Cities and regions are confronted every day with the task of making sustainable development a reality that works for all citizens. As the climate crisis and rising social inequalities pose serious challenges to Europeʼs future, local and regional authorities have become new drivers of change.
With their innovative solutions and concrete policies, local and regional governments strive to make the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality, as no less than 65% of the targets depend on them. From ending poverty to quality education, from reducing inequalities to zero hunger, from fighting the climate crisis to building more sustainable communities, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the right compass to build a society that leaves no people and no places behind.
A just transition towards a sustainable Europe is urgent and necessary, but it will not be possible without a rethinking of the European Union policies in an ambitious and comprehensive way. In particular, cohesion policy, which is the EUʼs best investment tool for territories, has the potential to become the cornerstone of sustainable development policies, by supporting cities and regions in their actions and empowering citizens in this transformation.
This event presented inspiring local stories of sustainable development and discuss the idea of a progressive Green New Deal to help cities and regions achieve a sustainable future.
It was organised by the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions, with the cooperation of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament and its Progressive Society initiative.
This first panel brought together the mayors of three very different communities: a tiny remote island, a medium-size post-industrial city and a large town near a metropolitan area.
Maria Kakali became Mayor of Agios Efstratios in 2014 and has been reelected unanimously in 2019. She shared her experience as mayor of a small and very remote Greek island in the northern Aegean Sea and the multiple challenges she is facing when it comes to making Agios Efstratios attractive for people to stay or settle on the island, while fully respecting environmental sustainability.
Basilio Horta, Mayor of Sintra (Portugal) and Member of the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions, shared initiatives he undertook to make his city ecologically and socially sustainable. He mentioned inter alia the programmes Sintra Inclusive and Sintra Integration, dedicated to include physically and mentally disable people in the labour market.
Elena Piastra became Mayor of Settimo Torinese (Italy) in June 2019. She shared her experience as mayor with a positive agenda for environmental, social and economic sustainability for a post-industrial city in Italy, where plastic industry represents a significant employment sector. She stressed that EU financial support is very important to accompany the transition.
Paul Magnette, Mayor of Charleroi, delivered the keynote speech. According to him, citizens' enthusiasm for a policy is a key factor for its successful implementation. He gave the example of planting trees and also the initiative of free lunches in schools, which not only enabled to embrace circular economy principles, but also created jobs, raised awareness amongst children and bridged the gap between food suppliers in the countryside and consumers of sustainable food in urban areas.
The second panel focused on the financial and social challenges at local and regional level, linked to the green transition.
Peter Kurz, Mayor of Mannheim (Germany) and Member of the PES Group in the CoR, argued that challenges to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the local level also differ from one part of a city to another. While presenting the measures taken in Mannheim, he explained that the millions of new jobs to be created by a new sustainable economy will actually replace old jobs. He therefore stressed the need for localised solutions to make the transition just for workers.
Liina Carr, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, underlined the need to empower those workers who are affected by the green and digital transitions to take up new sustainable jobs. She argued that social dialogue is of paramount importance in this respect. Furthermore, she urged for a substantial increase of the part of the new EU budget earmarked for new sustainability initiatives.
Pierre Larrouturou MEP, (S&D/France) Chair of the EP's Budget Committee, mainly argued that the EU needs a tax on business profits, which would finance a European budget for climate protection without making citizens pay for the green transition.
Concluding the event, Iratxe García Pérez, President of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, recalled the importance of a just transition, in order to take into account the needs of every citizen in the fight for climate protection.
Christophe Rouillon, President of the PES Group in the CoR, recalled that, a few days ago, we celebrated the fourth anniversary of the 17 SDGs, but have not managed in these 4 years to establish them as the EU's development strategy for the decade ahead. He also stressed that regions and cities need the EU to address the challenges linked to a just transition.
Implementing SDGs at local level is successful when people are aware of the beneficial impacts on their daily life. Therefore, climate protection can only be achieved if people's and communities' needs are considered and no person nor region is left behind. Speakers also emphasised the need for information and communication campaigns, for citizens and elected representatives alike. There was broad consensus for a place-based approach and the need for cooperation and for the EU to shoulder cities and regions in their efforts to attain the SDGs.
Photo credit: Unsplash / Karsten Wuerth
by the moderator Beatriz Ríos, Reporter and broadcast journalist, Euractiv
Maria Kakali, Mayor of Agios Efstratios (Greece)
Elena Piastra, Mayor of Settimo Torinese (Italy)
Basílio Horta, Mayor of Sintra and Member of the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions (Portugal)
Paul Magnette, Mayor of Charleroi (Belgium)
Liina Carr, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation
Dr Peter Kurz, Mayor of Mannheim and Member of the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions (Germany)
Pierre Larrouturou, Member of the European Parliament (France)
Christophe Rouillon, President of the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions
Iratxe García Pérez, President of the S&D Group in the European Parliament
In front of the meeting room