European Commissioner for Development
At the 1st EU-China Mayors' Forum / Brussels
20 September 2012
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today,
representing European Commission President Jose Manuel
I am pleased to see for the first time Chinese and European
policy makers at local and regional levels talking and
acting together about a major challenge of common concern:
As you know better than anyone, sustainable urban
development is an issue of international importance. The
ways in which we choose to address it will determine
whether our economies and our societies become stronger or
Because there is no doubt that the 21st century will be
In China, the urban population now exceeds that of rural
areas and 1% of the Chinese population is projected to move
to the cities every year.
In Europe, cities now account for 75% of our population,
80% of energy use and 85% of our GDP. And by 2020, four in
every five Europeans may well be living in urban areas.
In China as in Europe, some of our major problems are
indeed concentrated in our cities. They are economic,
social, environmental and demographic problems that are
interrelated and in some cases may have a severe impact on
At the very same time, however, it is clear that some of
the best solutions can be found in cities. Cities have a
unique opportunity to address problems in a coherent and
holistic way, and in the process strengthen all aspects of
I know this from first-hand experience. When I was European
Energy Commissioner, I had to face the challenge of
achieving EU objectives to mitigate climate change. In
order to do so, I knew we had to tackle final energy demand
in buildings and transport as well as distributed energy. I
also knew that we needed to do this while keeping European
companies competitive and at as little cost as possible to
It was clear that top-down measures, such as laws or market
measures, were necessary but insufficient. So I decided to
try bottom-up solutions as well.
We invited the cities of Europe to contribute to the
overall effort, by committing to exceed European objectives
on lowering carbon emissions. To the surprise of many, we
got an enthusiastic response. Today more than 4 200 cities
and towns in Europe and beyond, home to more than 165
million people, have signed to the Covenant of Mayors. More
than 1 700 Action Plans are already approved and being
Naturally, the cities which have signed the Covenant have a
sense of responsibility for the environment. But there is
more to it than that. Their strongest motivation is to
spark sustainable economic activity and create towns and
regions worth living in. This motivation is proving
unstoppable and inventive. Even in the present economic
hardship in Europe, investments worth several billion euro
are being mobilised, often involving innovative financial
While climate change mitigation might be considered a cost
by a national government, it is a unique opportunity for a
city. It means better local infrastructures, higher quality
buildings, less polluting mobility schemes - in all, a
friendlier and cleaner city which is at the same time more
attractive for residents and visitors and more interesting
Moreover, it is a solution adapted to the 21st century. In
the era of increasingly complex problems, local solutions
within a global vision are often the best way to tackle
These kinds of solutions have found great allies in the
Committee of the Regions, the Economic and Social Committee
and the European Parliament. I would like to thank them
personally for their active involvement and also for their
presence here today.
As I have said, sustainable urban development is not only a
European issue - it is very much an international issue,
which thus calls for cooperation and exchange of best
practices at an international level.
Together we can find new and forward-looking approaches to
turn these challenges into opportunities.
Together we can contribute towards developing partnerships
between urban and rural areas for their mutual benefit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the last EU-China Summit we set up an EU-China
Urbanisation Partnership precisely because we understood
that "we are mutually becoming part of the solution to
each other's challenges."
And today's Forum highlights the strength of our ties
as partners and - may I also add - as friends.
If we can build strong partnerships, we can improve the
life of billions of Chinese and Europeans by getting the
most and the best from all our efforts to stimulate
sustainable urban development.
I am fully confident in the capacity of Chinese and
European cities to work on win-win cooperation schemes and
embrace innovative approaches that will turn new ideas into
growth, prosperity, jobs, fairness and well-being and, in
doing so, change our cities' future for the better.
So let me express my deep appreciation to the China
Association of Mayors and the EU Covenant of Mayors for
their firm commitment and their instrumental role in the
success of today's event. Let me also salute the
efforts to create a Charter that both Chinese and European
Mayors can sign up to.
Today I am happy to confirm the European Commission's
full support for these collective actions. We have approved
funding to support networking of the EU-China Mayors'
Forum through the EC-Link project. The Covenant of Mayors
will also receive a boost. Today I signed a financing
agreement for low-carbon urbanisation and environmental
sustainability. The European Union will provide 25 million
Euro over 4 years to China in order to help us tackle these
global problems together.
Such partnerships are indeed an essential means by which
China and the European Union can translate their ambitions
Let me conclude by thanking you all again for the
successful organisation of the first EU-China Mayors'
Forum. I look forward to seeing your continued partnership
bear fruit in the form of tangible results that help our
cities and those who live and work in them to thrive.