André Sobczak chairs EUROCITIES Economic Development Forum, as well as representing Nantes as the deputy mayor in charge of EU policies.
1) What is your current job title and what experience do you bring to the role?
I am vice-president of the Nantes Metropolitan Area, in charge of European Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility. In parallel to my political mandate, I work as a professor in a business school where my research and teaching focus on responsible business strategies. As an academic, I have always aimed at producing an impact on business and society. I developed various projects with companies of different sizes and sectors, trade unions, NGOs and public authorities to contribute to a more sustainable and responsible development. My role as vice-president of the Nantes Metropolitan Area allows me to accelerate these projects and to involve even more stakeholders, for example by developing social and environmental criteria in public purchasing. I am indeed convinced that cities are not only the places where we find many economic, social and environmental challenges; they are also the place where we will invent the solutions to meet these challenges. And, to increase our impact, we need to work with other European cities. This is why I am happy to also be in charge of European Affairs and to represent our city in the EUROCITIES Economic Development Forum, and this is why I think that the local and European level are closely interconnected.
a) What is your favorite thing about your job?
What I prefer in my job is that I never stop learning. I constantly meet new people who share their challenges or innovations. I try to support them in finding solutions or disseminating their ideas, trying to create links with other actors in Nantes or other European citizens. The most satisfying is to see the people’s projects becoming reality and growing over time. One of my favorite projects is Nantes Creative Generations that brings together young citizens from Nantes engaged in social, environmental or cultural projects who we connect with citizens from other European cities working on similar projects. In many cases, the participants had never travelled out of France and never thought about searching similar projects abroad; we show them that working with other Europeans can allow them to accelerate their own projects.
2) What would you tell a first time visitor to your city?
I would tell him or her that Nantes offers an excellent mix of economic attractiveness, quality of life and a vibrant cultural life. Since I joined the city 25 years ago from Germany, Nantes has changed a lot, and it still constantly changes – to the better. Travelling a lot in France, in Europe and internationally, what strikes me most is the capacity of the different stakeholders to work together for the general interest. This allows the development of ambitious projects and a great coherence between the different transitions that are taking place. To understand this dynamic and take advantage of it, you have to come back several times to Nantes – or even join us to contribute to our development – you are welcome!
3) As chair of EUROCITIES Economic Development Forum what do you hear from peers or consider a top challenge in this area?
There is a common understanding among the members of our forum that economic development is not an end in itself, but has to contribute to the general interest and the social and environmental transitions in our cities. This is why we want to further strengthen the links with the other EUROCITIES forums rather than to work in silos. Furthermore, we want to overcome a vision where European cities compete with each other, for example to attract companies and citizens. Our ambition is to learn from each other, but to maintain our different identities that constitute our asset in the European Union. Furthermore, we want to build some joint projects to defend our common interests, be it in discussions with the European Union or with some multinational companies. I am sure that this will also bring Europe closer to our citizens.
4) What role is there for cities to contribute and lead in Europe?
My feeling is that cities have a strong will to cooperate within each other. Unlike the national governments, European cities know that their common features and interests are much bigger than their differences, in particular in comparison to cities in other parts of the world. Giving more voice to cities in the European decision-making process thus constitutes an opportunity for the European Union itself. Furthermore, I am convinced that the solutions to the current big challenges, such as climate change, migration, social justice and a more participatory democracy, will be invented in our cities. Trusting our cities and facilitating the direct funding of projects developed in our cities will help the European Union to change its image among the citizens that doubt its capacity to deliver these solutions.
5) What is your vision of the future city (e.g. in 2050)?
In 2050, thanks to EUROCITIES, I think that the European Union will have moved to become a dynamic network of cities that are embedded into their regions and that have achieved the sustainable development goals for more than 20 years. These European cities will offer excellent and equal opportunities for all, by guaranteeing a high level of education, quality jobs, a sound environment, social justice and a vibrant cultural life.