizes the important social, cultural and economic role that cities play.
The Leipzig Charter is above all a political document. It does not contain any specific action points. Urban policy is a matter for national governments. The importance of the Leipzig Charter should not be underestimated, though. By adopting the Charter, the ministers have committed themselves to initiate a discussion in their own countries on how the urban dimension can be integrated into national, regional and local policy. Besides this, the importance of cities is politically emphasized at a European level. In future, the EU will take the consequences for cities into account more specifically in shaping its policy.
The Leipzig Charter builds on the urban agendas of previous EU presidencies, particularly the ‘Lille Action Programme’ (Lille, 2000), the ‘Urban Acquis’ (Rotterdam, 2004) and the ‘Bristol Accord’ (Bristol, 2005).
The European ministers also discussed the European Urban Knowledge Network (EUKN). In Leipzig it was decided to end the successful pilot project phase in order to continue the network on a more permanent basis. EUKN helps European urban policy professionals with specific knowledge in policy areas that are relevant to cities. The establishment of the network was an initiative of the Dutch EU Presidency in 2004. The Nicis Institute houses the secretariat for the EUKN.
The European urban agenda has developed in recent years. While the EU initially played a more observational role, its recommendations are now becoming more and more concrete.
The central message in the Leipzig Charter is the necessity of ‘integrated strategies and coordinated action’. What does this mean? Concretely, it means that, to achieve the objective of sustainable cities, different policy agendas must be implemented in a balanced way: social, economic and environmental objectives must be aimed at simultaneously. In the past, the Urban Acquis and the Bristol Accord stressed the importance of an integral approach.
The necessity of an integral approach imposes requirements on the institutional setting in which the (European) large cities policy is enacted. All levels of government – local, regional, national and European – have an interest in healthy cities and share the responsibility for the success of cities.
- Europe must draw up a general framework in which urban policy can be enacted. European structural funds must be made available for local projects that embrace this integral approach. In addition, Europe can play a major role in stimulating and facilitating the exchange of knowledge between cities;
- At a national level, the departments involved must work together better and financing sources for urban developments can best be combined;
- European cities (and metropolitan regions) must draw up integral development plans. It is up to the local governments to co-ordinate the implementation of these plans. National, local and regional governments must be involved in drawing up the plans, as well as interested individual citizens and private organizations. In endorsement of the Bristol Accord, the Leipzig Charter emphasizes repeatedly that the skills must be developed at local level by all the parties involved, to enable them to play their role with verve.
The Leipzig Charter mentions areas on which urban policy should now focus in any event:
- dealing with deprived neighbourhoods;
- improving the public spaces;
- modernising infrastructure with a focus on saving energy;
- better education for young children and refresher training for workers;
- better and more efficient public transport in and between cities.
The next two EU presidents – Portugal (second half of 2007) and Slovenia (first half of 2008) – have indicated their intention of keeping urban policy high on the agenda and making concrete proposals for implementing the recommendations in the Leipzig Charter. As it now appears, the Portugese Presidency will focus on coordinating European urban and territorial networks on the exchange of knowledge, learning and skills, in order to generate new knowledge. The Slovenian Presidency is currently generating ideas on how to concretely contribute to the implementation of the European urban agenda.
Download the Leipzig Charter from the EUKN website
Additional background information (provided by Infrasite’s Editorial Staff)
Vice-President of the European Commission, Commissioner for Transport
Green Paper on Urban Transport
Participation of Vice-President Jacques Barrot in the informal ministerial meeting on urban development and territorial cohesion
Leipzig, 24th may 2007