Publication: November 2019
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Assisted by Danielle A GROETELAERS

Urban Agenda for the European Union
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The Urban Agenda for the European Union (UAEU) is an informal, multi-level cooperation partnership programme in which urban authorities, Member States, the European Commission, EU organisations and other stakeholders (e.g., NGOs or businesses) all voluntarily participate. The Informal Meeting of EU Ministers Responsible for Urban Matters (IMEUMRUM) agreed to launch the UAEU in the 2016 Pact of Amsterdam. In contrast to earlier initiatives, the UAEU provides a multi-level, multi-stakeholder and structured governance approach to handling urban complexities in a balanced, sustainable and integrated way. The UAEU aims to facilitate the achievement of the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by strengthening the urban dimension and organizing the relevant participants in a structured way.

The UAEU lists twelve priority themes that have each been explored by one partnership. Parties with adequate experience and expertise could become a member of a partnership which should comprise 15-20 partners. Partnerships work according to a bottom-up approach. Each partnership has produced an action plan based on a common process of cooperation. In these actions plans, partnerships have defined actions necessary to achieve better regulation, better funding and better knowledge for the respective priority theme. Some of the partnerships have included recommendations for the improvement of future policies, governance and practices in their action plans. In addition, all partnerships have had to consider the relevance of eleven cross-cutting issues (i.e., effective urban governance and citizen participation) for the selected priority themes.

Aim of the study

This study aims to evaluate the UAEU. It provides a brief summary of the process leading towards the UAEU, its implementation, the lessons learned and challenges encountered. It also assesses the roles played by organisations of different levels of government, in particular the European Parliament (EP) as well as towns and cities. Moreover, it assesses the operation of two of the partnerships, the Sustainable Use of Land and Nature-Based Solutions Partnership and the Housing Partnership. Finally, it signals areas for improvement for the future development of the Urban Agenda and the European Parliament’s involvement in the process.

General conclusions

Even though EU policies have an impact on urban areas, the EU does not have a specific urban competence. An urban agenda for the EU has been discussed at least since 1997. The UAEU aims to overcome the shortcomings of previous attempts by creating a framework of partnerships with clear rules for participation, working methods and expected outcomes.

The EP has supported the establishment of an urban agenda. The “urban” agenda is not opposed to rural areas, but it is opposed to national or central EU approaches, which may separate “Europe” from local contexts.

The EP aims to use the Urban Agenda to build bottom-up EU policies using the experience of urban authorities and other participants involved in urban policies. This multi-level governance approach acknowledges that all types of urban areas, including towns and cities outside national and regional capital regions, play an important role in achieving the EU 2020 objectives.

Reviews by the European Commission and by scholars are positive about the approach of the UAEU and the direct involvement of towns and cities.

Not all partnerships address all cross-cutting issues as defined in the Pact of Amsterdam. The purpose of addressing these issues is to integrate policies, to avoid contradictions and to make the Urban Agenda more effective. Partnerships address fewer of the cross-cutting issues that are relevant for small and mediums-sized towns than other issues, such as, urban regeneration or effective urban governance.


The UAEU has operated in the form of partnerships that address priority themes. The partnerships have developed action plans with proposals for better regulation, funding and knowledge.

The Sustainable Use of Land and Nature-Based Solutions Partnership (SUL-NBS) has two main aims. Firstly, it aims to promote the liveable compact city model. This model ensures efficient land-use and avoids overcrowding as well as urban sprawl. It does so by providing urban public and green spaces, affordable housing and good living conditions. Secondly, the partnership aims to promote nature-based solutions which address societal challenges by solutions inspired and supported by nature. The SUL-NBS action plan focuses on better knowledge, such as on rural land take for urban uses, and rising awareness about the benefits of the liveable compact city model and nature-based solutions. Specific proposals for better funding and better regulation play a smaller role. A specific action calls for the amendment of the impact assessment directive so that it requires a report on differences in land take between the alternatives studied. Further action is required to go beyond simply raising awareness.

The Housing Partnership aims to contribute to better policies and frameworks improving access to adequate and affordable housing by promoting the increase of housing supply. By analysing the bottlenecks that hamper the realization of affordable housing, the partnership played a core role in acknowledging the importance of housing policy at the EU level. Based on ten policy themes, the partnership developed twelve actions aiming at better regulation, knowledge/governance and funding, as well as a number of recommendations for better policies, governance and practices in the longer term. These recommendations aim to strengthen the role of cities in tackling the unaffordability of housing, not only on a local and national level, but also at EU level.

  • As the current set of partnerships does not exhaust the priority themes of the Urban Agenda, additional partnerships offer new chances to propose new activities to create better shared knowledge, regulation and funding.
  • Novel partnership themes arise from the European Parliament’s intention to consider urban and rural development as two sides of the same coin rather than two different coins. Focusing on their relations, such as with the topic of urban issues in declining areas, will influence the formulation of those Urban Agenda actions which are improving citizens’ well-being beyond urban borders.
  • Cross-cutting issues defined in the Pact of Amsterdam that current action plans have not addressed, provide further potential for new partnerships; particularly issues which are relevant for small and mediums-sized towns.
  • The specific format of partnerships which hold many international meetings in a short period of time favours international organisations, Member States and larger cities. Due to this format, small- and medium-sized towns are less able to participate which can be seen as detrimental as valuable local experience is not being seized upon according to the current agenda. New partnerships can cater for this issue by enabling small- and medium-sized urban authorities to contribute to action plans without extensive travelling.
  • By involving both urban practitioners and specialists in EU policies/regulations, partnerships could connect local practices with EU policy-making. Urban practitioners have insights into the impact of EU policy and on its capacity to address urban issues. Specialists in EU policies are able to work on the way in which the EU can support urban authorities by specific changes in EU directives, regulations and practices. To facilitate this process, adequate funding will be necessary.

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Urban Agenda: Assessment from the European Parliament’s Perspective


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