BRUSSELS – The European Commission joined forces with European Committee of the Regions on February 7 to help build a coalition of smart cities and regions across the Union to boost investment and build a more sustainable Europe.

European Commission Vice-President for Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič and European Committee of the Regions President Markku Markkula announced the project of creating smarter EU cities and regions at a press conference and a packed opening of an event in Brussels on February 7, stressing that regions and cities must become smarter by strengthening cooperation and better exploit new technologies if the EU is to meet its climate change commitments, end energy poverty and drive sustainable growth.

The conference and debate Investing in Europe: Building A Coalition of Smart Cities & Regions was held after the release of the second stage of the Energy Union report, which Šefčovič presented last week, confirming that the EU is well on track to reach its 2020 energy and climate objectives.

Sefčovič highlighted the common “strong belief in the ability of local action to transform our economies and bring about the change” across Europe and across the world.

He recognised that cities and regions face enormous challenges, from air pollution to traffic congestion. “But every time, the cities are the real centers of innovation and growth. They are engines of economic development and, therefore, I believe that we have to realise that the cities are increasingly part of the solution. This was the quote from the State of the Energy Union report, which is reflecting the new laws for local leaders and cities, which receive this new type of cooperation”.

Sefčovič also praised the Global Covenant of Mayors noting that at the global level “cities and regions can inspire each other and learn from each other’s best practices”. “I can tell you that the last few weeks we are receiving a lot of phone calls and a lot of requests for very concrete cooperation with Africa, with some Asian countries who see the Europe an a anchor of stability, as a guarantor of future development assistance, as a continent which is ready to share our green tech and is ready to help them despite these global developments” and to continue fighting climate change, Sefčovič said.

Markkula argued that rolling-out the Energy Union and creating smarter cities and regions would demonstrate the benefits the EU brings to its citizens.

“The EU has set down the right path to deliver a more sustainable future but it relies on regions and cities to deliver. The progress in energy efficiency, cutting CO2 emissions and using renewables is encouraging but far more needs to be done. We need to plug the €250 billion investment gap by directing EU funds and private investment towards innovation, new technologies and new industries,” he said.

“Every EU region and city must share the responsibility by developing their own smart strategies, cooperating together, working with the private sector and using all funds available to build a better future,” the European Committee of the Regions President added.

Economist and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin noted that the Third Industrial Revolution Smart Europe narrative and economic road map is currently being implemented across the regions of Hauts-de-France, the 23 municipalities that comprise the Metropolitan Region of Rotterdam to The Hague and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. The Smart Europe initiative marks the next stage of the European journey to create a single, integrated, continental market”.

At the conference, participants presented and discussed case studies from building smart cities and regions in Europe, including their plans to reduce energy consumption, invest in innovation and digitalise their economy, which has brought jobs and environmental benefits to their communities