Buzek's speech to the Covenant of Mayors
It is a great honour for me to be able once again to welcome you to the European Parliament for the Signature Ceremony of the Covenant of Mayors. This is the 4th time in a row this has taken place here.
I have always believed in the importance of local government. As prime minister of Poland I introduced reforms which restructured my country from a centralized post-Communist state into one where the role and real administrative power of local authorities is guaranteed.
Cities are as close to European citizens and their concerns as we aim to be at the level of the European Union. It is at the local and regional level that Europeans engage. The European Union and EU policies become real for the citizen when they involve the local and regional level. And it also works the other way around: European policies become effective when they start at the local and regional level. There, policies and policy changes matter. And there too they have the most immediate impact and can make a difference very quickly.
One of the challenges you face is how to run sustainable cities and how to develop while protecting the environment.
Three-quarters of our citizens in Europe live and work in cities. They consume 75 per cent of the energy used in the EU. Over half of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe come from urban areas. We can see by these numbers that climate change is also a matter of local solutions. The cooperation of cities in this regard is even more important than the cooperation of regions and states.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are at the dawn of a green revolution. Awareness of that has led me to pay so much attention to the issue both as a member of the European Parliament and during my term – which is now drawing to a close – as President of Parliament. You, the mayors of our cities, are in the front line of this revolution.
It is with deep respect that I have observed the activities of the Covenant of Mayors. Your movement is crucial for strengthening European competitiveness. It is also a source of new practices for managing sustainable development.
The European Union is leading the way in the global fight against climate change. Our Member States have committed themselves to cutting CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, and more if other industrialized countries join us. We will not reach this goal without the determination and strong will of European cities.
Your Sustainable Action Plans are becoming the blue prints for Europe’s renewable energy policy. In this, you are showing from the ground up what EU policies should be.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am convinced that closer cooperation between cities will provide Europe with both new competitive advantages and new inspirations.
Cities have formed our continent. Their medieval network emerged long before nation states were born. The cities traded with each other and inspired one another culturally. Strong agreements between cities, such as that of the Hanseatic League, which in the 14th to 15th centuries included practically all the towns of the North Sea and Baltic coasts, hastened European development. Thanks to cities, traffic intensified, discourse was enriched and culture blossomed.
The American philosopher and political scientist Benjamin Barber, a promoter of civil society, remarked during his recent visit to Europe that the world should rely on the cooperation not of nation states but of cities, as these can better respond to contemporary challenges.
I think that this idea could be particularly inspirational for us, in Europe.
First, the main problems we face today globally are cross-border in nature and interrelated. They are connected with the environment, organised crime, narcotics, immigration, technology, markets, the climate and global warming. No country is in a position to deal with these alone. They can only be resolved across borders. In handling these problems, our cities – and cities from various parts of the world – have much more in common with each other than countries do.
Second, cities have everywhere similar, practical tasks to accomplish: to ensure safety in the streets, dispose of garbage, ensure public transport, clear the snow in winter, provide satisfaction for the inhabitants.
In contacts with mayors, I am always impressed by their attitudes. These are people who are not concerned with ideology, but who are seeking pragmatic, down-to-earth answers. If the world were ruled by mayors such as yourselves, it is possible that many global problems would already have been resolved. The practical manner in which cities solve the same sort of problems we have to deal with in the European Union could be a model for us.
Third – as you are also the proof – cities today could be a source of new ideas for better governance. Cities are already connected with one another and are cooperating in matters of transport, ecology, technology and culture.
European cities form an enormous, European-wide network of cooperation, ideas, experience and good practices. In turning our attention from nation states to cities we could become more effective in terms of integration and cross-border cooperation. The closer collaboration of European cities could begin a second wave of integration in Europe. Our watchword – more, and not less Europe, more and not less integration and cooperation – is today being best realised in our cities. This illustrates that there is no better way of proceeding than towards ever closer cooperation in Europe.
All over the world, cities concentrate knowledge, creativity and innovativeness and are the driving force of development. The GDP per capita of European cities with more than a million inhabitants is 25 per cent higher than the EU average and more than 40 per cent higher than domestic GDP.
I am convinced that cities will play a key role in building competitive advantages in Europe. They will play the same role in the world at large. Close cooperation and the exchange of experience between cities in the area of balanced development could be a source of inspiration not only for ourselves in Europe. This is knowledge worth disseminating. China is interested in the experience of European urbanisation, as are many metropolises around the world. In turn, the challenges of these cities in the areas of migration and crime prevention, as well as their experience in trying to increase their residents’ satisfaction, could provide ideas for Europe.
I believe there is one more challenge here. All over the world, city populations are rising. It is sufficient to recall the size of metropolises in Asia, Africa or South America. Europe should work for sustainable development and inclusive growth in such a manner as to avoid a dramatic increase in the number of persons living in cities. This can only be achieved by striving to equalise living standards within cities and beyond their limits. Populations living in areas between cities must not be neglected.
The great value of a European metropolis is its convenient intimacy. European citizens expect that a city will provide their needs without disturbing the peace and balance of living conditions. I believe that ’appropriate’ size is one of the great advantages of European cities and could be a drawing card in the global competition for talent. Access to varied services, good atmosphere, green solutions – these are the strong sides of European cities.
Today, all is overshadowed by an unprecedented economic and financial crisis that has brought the structural weaknesses of the European economy to light.
In these times, when budgetary austerity is a priority, we have to show at the EU level that more Europe will actually make the difference in solving many problems which cannot be solved by one country alone.
Parliament is of the opinion that European structural policy is making a major contribution towards overcoming the economic and financial crisis. Why? Because structural funds are oriented towards innovation and towards removing disparities. This encourages our cities and regions to upgrade their infrastructure, increase regional innovation potential and boost environmentally sustainable development. This fosters the sustainable, long-term growth we need.
Being in co-decision on most European Union policies, I can assure you that the European Parliament will continue to defend this stance in the future.
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