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Covenant of Mayors - Europe
News article30 October 2023

Why Europe must "local proof" its Green Deal and how to achieve it

We interviewed Joško Klisović, President of Zagreb City Assembly and rapporteur for the Committee of the Region’s Opinion on Green Deal Governance, to discuss what the EU should do to ensure that the Green Deal is implementable at local level.

President of Zagreb City Assembly, Josko Klizovic

Joško Klisović, a former diplomat and the current President of Zagreb City Assembly, is both an idealist and a pragmatist. When speaking of the European Green Deal, he lights up with enthusiasm and expresses big ideas for an all-encompassing agenda that will not only tackle climate change, but also inequality, injustice and poverty. With extensive experience representing Croatia on matters of sustainable development at the United Nations, he dreams of the European Green Deal as a pilot agenda for a Global Green Deal, that can tackle simultaneously all the UN’s sustainable development goals and deal with the climate crisis on a global level. 

At the same time, Klisović is firmly grounded in reality. As head of Zagreb City Assembly, he faces the everyday challenges of implementing concrete Green Deal measures in his city, including dealing with the aftermath of last summer's destructive storms. He knows firsthand what it takes to implement such an ambitious agenda locally and has concrete suggestions to make it happen.

This dual perspective has uniquely positioned him to lead the Committee of the Region's Opinion[1] on revising the governance of the European Green Deal, entitled “A multilevel governance for the Green Deal: towards the revision of the Governance regulation”. His recommendations aim to simultaneously broaden and "local proof" the Green Deal. The end goal: to make sure it’s implementable, which, he clearly states, is what will make or break the Green Deal.

In our conversation with Joško Klisović, we delve into the current governance of the EU Green Deal, what needs to change, and why. While his vision is big, his suggestions are specific.

What would you like to see the Green Deal become in the upcoming European elections and under the new Commission?

Joško Klisović: I would like to see a renewed commitment to the Green Deal, with a stronger emphasis on consolidating all relevant policies under its umbrella for greater coherence. This involves ensuring that progress in one domain doesn't inadvertently harm another. The Commission should focus on creating a coherent plan that combines economic development, environmental protection, and climate change adaptation while considering social impacts. We should broaden its scope to include areas such as health, gender issues, and social justice. The new Commission should stand really firmly besides the Green Deal, defending it as a political agenda which answers current and future challenges.

The first thing your Opinion cites is that the Green Deal should be “local proof”. What does a “local proofed” Green Deal look like to you? And how is it different from the one that exists today?

Joško Klisović: The Green Deal will remain just a plan on paper unless we have a strong implementation mechanism in place. What I really mean is that we need an "implementation-proof" Green Deal. Who is implementing it? Local and regional authorities, responsible for directly implementing 75% of its provisions. To "local proof" the Green Deal, we must ensure that local and regional authorities have the resources, both in terms of competent personnel and financing. 

Administrative capacities are lacking: if you want city and regional administrations to be innovative and creative and ready for these new policies, then you need to train these people, give them specific knowledge. 

The other problem is financing. All these project cost money. European funds are not always accessible to local and regional authorities, because they must go through national governments. When national and local governments are from opposing parties, like we see often in Eastern Europe, they are often driven into a tug of war. The Green Deal should consider direct access for cities to EU funds or any other way to make it easier for cities to get funds for good projects.   

And this brings us to the gist of my Opinion: how to enhance the collaboration and cooperation between local, national, and European levels, because this is the only way you can properly manage the whole process. We feel that local and regional authorities who oversee implementation – the job, if I can say – are not properly consulted in defining policies, goals, measures, action plans, and strategies. And then they're confronted with the expectation that they should implement, when they weren’t even asked what they needed in order to implement. 

And that's what we saw as a main flaw of the current governance system. And in the Opinion, we had a couple of proposals on how to rectify that mistake.  

What are your suggestions for revising the Green Deal's framework to ensure cities get the resources and capacities they need?

Joško Klisović: Our proposed improvements involve several key elements. Firstly, we ask to strengthen Article 11 [of the Governance Regulation][2], which really envisages consultations between national government and local authorities. But in most countries, they delivered below expectations. So, we thought it would be good to have a permanent consultation mechanism between government and local authorities, which could be started not only by government, but also by local authorities when they feel the need to consult or to propose something, or to voice their opinion on where specific issues with implementation.

Also, we think that NECPs [National Energy and Climate Plans][3] should have a particular chapter dedicated to implementation, where the government should spell out what kind of support they're ready to provide to local authorities in the implementation phase: in terms of administrative capacity building and financing.  

Then, we thought it would be good to have a one-stop-shop where local authorities can come and get information when they need, or even guidance for the particular situations or problems they encounter.   

With regard to the European level, we thought it would be good if the Committee of Regions, which is representative within European institutions of the local and regional authorities, is not just consulted, but formally engaged into consultations which lead to defining policies and goals and strategic documents, which are then adopted by the Council and by the Parliament.   

What do you think is needed for these suggestions to be put into place?

Joško Klisović: There are a number of ways, but all of them depend on the political commitment of the new Parliament and the new Commission. If they wholeheartedly support the Green Deal as a concept for comprehensive development, not just as a concept for climate change or protection of environment, but much wider, much broader, then these avenues should be explored. I don't believe that Green Deal can succeed unless it embraces that economic component.  

And that's why we are advocating and pushing for aligning the European semester with the Green Deal. Economic Governance with the governance of Environment and Climate Protection. We know how governments carefully consider recommendations which they get through the EU economic semester. So, let's green the semester. And I know that the Commission has that in mind: there is a working group on that. So, what we ask is to include our representative of the Committee of the Regions in this working group, so that we really green it in a proper way.   

Can you explain what the "wellbeing economy" means and why it's important to integrate?

Joško Klisović: In the context of the Green Deal, it's crucial to be inclusive. The Green Deal must reconcile different policies into a coherent framework. The Green Deal won't gain widespread support if it's perceived as benefiting only certain regions or parts of Europe, those that can pay for the projects, and the rest are being left behind. 

Wellbeing goes beyond GDP indicators; it encompasses economic, social, environmental, and climate aspects, among others. Neglecting any of these aspects can have devastating consequences. Wellbeing provides a comprehensive perspective on what is essential for individuals, nations, and the European Union to prosper. It ensures that all dimensions of people's lives are considered and balanced in a more sustainable future.

Could you explain the importance of the "horizontal integration of EU policies"?

Joško Klisović: At the local level, we see various policies that sometimes conflict with one another. It's not just the policies; it's also the methodologies, implementation mechanisms, and reporting mechanisms that often collide on the ground. To create a coherent framework, we advocate for the horizontal integration of EU policies. The aim is to reconcile different policies. And for this, we need to break silos. If we don’t break silos, one policy will be more efficient than another and then it’s really uncertain about what will be the end result or if it will be satisfactory. We are only interested as citizens of the European Union in the end result: of better life for citizens, for all of us. The Green Deal really needs to be an umbrella policy, including the social, environmental aspect, climate and economic aspects.

How can the EU and national governments leverage the knowledge and ambition of cities regarding climate action?

Joško Klisović: This is the greatest challenge. Right now, the EU treats us, local and regional authorities, as stakeholders. But we are not a regular stakeholder, like companies, NGOs, or others. We are representatives of public interest; we are people elected by the people, just like national governments and the European Parliament. And we need to be treated as such.

They need to treat us as representatives of the people and treat us as equal partners at the decision-making table, just like Member States. We deserve to sit around the table when at least these important strategic policies are considered. More respect for local and regional authorities. 

And of course, there are too many cities and regions for all of them to sit around the table.  But that's why we have the Committee of the Regions where we can elect our own representatives for the consultations with the Council, with the Parliament, with the Commission, with everybody who is involved in decision making process. 

How can the EU and national governments better respect and involve local and regional authorities in the decision-making process?

Joško Klisović: Local and regional authorities should be recognized as representatives of public interest, elected by the people. They deserve equal partnership in the decision-making process, especially in strategic policies. While not all cities and regions can sit at the decision-making table, we have the Committee of the Regions, which represents local and regional authorities and should be actively engaged in consultations with the Council, Parliament, and Commission. Recognizing the importance of local and regional authorities and involving them from the beginning of the decision-making process, rather than at the end when implementation is required, is essential.

After the adoption of the Opinion: what comes next?

Joško Klisović: The upcoming European elections and the orientation of the new Commission will significantly impact the next steps. We hope the Commission and the European Parliament will continue their commitment to the Green Deal. And that they realise that for it to be successful, then all three levels need to be involved, and we need to break down silos and reconcile different policies. 

If they realise how important the Green Deal is, if they realise that it could really be an umbrella policy that includes social, environmental, climate and economic aspects: then we have a chance of ingreally do a good job. If they don’t have that realisation, then I think we will continue as we have been up until now.  

We believe we've been practical and realistic in our Opinion, utilizing existing tools. It's not about reinventing the wheel but ensuring a solid foundation for the Green Deal. If the next Commission is mandated to advance the Green Deal, our recommendations are precise: involve all levels in decision-making, consider all relevant actors, address administrative capacity, and ensure adequate financing.

And we’re talking about the basis. We’re not proposing a sophisticated third phase of developing the Green Deal: just reviewing the foundation. If this is not sorted out properly, the whole edifice will eventually crumble.


[1] The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) is the voice of regions and cities in the European Union (EU). It represents local and regional authorities across the European Union and via Opinions, it advises on new laws that have an impact on regions and cities (70% of all EU legislation).

[2] Article 11 of the Governance Regulation: The Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union (i.e. Governance Regulation) has redefined how the European Union and Member States plan and deliver on the EU’s energy and climate goals. Under Article 11 of the Governance Regulation, the EU stresses that all Member States shall establish multi-level climate and energy dialogue to deliver on the clean energy transition and the European Green Deal. More information.

[3] Under the Governance Regulation, all Member States are required to develop National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) covering the period from 2021 to 2030. The NECOs are a key pillar to delivering on the EU’s 2030 climate tartes and driving forward the implementation of the EU Green Deal and the climate neutrality objective by 2050. More information.


Publication date
30 October 2023