A new localism agenda for the EU: a seat at the table for cities and people


Picture of Anna König Jerlmyr
Anna König Jerlmyr

Former mayor of Stockholm, former member of the Swedish Parliament and Trustee of Friends of Europe

In our Vision for Europe, we argue that new localism can serve as a key driver from the ‘top’ to configure a bottom-up EU. But how does that work in practice? Mayor Anna König Jerlmyr shares her experiences on localism in Stockholm. 

Today, many of Europe’s most pressing challenges are concentrated in our cities, but this is also where we see the most opportunities.

Our cities are the places where the fight against climate change becomes real, where technological innovation can help boost the digital transformation and where we can build equal and inclusive societies that leave no one behind. Yet these issues are bigger than all of us and need joint action across cities and different levels of government.

Most importantly, as the closest level of government to people, cities’ continued engagement of citizens is an opportunity to bridge the ongoing gap between EU decision-makers and people.

For city leaders, this requires a new and different mindset anchored in a belief that a new localism can be the driver for a more dynamic, relevant and just future of Europe – one in which citizens and cities play a strong role in solving societal problems.

Our cities are where we have the potential to show the way forward on environmental challenges

The future of Europe will be decided in our cities

Local and European challenges are strongly connected. The scale of most of today’s challenges require co-design, cooperation and co-production with citizens and between all levels of government for better legislation. It also necessitates a more efficient use of resources and the effective upscaling of sustainable solutions.

Our cities are where we have the potential to show the way forward on environmental challenges. We need European leaders to work with us to adopt and implement the vision of a carbon neutral Europe by 2050. This should include progressive policies for cleaner vehicles in our cities, investment in public transport networks, scaling up support for the energy transition in urban areas and making a decisive move towards a circular economy.

Tackling poverty and inequality in our cities is urgent and is putting our European social model – and ultimately our welfare states – at risk.

As international hubs of trade and commerce, cities’ attractiveness to businesses, talent and investors is essential to European prosperity, competitiveness and its standing as a global leader of innovation. Across Europe, cities are increasingly breaking the mould by engaging in new business models with private partners to find innovative ways to improve people’s lives. We also meet through networks like EUROCITIES to share learning from both successes and failures that can help inspire new ideas.

Boosting the digital transformation will help increase people’s quality of life in our cities and elsewhere. The EU can do this by supporting cities’ efforts to develop, test and scale up digital solutions that contribute to high quality and resource-efficient public services, while also empowering people to participate in and benefit from citizen-focused transformation.

To ensure strengthened leadership on urban matters, we propose the nomination of a vice-president in charge of urban affairs in the European Commission

A city leaders’ agenda for Europe

As president of EUROCITIES, the network of major cities throughout Europe, I share many of the collective views of mayors. We acknowledge that the EU is on the right footing, but to make the EU fit for purpose, we must strengthen our tools for working together to deliver results where it matters to citizens.

The EU needs to listen more and engage more with its citizens. It can take inspiration from cities for this purpose to find ways of creating societies where people come first. We know from our experience that democracy requires participation, and that by creating public policies together with our citizens, we tap into an innovative potential that often matches urban and European needs. A conference for Europe, as proposed by European Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, could be a good first step towards rebuilding trust in the EU. Through EUROCITIES, we provide a ready-made infrastructure to facilitate access to citizens and enable dialogue. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we hope that the new Commission President-elect will work with us when reaching out to citizens.

The EU has already taken some positive actions towards the inclusion of cities in decision-making. For instance, the Urban Agenda for the EU promotes cooperation and dialogue between all the different levels of government. Going forward, we are asking the EU and its member states to keep this strategic lifeline for cities and make it even stronger by establishing clearer links to policy and decision-making processes at EU level.

To ensure strengthened leadership on urban matters, we propose the nomination of a vice-president in charge of urban affairs in the European Commission. This will generate an ongoing dialogue with city leaders on how to ensure a strategic direction and stronger coordination of EU policies for cities.

With new responsibilities, new agendas and changing societal challenges, it’s time for the EU to give cities a seat at the table in shaping policies that ultimately affect us and the people we represent. It’s time for a new localism to make Europe better and stronger.

EUROCITIES is the political platform for major European cities. We network the local governments of over 140 of Europe’s largest cities and more than 40 partner cities that between them govern some 130 million citizens across 39 countries. www.eurocities.eu

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