On 3-4 of April 2017, the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum held a meeting in the
city of Lisbon. A record number of 140 representatives from over 40 cities
gathered to discuss effective ways to prevent and respond to deep-seated
poverty and rising inequalities in cities.
The event was opened by the mayor of Lisbon, Fernando Medina, who emphasised the urgent need to address rising inequalities and poverty levels. He said: “Inequality is the first enemy to growth and progress in our societies […] We need to first solve social cohesion and this will then allow us to grow and progress in our society”.
Maria João Rodrigues, MEP rapporteur on the European Pillar of Social Rights, addressed the forum participants through a video message. In her address, she emphasised the key role cities play in ensuring the quality of life and wellbeing for all citizens and called cities to action on influencing the future EU funding after 2020 to make it more accessible to cities.
Laia Ortiz, deputy mayor of Barcelona and chair of the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum delivered an inspiring keynote speech. She called on cities to “play an active role now more than ever, especially in decisions and policies concerning the social challenges of our people”.
Reflecting on what cities can do better to make a tangible difference for the poor, Ms. Ortiz pointed to three key areas:
1. Cities need better access and more availability of EU funding as well as the possibility to integrate different EU funds (ERDF and ESF) to tackle both territorial and people-based challenges in the same area of a city. EUROCITIES, as the network of major European cities, should position cities to influence the future of EU funding after 2020.
2. Cities need better, integrated policies at EU and national level to combine preventive measures with activation measures. Laia called on cities to do their best in the months to come to convince national governments and the EU institutions of the need to include cities in the setting up of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
3. Cities also need to improve cooperation and coordination with all levels of government (EU, regional and national authorities). During the keynote address Laia stated: “the urban partnerships are a first step in the right direction but concrete commitments from partners are still to be seen”.
The voice of citizens was also heard at the Social Affairs Forum in Lisbon. The director of a citizen-led observatory in Barcelona (DESC Observatori) Irene Escorihuela highlighted the importance of bottom-up strategies to fight urban poverty through joint actions by NGOs, citizens, enterprises and local governments.
Deputy mayors present in Lisbon had the opportunity to debate with one another and with representatives of EU civil society organisations (EAPN and FEANTSA) on housing poverty. The key messages from their debate were:
Access to affordable and quality housing should be a basic social right for all people.
A legal framework against speculations on the housing market is much needed together with regulations to protect tenants already in their own homes.
The most effective strategies are bottom up, i.e. those decided together with citizens
There is a need to change perspectives from short-term EU projects to long-term social investments by introducing social impact indicators in all EU funding programmes
The rhetoric should change from anti-poverty to pro well-being of all citizens.
Through a mix of presentations, debates, workshops, exchanges, and a political side event, the forum participants shared coherent policies and city strategies proven to work in addressing the challenge of urban poverty and rising inequalities.
The outcomes of the meeting were highlighted in a video message delivered by the chair and vice-chair of the Social Affairs Forum - Laia Ortiz, deputy mayor of Barcelona, and Andreas Schönström, deputy mayor of Malmo – and addressed to the EU institutions and national governments. They say: “We are many cities around Europe here today who want to take responsibility to create better living conditions for our citizens. We want to do more, but we do not have the means to do it. We need leadership from the EU institutions and national governments to put people at the centre of all policies. We need better access to EU funds to allow us to do more for our citizens. It is now the time to act and to prove the values that the European Union was founded on and how they can improve people’s lives in reality”.
The next meeting of the Social Affairs Forum will take place in Gothenburg at the end of October.