Zhengzhou, 18 July 2018
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure, in my capacity as European Commissioner for regional and urban policy, to close this seminar, which takes place alongside the twentieth EU-China Summit.
An old Chinese proverb says: "Every step makes a footprint".
And this Summit was a step for us, and it will make a footprint.
The first footprint being a stronger cooperation on regional and urban matters.
I am happy that both sides committed to two key issues:
First: to strengthen regional and urban policy cooperation.
And second: to reinforce city-to-city cooperation between China and the European Union.
This is also great news for our new International Urban Cooperation programme.
And the first results of the programme are very promising.
We have here quite an exciting collaboration: Currently twenty cities are working in pairs.
They share their concerns, views and suggestions on common sustainable urban challenges, to come up with local action plans.
For example, the Greek city of Argii Anargiri and Zhengzhou are working on mobility and innovation; Haiku and the city of Nice are focusing on health issues;
Rome and Yantai are working together to make our cities both smart and inclusive.
But the really exciting part is not just the "one-to-one" cooperation.
No, it is that such cooperations enable us to develop an online knowledge base on urban policy solutions, with concrete examples of actions undertaken.
In other words: when a Chinese and a European city work together, the outcome of their cooperation is shared among other cities.
"… Every step makes a footprint…"
We are also working on identifying new economic opportunities for EU and Chinese companies that provide goods and services for urban development.
In this respect, I am pleased to announce the launch, under the International Urban Cooperation Programme, of a Competitive Start-Up Fund for short term actions within the city pairings.
This fund aims to encourage cities to propose innovative and sustainable pilot projects.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m very enthusiastic about this programme, because it shows that we want to change things together, by bringing concrete solutions to common challenges.
What we all want is simple: to work towards an urban development model that puts the human being at its centre, that respects the environment, and that is lasting.
I am confident that China will continue to be a strong and strategic partner, because I know the importance that China attaches to urban development policy.
Over the last decade, China’s rate of urbanisation has been astonishing to say the least.
At the end of the seventies, no Chinese cities had more than ten million inhabitants.
Today, at least half-a-dozen cities have reached this threshold.
This unprecedented pace of development, coupled with a long urban tradition, tells me that European cities have a lot to learn from you.
And I think Europe can also bring a lot to you.
Europe is, I would say, an 'urban continent'.
Not only do three-quarters of Europeans live in cities, but our history and our societal models are built upon and around cities.
And today, our cities are seeking to address complex challenges.
Europe's cities work to develop innovative solutions; solutions that would not be possible if left exclusively to the national level.
In this context, the EU’s approach has been two-fold:
First, we have invested massively in innovation and low-carbon economy.
Under the current funding period, over 120 billion euros from the Structural and Investment Funds are dedicated to research and innovation.
And close to 200 billion euros go towards energy, environment, climate and sustainable transport.
And we have tried to invest this money intelligently, notably by supporting smart specialisation strategies.
These strategies empower local and regional authorities, industry and researchers, to find local solutions together.
Second, we have strived, over the last years, to empower cities, because they are the best placed to fulfil the needs of their citizens.
Concretely, part of the European Regional Development Fund has been allocated, in each European Member States, to cities to set up their own development strategies.
We also launched the Urban Innovative Actions, to help cities test new approaches and roll them out in real life.
And of course, in 2016 we launched the Urban Agenda.
A unique and common political initiative, with very concrete actions to address the most pressing urban issues, be it urban poverty, air quality, social inclusion of migrant and refugees, or energy transition.
This Urban Agenda is our flagship to show the world what Europe is doing to tackle global urban challenges.
Like China, we also signed up to the New Urban Agenda under Habitat III, agreed in Quito in October 2016, where I had the honour to represent the European Union.
We will stay committed to this ambitious, transformative and universal Agenda, notably by promoting the expansion of city-to-city cooperation.
Again: "each of our steps makes a footprint", a lasting footprint.
So I’m glad that our cooperation programme will serve such global endeavour.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by thanking you all for being present today, especially to those who have travelled from other continents.
I wish the International Urban Cooperation Programme a long life.
It is the most ambitious effort to promote decentralised cooperation between EU regions and cities, and their counterparts across the world.
Through this programme, we very much want to create an international community of cities.
Like a new “Silk road” of best practices and sustainable solutions, that will make our cities bloom and thrive together.
Once again, every action we make together is nothing but one step, but each step adds to the previous ones and leaves a footprint on the path to our goal: make this planet's cities better places to live in, fort everybody.
Thank you very much for your attention.