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24 October 2019

On a Mission for the European Cities of the Future – the next big thing under Horizon Europe


The European Commission has put the Horizon Europe mission on climate neutral and smart cities at the heart of the Nordic Edge Expo, the largest smart city event in the Nordics (Stavanger, Norway, 24-26 September 2019).


On 24 September 2019, the European Commission brought together key players like the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), the Smart Cities Information System (SCIS) and European networks like EUROCITIES and Open & Agile Smart Cities (OASC) as well as actors from across the continent in the workshop “On a Mission for the European Cities of the Future - Achievements, Challenges, Opportunities” to discuss the Horizon Europe mission on carbon neutral and smart cities.

The session aimed at triggering a targeted dialogue of the European Commission, the community of the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), the Smart Cities Information System (SCIS), the Horizon2020 Lighthouse projects.

Georg Houben (Policy Officer, DG Energy) stated that “delivering a European Mission on Cities means improving the life of at least two thirds of the EU population, inter alia by accelerating investments for sustainable energy and climate adaptation, but also related areas such as ICT, health and environment”.

A large part of the discussions focused on replication and deployment of existing solutions and integrating them in a meaningful way to set the right pace from the beginning and to use existing instruments, tools and stakeholder communities in the best possible way.

The discussions were centred on five key topics:

  • Standardisation
  • Modern Integrated Urban Planning
  • Deployment and Replication
  • Project Development Assistance / Help with Capacity Building
  • Citizen Engagement and Sustainable Urban Policies

Three core questions were used to steer discussions at the roundtables:                                          

  1. What should be achieved in 10 years’ time?
  2. By whom and by which means?
  3. How do you see the mission accomplishing this?

Special thanks go to all the experts and moderators that made this afternoon such a success! Key messages resulting from the fruitful discussion with a focus on what should be achieved in 10 years’ time can be found below, structured by the three core questions.


What shall be concretely achieved in 10 years’ time?

  • Current local decision/policy making/planning processes should become fit to cope with the current speed of societal changes and the urgency of the climate crisis that was underpinned in the realm of the UN summit in New York. No one should be left behind: small and medium sized cities make up for an important share of Europe’s urban tissue and should receive the full attention they deserve.
  • Inclusive engagement – the Mission Board shall encourage a more inclusive approach to Citizen Engagement that reaches a broader range of stakeholders and not just the ‘usual suspects’.
  • Make the SDG’s – as a universally accepted framework – a standard for planning and realising Smart City visions, with specific need-based priorities, as a critical first step to adopting new processes that link innovation, enterprise and data management, ultimately leading to revised structures and processes/procedures that enable accelerated response.
  • Create awareness about and ensure access to standards for cities as well as mandate that public procurement require terms of service and delivery based on a common ground of open and license-free global standards adopted by the EU, also allowing for smaller-scale Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to accommodate the involvement of SMEs.
  • Include social sustainability criteria across all calls for proposals: think of migrants, vulnerable or disadvantaged groups when devising project proposals.
  • Research and innovation calls for proposals should be shaped in a way that the technology does not become a goal but the means of achieving socially sustainable solutions that serve the many rather than the few.
  • Solutions exist – encourage replicating the ones with the most added value for the urban context.


By whom, by which means?

  • This needs to be achieved by local governments, but in collaboration with national governments and legislation bodies as it affects every village, city, maybe even national planning. Education and capacity for local authorities is key - courses aimed at public and private sectors for writing and developing projects with the angle of innovation financing, sustainable leadership and innovative leadership. Avenues for achieving this can be found for example in EIT KIC (Climate, Urban Mobility, InnoEnergy).
  • Standardisation bodies should create a consensus-based process; projects and programmes should be used for validating, piloting at large scale and mainstreaming the common ground; (local) governments and regulators on all levels should adopt and enforce the use and finally, NGOs and networks should facilitate and bridge the gap between individual cities/local governments and the standardisation, validation, piloting and mainstreaming processes.
  • Local governments, in collaboration with national governments and legislation bodies should envision a common approach to Smart City planning, which needs to be validated and – if accepted – needs to become an essential part on the political agenda. The Smart City Guidance Package offers avenues for stakeholders looking into this.  Currently, such planning framework already exists in the area of mobility, where almost 1000 cities in the EU have adopted a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan. The EU is promoting this concept and offers financial support (Horizon2020, structural funds) and through a specific community and capacity building Urban Mobility Observatory to facilitate exchange and take-up.


How do you see the mission accomplishing this?

  • The Mission should provide concrete guidance for (financing) instruments (a one-stop-shop) including European Framework Programmes, shape the first two years, 2021-22, and provide a vision for the rest of the Multiannual Financial Framework period (2023-2027) and beyond, and review existing instruments for the purpose of better alignment.
  • The Mission Board should play a key role in the dialogue with the Member States, e.g. by having a “dialogue tour” in 2020.
  • The Mission Board should appoint one or two members as liaisons in relevant fora such as the Urban Development Group (which is responsible for physical “standards”, such as zoning and planning), with focus on ensuring and monitoring impact related to the Mission.
  • The mission in 10 years will have arrived at a model of identifying and accurately measuring local challenges and issues – the fine grain and therefore ensuring that “no one gets left behind”.