The Covenant of Mayors Board met with both directors of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy and Directorate-General for Climate Action on 29-30 March. Mayors took the opportunity of the pressing issue of the energy crisis to make their message clear: cities play a key role in simultaneously reducing Europe’s dependency on Russian gas and reaching the EU’s climate neutrality objectives. Thus, the EU institution’s continuous and ongoing support to cities is crucial.
The strength of the Covenant of Mayors is its political dimension, with a rotating political Board of 10 Mayors from frontrunner cities. They regularly convene and meet with high-level representatives of the European Commission to express cities’ most pressing needs. This gives cities an important outlet to constantly touch base with EU institutions on how they can further support local action in terms of climate and energy.
This year, the energy crisis was undeniably the pressing issue framing the conversation in Brussels on 29-30March 2023. Not only was it the topic of the Covenant of Mayors 2023 Conference, but it also set the tone for the Board’s meeting with Commission directors. The energy crisis has given Mayors the spotlight to show the European Commission how cities are essential for reaching EU objectives – and Mayors did not shy away from using that spotlight and making their messages clear.
Giving cities the means to tackle the energy and climate crises
“Our response to the energy crises is the response to the climate crisis. That is what the RePowerEU is for: to reduce our dependence on Russian energy and aligned with the European Green Deal.” - Ditte Juul Jørgensen, Director-General for Energy.
In her meeting with the mayors, Ditte Juul Jørgensen stressed the importance of cities in implementing REPowerEU and Green Deal objectives on the ground. She highlighted the importance of initiatives such as the Cities Energy Saving Sprint, as an excellent example of what can be done at the local level.
But going beyond last winter’s successes, she insisted on the need for structural changes to face the winters to come, mentioning the recent reform of the electricity market design, meant to empower consumers and local communities. For these structural changes, Ditte Juul Jørgensen recognises cities as fundamental allies.
Applauding the near-miracle that the Directorate-General for Energy accomplished last year to secure Europe’s energy supply, Mayors took this opportunity to underline that they were fundamental allies in this endeavour. And as fundamental allies, the EU should ensure that cities play a key role in a more long-term, integrated energy policy.
After the 2023 Conference on March 30, the Board then met with European Commission’s Director General for Climate Action, Kurt Vandenberghe. Here, the discussion around the energy crisis gave way to the broader concern and long-term goal of climate-neutrality in 2050 and the implementation of the EU Green Deal. Kurt Vandenberghe also recognized cities as key allies and was keen to hear their feedback on new programmes that involve direct involvement of cities, such as the EU Mission 100 climate-neutral and smart cities by 2030, the Social Climate Fund, the Policy Support Facility, and all the other myriad of initiatives that exist.
“Cities are the place of innovation. We can get so much feedback from you on the implementation of EU policy such as Fitfor55”. - Kurt Vandenberghe.
In both meetings, mayors expressed how the energy crisis has created an opportunity to accelerate the local energy transition, as energy policy has become the biggest question for Europe. But this also needs to translate into concrete support for local and regional implementation.
Mayors’ messages to both Director-Generals were concrete and clear.
1. Cities as the key to implementation
The main message was clear: without cities to implement policies on the ground, the EU will never reach its targets.
What really set the tone of the meeting was the sense of urgency: everyone agreed that “the time is now”. Implementation cannot wait. And cities are key to accelerating the transition on the ground. They are the place where change happens. In this phase, it will be crucial that the EU capitalises on this potential and increases its support to cities.
2. Giving cities the means to implement the energy transition
This increased support should take several forms.
They suggested that the EU finance regional energy agencies to support the local energy transition. This sort of agency would greatly help border cities especially, by facilitating cross-border energy projects and production, currently extremely difficult. This would give more power to local and regional producers, and by extension, to citizens.
They called on the EU to consider more direct funding streams from the EU to local governments for concrete projects and action. They also highlighted that this funding should be more long-term and not only 2 or 3-year projects.
Beyond funding, another big concern from mayors is lack of capacity, expertise and skills that are available to them at local level to implement the transition. They called on the EU to support them find more #localstaff4climate: two big obstacles for implementation of renewables on territories.
3. Pressuring National Governments to cooperate
National governments should be helping channel this funding and expertise. Unfortunately, instead of facilitating, they themselves usually become an obstacle – if not the greatest obstacle – for cities’ implementation. Not only do they not always engage and align with local level, but sometimes even, they withhold funding and block action for political reasons, as Mayor of Warsaw Rafal Trzasokowski underlined was happening more and more with the rise of populism in national governments across Europe.
Director-General for Energy Ditte Juul Jørgensen recognised the importance of the current updating of National Energy and Climate Plans, and Article 11 of the Governance Regulation of the Energy Union and Climate Action, which mandates Member States to involve the local level in this process by setting up Energy and Climate Dialogues.
Director-General for Climate Kurt Vandenberghe also referred to the Governance Regulation, pointing at its upcoming revision in the coming years as an opportunity to strengthen the role of cities in the EU policy making. He reminded that the European Commission also requested Member States to consult local governments for the implementation of the Social Climate Fund.
Mayors called upon the EU to make sure they enforce Article 11 and hold National Governments accountable for its implementation. They also asked the EU to show louder support for cities’ efforts in implementing EU targets and milestones, to help cities push ambitions and weaken opposition that may come from the national level.
- Publication date
- 6 April 2023