Deputy Prime Minister Schouten, honourable Mayors, Ladies and Gentlemen, a very good evening to you all.
We're here tonight because we are going to find out at last who the winners are. After all the waiting, it’s time for the kick-off. I’m not talking about Argentina Croatia, I’m talking about the European Green Capital Award for the year 2020, and for the Green Leaf Awards for 2019.
This is the tenth anniversary of the European Green Capital Award, and it’s rather a special year. To mark the occasion, and to help the winners on their way, I am pleased to announce that for the first time, the European Commission will also grant a financial incentive of EUR 350 000 to the winner of the Green Capital 2020 title, and EUR 75.000 for the European Green Leaf of 2019!
So a warm welcome to all our finalists – to Ghent from Belgium, Lahti from Finland and Lisbon from Portugal, for the Green Capital 2020, and to Cornellà de Llobregat from Spain, Gabrovo from Bulgaria, Horst aan de Maas from the Netherlands and Mechelen from Belgium, who are in the running for title of Green Leaf 2019.
They are all wonderful places, and they each have something unique to offer, so the choice has been very difficult. Welcome too to the citizens from these places who are with us this evening, and may luck be on your side!
We'll be announcing the winners in a few moments, but before that, I'd like to thank Mayor Bruls from this year’s European Green Capital for hosting us this evening.
It is already my second visit this year, and I must say that I'm impressed with the programme you have delivered so far. But I'm even more impressed by what is still to come: taking all the European Green Capital winners to COP24 at the end of this year to show the world together what it means to be a sustainability pioneer and why this is necessary! [applause]
Being a Green Capital means many things, but the title always makes me think of two things. It’s about bringing people together, to a higher purpose, and it’s about bringing cities together, to help that happen. The COP24 visit that you are planning is doing both of those things at once. It’s exactly the sort of initiative we hoped you would bring about as the title holder. Congratulations for that!
When people think of Europe, when tourists and visitors come from outside the union, it’s the cities that they really want to visit. Cities that are packed with history and culture, cities where world-shaping events took place.
But Europe isn’t just about looking to the past. It’s also about looking towards the future, designing that future, and taking action to make it happen.
This was brought home to me very strongly a few weeks ago. Every year the Commission organises an annual environmental summit called Green Week. This year it was dedicated to cities, starting in Utrecht in the Netherlands and culminating in Madrid. All across Europe we saw inspiring examples of how to equip cities for a sustainable and green future. Urban farms, reclaimed industrial sites, restored waterways, smart energy grids, sustainable low energy social housing, streets reclaimed for pedestrians, parks transformed into havens for biodiversity, and so much more.
Some cities are pushing to become carbon neutral, some are setting ambitious targets for reducing waste, some are looking to a future with no combustion engines at all within their city boundaries. Clean air, clean water, circular economies, sustainable transport, low levels of noise, and cities at one with nature…..all of this is happening in different parts of Europe.
Green Week showed that they aren’t all capitals, but there are plenty of green cities around our union! Green cities are better places to live and work, better economically, and better equipped for the future. So the question I ask is – how can we take these inspiring examples of vision, leadership, participation, and forward thinking, and make them the norm?
The solutions are out there, but how can we make them systemic?
Here in Nijmegen, there are lots of good examples to follow. There are pedestrian zones, high-speed bicycle lanes, solutions for water problems and the inevitable impacts of climate change. But there’s also something that may be even more important. The universal element needed to make a city green and sustainable: good governance. This is what we see time and time again.
It takes good leadership, and a long-term vision. A vision developed together with the people who make-up the city. That means all the departments of the city administration: transport, water, waste, health, education, parks, housing, all the stakeholders, including local businesses and associations. Everyone must be heard, because that’s the only way to develop a vision that works for all. And more than anything, you need the participation of the citizens.
And that is what the idea of promoting green, sustainable cities is all about. Collaboration between city administrations, and their citizens, in building sustainable urban development plans fit for the future. And that is exactly what makes Green Capitals and Green Leaves the deserving winners they are!
Cities like Nijmegen, Essen and Oslo, Leuven in Belgium and Väjxö in Sweden put collaboration and citizen participation at the heart of their policy making. Not in a one-off way, but systematically.
And we understand this at the European Commission too. That’s why we want to do more to support Europe’s cities.
That’s the thinking we used when we redesigned Europe’s waste legislation, with ambitious new targets for municipal recycling and landfilling, and a new approach to plastic waste. It’s what we had in mind with our latest commitments on water, with new rules on drinking water, and our bathing water successes.
Then there is Natura 2000, Europe’s network of protected natural areas, and our action plan for nature, people and the economy. More than half of Europe’s citizens live within five kilometres of a Natura 2000 site, because the network is much more urban than people realise. It’s also why we take issues like air pollution so seriously, taking Member States to court to help citizens breathe more easily.
And it’s why we launched our Green City Tool, which allows everyone interested in urban governance to use it as a source of information about making cities greener and more sustainable.
This concept of making better urban policy is at the heart of the Urban Agenda for the EU, also known as the Pact of Amsterdam, which sees the Commission, NGOs, local associations, and Member States working in partnerships on key issues such as air quality, urban mobility, the circular economy, and nature and biodiversity, to improve our policy making, our knowledge base, and our funding provision for urban areas in Europe.
We do these things because we want to speed the transition to sustainable, green cities. It’s what citizens want, and as far as I am concerned, it can’t happen fast enough. I am looking forward to taking this green urban agenda forward, and to being part of a movement that helps improve our urban lives and helps to take forward our European and global environmental agenda.
But that's enough administration. Let's get back to celebration. That’s why we are here, and it’s what you want to hear. It’s time to find out who the next champions will be, the next winners of the Green Capital and European Green Leaf!
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