European urban development, research and policy: the future of European cohesion policy

EURA Conference, Budapest, Hungary
28-30 August 2003

90 delegates attended the conference, more than half of them representing Central and East European countries.

The first day of the conference concentrated on the relations between urban research and city development: the efficiency of consulting, the successes and failures of researchers/consultants and of politicians. The new idea of “interactive research” seems to create the best circumstances for cooperation, as it aims at participative, experience-based and action-oriented research, a kind of mutual learning process both for the researcher and the politician. There are arguments, however, that researchers have to give up too much of their independence in such situations, and even the correct use of the results is not ensured without the inclusion of the public through open debates. Independent research needs public funding and well developed civil society, while for the use of the results intelligent politicians are needed with ‘receptive ears’. European countries seem to differ from each other substantially, with a particularly difficult situation of the accession countries.

Mr. Péter Heil (Prime Ministers Office, Budapest) started his speech with a joke about consultants, coming without being called, being rather expensive and not paying any attention to the job to be completed. On a more serious note, he emphasized the need for good consultants advising policy-makers in their difficult task to manage EU accession.

Prof. Duncan MacLennan (Glasgow University) talked about the new UK approach, looking at cities as potential drivers, not places of decline. The cornerstone of the new ‘evidence based policy’ is the joined-up government, with less departmental fragmentation and improved and better coordinated analytical skills.

Prof. Hugo Priemus (OTB, Delft) emphasized the very important role of research to initiate new policies and also to analyze and show the outcomes of such policies. To be able to fulfil these roles researchers must keep their independence, and distinction has to be made between basic research and the different forms of paid consultancy.

Bill Barnes (National League of Cities, Washington, DC) called for research to become a process, where not only the end result counts. In this regard the mix between policy and research is very important and necessary to ensure the proper use of the research results.

The second day of the conference debated developments in European cities and the effects of EU-wide urban policy, including the formation of edge cities, the development of polycentricity. Innovations in governance were summarized, including regional devolution, the use of strategic instruments, public involvement, network governance, and the effects of EU policies on cities were evaluated.

Gábor Demszky (Mayor of Budapest) talked about the problems and prospects of a capital city about to join the EU. The Structural Funds might become a basis for better planning in the accession countries, provided, that the EU pays more attention to the specific problems of large cities.

Bas Verkerk (vice mayor of The Hague) emphasized the need for a stronger urban aspect in the future EU structural and cohesion policy. Representing the view of Eurocities, he argued for mainstreaming urban policies into Objective 1 and 2 programmes. Besides the economic focus similar strengths must be given to social cohesion and physical regeneration. Cities should run urban programmes themselves.

Prof. Rolf-Peter Löhr (DIFU, Berlin) talked about the links between urban research and urban policy in the context of the German programme on the socially integrative city. He argued for the need for evaluation during and after the implementation of policies and for a more active role of the EU in helping the development of national programmes on urban development.

Margaret Thalwitz (World Bank representative at the European Commission) gave an overview on the special problems of Central and Eastern European cities, where industrialization and urbanization was artificially fostered in the socialist period. The key today is to increase the efficiency of economies, with further development in financial, environmental and social systems. Cities are in key to this process, and strategic planning (which is supported by the Cities of Change programme of the World Bank) is the key to increase efficiency on the local level.

Sonja Haertel (DG Regio, European Commission) gave an overview on the dilemmas and options of the Structural Funds regulation post 2006. Besides the most likely changes in the Structural Funds (concentrating Objective 1 on the lagging regions, merging Objective 2 and 3 and redirecting this to growth and cooperation) she agreed with the claim to mainstreaming urban actions and giving the cities the right to manage their programmes.

In the course of the conference a very interesting meeting has taken place between the Mayor of Budapest and the keynote speakers. Mr. Demszky hopes that the EU will bring modernization and help for development to the accession countries. It remains to be seen what effects EU membership will have on the large cities, just to mention migration, and the conflict between competitive and sustainable development. The keynote speakers emphasized the need for growth-management: the large cities have to set up their policies to keep the balance between economic growth, and the related environmental and social development. Wise cities intervene into the job market, to counterbalance unwanted market-oriented development. For the cities it is a primary interest to keep together with the agglomeration, i.e. not to allow the administrative splitting of the functional urban region, which is the key for balanced development.

The conference organizers took the opportunity to give participants an overview of development in Budapest. There was a guided bus tour organized on novelties of urban development. A special night tour was also organized to discover the most trendy places to drink beer and listen music.

The conference offered a unique opportunity to bring together researchers, policy makers and representatives of international organizations at a critical moment in European urban development, marked by the largest enlargement of the European Union to date and by intensive discussions and speculations about the future of European urban policy. A short opinion survey among the participants has proved that the conference has contributed well to the understanding of the new challenges of European urban development and the potential answers, which can be given in the cooperation between researchers and policy-makers.

All the papers of the conference are available on www.mri.hu

Iván Tosics, Metropolitan Research Institute