Cairo, 22 May 2017
[check against delivery]
Dear Ministers, Dear Secretary-General,
Excellences, Dear Colleagues,
Good morning / Bonjour!
I would like to thank the Arab Republic of Egypt and the City of Cairo, for hosting this Second Ministerial Conference on Sustainable Urban Development.
I would also like to extend my gratitude to everyone contributing to its successful preparation, in particular the co-chair of the Union for the Mediterranean, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and also the Secretariat General of the UfM.
Let’s look back at the last 2000 years and more: all the way back to Carthage, through history the various shores of the Mediterranean have always been connected to each other.
The Mediterranean peoples have a common history.
And I believe they have a common future.
For me, the Union for the Mediterranean is a great symbol.
It simply shows that we achieve more by working together.
Even more so, in today’s world where distances seem to have shrunk thanks to the Internet, social media or the advent of low-cost airlines.
And let me state this clearly: despite the obvious differences between, say, Latvia and Egypt for instance, today’s urban challenges are quite similar on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Concretely it means: fast urbanisation, sustainable development, migration, public services, social inclusion, climate change…
However, at the same time cities north and south of the Mediterranean are where solutions come from.
Any success story in one city can inspire solutions in hundreds of others.
And this is precisely why the new Union for the Mediterranean Urban Agenda has a huge, a unique potential to improve the daily life of millions of people.
This Urban Agenda reflects our shared vision and joint commitment to improve our cities’ social, environmental and economic dimensions to the benefit of their inhabitants.
But for this to happen, I believe we must engage together in three major aspects.
The first aspect regards political will.
In the early 50’s, nobody could have thought that European countries that had spent centuries fighting each other would succeed in creating a Union based on values of peace and prosperity for all. Political will alone allowed the European Union to be born.
More recently, only a few months ago, in Quito, in Ecuador, political will allowed countries from around the world to adopt a new Urban Agenda.
Now, it is time to show our political will to make this Mediterranean Urban Agenda a truly successful venture.
And the European Union is ready to play its part to make the Urban Agenda for the Mediterranean a true success, mostly but not only by sharing experience with you.
Last year, we adopted in the EU an Urban Agenda which ensures cities have a say in our decision-making process.
Specific partnerships mobilising cities, governments, NGO's and the EU are at work on issues such as urban mobility, energy transition or the digital transition. Those groups are fertile grounds for new ideas to blossom.
And everybody should benefit from those new ideas.
This brings me to my second point: everybody should be on board in building the Urban Agenda.
One of the many things our North and South shores have in common is the strong desire of our peoples to engage, to be actors of their lives rather than simple spectators.
In particular youngsters and women, as my colleague Federica Mogherini, European Union's High-Representative for Foreign Affairs, reminded last week at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean in Rome.
As the EU Commissioner for regional policy I am acutely aware of this.
That policy I am proud to be in charge of is based on two principles:
Solidarity of course, as resources are put in the same pot before being redistributed,
But equally important, the empowerment of those to whom our funds go.
And when I say “those”, I mean regional and local authorities; I mean small and medium enterprises, NGOs, civil society…
They are the actors who concretely translate European support into concrete results across the whole of Europe.
They are those who know best what our regions and cities need.
Those who have knowledge, experience, expertise.
In one word, those whose strength makes our projects strong.
Ladies and gentlemen, relying on the strength of stakeholders made Europe’s regional policy a success.
It can also be the strength of the Union for the Mediterranean.
That's why the European Union itself is also strongly committed to helping cities in the Union for the Mediterranean.
It also means help in the form of funded programmes:
Our Cross Border Cooperation, with a budget of 1 billion euro, promotes economic and social development in border areas;
The "Cleaner and Energy Saving - Mediterranean Cities" project provides training and technical assistance, to help local authorities prepare Sustainable Energy Action Plans.
And the South Support Mechanism for "Sustainable Urban Demonstration Projects", provides technical assistance to 12 municipalities in the South, to foster energy efficiency and promote more use of renewable energy sources.
In addition to political will and engaging with stakeholders, my third and final message is the need to start working fast.
The task ahead of us is huge; Europe stands ready to play its part, but we count on you to do the same.
We simply must show concrete results at our next meeting.
Together we can shape our future. This is what our peoples are asking, and this is our responsibility as political leaders.
Let's make sure our children will be proud of us.
Thank you / merci!