International Urban Cooperation (IUC)

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    On Friday 27 March 2020, the EU’s International Urban Cooperation programme (IUC) decided to bring together 66 experts from cities in Europe and Asia via video-conference for what is expected to be the first of many, ground-breaking exchanges of views on fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic. Cities represented were Guangzhou (China), Gwangju (South Korea), Jakarta (Indonesia), Mannheim, Stuttgart, Barcelona, Granada, Nice, Rome and Bologna. 

    The discussion focused on the many, varied and highly practical steps cities were taking in an effort to mitigate the health, economic and social impact of the pandemic and promote resilience. For example, Gwangju explained how the city combines with the Korean Centre for Disease Control & Prevention on test results,  quarantined cases, masks stocks, hospital bed availability, etc. Real-time, instant smart phone messages are sent to all new cases, supported by an “all-in-covid-19 mobile application”. Meanwhile, Jakarta has established a regional portal where best practices against Covid-19 from other countries are uploaded. 

    Other measures made possible by IUC were extremely practical, with Granada and Rome receiving, respectively, 50000 and 1000 protective face masks from Changsha City and Liuzhou, respectively. Cities have also been reflecting on how to promote economic recovery for hard-hit business and cultural providers, and their workers, such as the “Cope with COVID” portal in Mannheim, the cancellation of some occupancy taxes on public property and rents for small businesses in Nice and the re-establishment of high frequency public transport in Stuttgart to avoid crowded trains and buses. In Guangzhou, the city is now at the stage of promoting the resumption of business and production. 

    Meanwhile, EU institutions representatives mentioned the new Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, while Eurocities described the new Covid-19 portal to showcase best practices from European cities in regards to Culture, Food, Homelessness, Procurement, Volunteers and Waste Management. 

    Future exchanges will focus on recovery measures, and some participants suggested that this should include “thinking outside the box”, on how our socio-economic model needs to evolve in order to create more socially efficient and cohesive societies.   


    The EU’s International Urban Cooperation programme is financed under the Partnership Instrument for external relations and managed day-to-day by the Foreign Policy Instruments service in the European Commission. The programme supports the realisation of EU policy objectives in areas including climate change and sustainable urban development under two components: city-to-city cooperation on sustainable urban development, covering cities in the EU and in non-EU countries (managed jointly by FPI and REGIO); cooperation on climate change through sustainable energy creating a Global Covenant of Mayors in the image of the European one.

    10 February 2020 – Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates 

    The European Commission has decided to expand and reinforce its programme on International Urban Cooperation (IUC) for sustainable urban development. At least 148 cities from EU and non-EU countries in America, Asia and Australasia will join cooperation actions that are currently under way between 155 cities around the world.

    This decision was announced by European Commissioner Elisa Ferreira during the 10th World Urban Forum that is taking place this week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to follow on the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the urban dimension.

    Cities and urban areas are microcosms of the challenges and opportunities we face today: they are hubs of innovation and culture and centres of prosperity and development. At the same time, cities concentrate the challenges of congestion, pollution, social exclusion and the challenge of providing infrastructure from rapidly changing population”, said the Commissioner, on behalf of the European Union and its 27 member States at the opening ceremony of the Forum. “That is why the UN’s new agenda is so important”, she added.

    With this decision the current IUC, which was launched in 2017, will incorporate an inter-regional cooperation on innovation alongside its current urban dimension based on city-to-city cooperation in the field of sustainable urban development.

    The new version of the programme, which will be launched in 2020 under the denomination International Urban and Regional Cooperation (IURC), will extend to cities in the EU, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam. The new target areas of Korea, South-East Asia and Australasia will work with European counterparts on sustainable urban development, while Chinese and Japanese participants will focus on regional innovation.

    Unlike in the city-to-city cooperation of the IUC current model, in the IURC cities will primarily work in thematic clusters focusing on areas based on the UN New Urban Agenda and the Urban Agenda for the EU. Cities who wish to develop a more intensive cooperation with a European partner will also be able to pursue one-to-one city pairings. The nature of cooperation – in clusters and city-pairs – will be outlined in Urban Cooperation Action Plans, which will lay out actions that cities collaboratively identify to take on during the 18-24 months of their cooperation.

    Region-to-region cooperation will follow a similar model of using both thematic clustering and one-on-one pairing. Regional Cooperation Action Plans will act as road maps for cooperation. In this case, however, the focus of work will be on improving and internationalising regional innovation strategies. 

    Background information

    The International Urban Cooperation (IUC) programme run by the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) and the Foreign Policy Instruments Service (FPI), enables cities in different global regions to link up and share solutions to common problems. It is part of a long-term strategy by the European Union to foster sustainable urban development in cooperation with the public and private sectors, as well as representatives of research and innovation, community groups and citizens. Through engaging in the IUC, cities have the chance to share and exchange knowledge with their international counterparts, building a greener, more prosperous future. The IUC programme, financed under the Partnership Instrument of the European Union, is an opportunity for local governments to learn from each other, set ambitious targets, forge lasting partnerships, test new solutions, and boost their city’s international profile. Its activities support the achievement of policy objectives, as well as major international agreements on urban development and climate change, such as the EU Urban Agenda, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement. 

    For more information, contact us:

    Adrienne Kotler, communications, IUC Coordination Unit,

    Pictures can be downloaded here.


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Sustainable and innovative cities and regions – 2016/2019

Connecting cities and ideas for better urban living

Cities are growing and changing so fast that many authorities are struggling to cope. More people can mean more economic activity and wealth, but it can also mean added strain on energy, water, health, transport and housing facilities. All this, in turn, puts pressure on the environment, and more widely on climate change.

This is why the European Union is launching a three-year programme to promote international urban cooperation. Europe’s cities want to link up, build and share knowledge and solutions with other cities and regions.

In this first phase of a long-term strategy of fostering urban diplomacy – a vehicle of EU external relations – the IUC boosts sectoral, transversal and international urban cooperation and exchange with key city partners (public and private) in Asia and the Americas (box). With a budget of over EUR 20 million, IUC activities support Habitat III goals as well as the Paris COP 21 declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The IUC will build on existing cooperation through:

  • City-to-city cooperation on sustainable urban development
  • Sub-national action under the Global Covenant of Mayors initiative
  • Inter-regional cooperation on innovation for local and regional development

Target countries include China, India, Japan, Canada, Mexico, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru. For the Covenant initiative, South Korea, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)  are included.

City-to-city cooperation on sustainable urban development

Building on the success of the World Cities project and drawing on the solid approach of the EU-funded URBACT network, city pairs will be supported in their efforts to design, implement and manage sustainable urban practices in an integrated and participative way. Local action plans will be developed through an inclusive multi-stakeholder process and include specific activities and economically viable pilot projects to be implemented in the short term in order to ensure results and open up market opportunities. These plans will help drive thematic clustering of knowledge, exchange and best practices among cities facing similar challenges.

Sub-national action under the Global Covenant of Mayors initiative

Cities and other sub-national authorities will be encouraged to join a global initiative to tackle climate change challenges focused on mitigation, adaptation and universal access to energy, in line with the principles of the EU Covenant of Mayors. Support on methodologies, governance, training and capacity building will be provided, as well as technical assistance to encourage implementation of ambitious climate commitments. A powerful knowledge-sharing element will spur inter-city cooperation, learning and innovation.

Inter-regional cooperation on innovation for local and regional development

Support will focus on ways to improve and internationalise regional innovation and cooperation in and between the EU, Latin America and the Caribbean. The programme will stimulate the development or strengthening of regional strategies involving SMEs in the innovation sector, and it will promote international value chains.  It will collect and share experience, good practice and lessons learnt to enable knowledge management and development.  The Smart Specialisation (S3) platform established by the European Commission will act as a multiplier to further promote knowledge sharing inside the EU as well.

Tackling the funding gap

To address a recognised barrier for progress on urban development, the IUC programme will engage with major international financial institutions and partners to link city decision-makers with potential funders. EU business will be an important partner for activities under the components on sustainable urban development.


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