Sustainable urban development – Regional policy

Cities are seen as both the source and the solution to today’s economic, environmental and social challenges. European urban areas are home to more than two thirds of the EU’s population, they account for around 80% of energy consumption and generate up to 85% of European GDP. These urban areas are the engines of the European economy and act as catalysts for creativity and innovation across the Union. But they are also places where persistent problems, such as unemployment, segregation and poverty, are the most serious. Urban policies therefore have a wider cross-border scope, which is why urban development is at the heart of EU regional policy.

What is integrated sustainable urban development?

The different dimensions of urban life – environmental, economic, social and cultural – are intertwined and the success of urban development can only be achieved through an integrated approach. Measures concerning physical urban renewal must be combined with those promoting education, economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection. It also requires strong partnerships between local citizens, civil society, industry and different levels of government.

Such an approach is particularly important at this time, given the seriousness of the challenges that European cities are currently facing, ranging from green and digital transitions, specific demographic changes, the inclusion of migrants and refugees, to the consequences of economic stagnation in terms of job creation. and social progress, and the impact of climate change. Responding to these challenges is key to achieving the objectives envisaged under the European Green Deal and other Commission priorities.

Urban dimension of cohesion policy

The 2014-2020 period places the urban dimension at the very heart of cohesion policy. More than €115 billion of ERDF resources have been invested in urban areas and around €17 billion of the ERDF has been directly allocated to integrated strategies for sustainable urban development. More than 900 cities have been empowered to implement these integrated strategies for sustainable urban development.
Cohesion policy for the period 2021-2027 will continue to invest in all regions and the European Commission has proposed a simpler and more flexible framework to better reflect the reality on the ground.
The focus is on five policy objectives around a (1) smarter, (2) greener, (3) connected and (4) social Europe, and a new cross-cutting objective (5) to bring Europe closer citizens’ Europe by supporting locally developed integrated territorial development strategies across the EU.
Cohesion policy will continue to support integrated territorial and local development strategies through various tools and to empower urban authorities and territorial bodies in the management of funds, while requiring strong local partnerships with relevant stakeholders. The urban dimension of cohesion policy has been strengthened, with 8% of the European Regional Development Fund at national level dedicated to sustainable urban development strategies. Territorial tools, namely Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI), Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) and other territorial tools will be deployed to implement these strategies.
The New European Urban Initiative will fund innovative actions to test and develop transferable and scalable innovative solutions to urban challenges, improve cities’ capacities to design and implement sustainable urban policies and practices in an integrated and participatory way, and promote knowledge sharing and capitalization. for the benefit of urban policy makers and practitioners. Innovative urban actions and the urban development network under the cohesion policy 2014-2020 will be integrated into the EUI. Support for the Urban Agenda for the EU will also be done through this initiative.
Find out more about how European cities benefit from EU regional policy or what is happening in your Member State with cohesion policy.

The Urban Agenda for the EU

The Urban Agenda is an integrated and coordinated approach to addressing the urban dimension of European and national policies and legislation. By focusing on concrete priority themes within dedicated partnerships, the Urban Agenda aims to improve the quality of life in urban areas. It is a new way of working to ensure maximum use of the growth potential of cities and to successfully address social challenges. It aims to promote cooperation between Member States, cities, the European Commission and other stakeholders, in order to stimulate growth, livability and innovation. in European cities. Concretely, Partnerships are set up around priority themes of European and urban relevance. Within these partnerships, urban challenges are identified and solutions are recommended through action plans (these are addressed to the EU, Member States and cities). The action plans will contain actions and examples of good projects to develop and transfer across the EU. Actions could be a proposal to modify an EU directive, a proposal related to the implementation of the structural funds, the strengthening of cooperation on common issues, or a project which has worked well and which could be extended/transferred, etc.
The Urban Agenda for the EU should lead to better regulation (more effective, more efficient and cheaper to implement), better funding (more responsive, easier to access, more integrated) and better knowledge (data, best practices/projects, exchange of experiences).
The Urban Agenda for the EU website allows all stakeholders to contribute to the Urban Agenda as a whole or to specific partnerships. You are invited to join this community so that you can actively contribute and make your voice heard! Please sign up to receive newsletter and notifications related to your specific interests.
Find out more in our brochure Urban Agenda for the EU Multilevel governance in action

The EU and cities

Find out how the Commission helps cities achieve EU goals. Discover how cities can acquire and share knowledge. Get information on funding and other forms of support.
A one-stop-shop for EU policies for cities

Cooperation and exchange of experiences between cities


URBACT is a European exchange and learning program promoting sustainable urban development, which integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions. It allows cities to work together to develop new, pragmatic and sustainable solutions to major urban challenges, reaffirming the key role they play in the face of increasingly complex societal changes. URBACT will continue to enable European cities to work together in 2021-2027 through transnational networks, capacity building and knowledge sharing activities.
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International Urban and Regional Cooperation (IURC)

The European Union launched the International Urban Cooperation Program (IUC) to promote international urban cooperation in 2016, and decided to launch a second phase in 2021 to extend the program to regional authorities and other countries. The international urban and regional cooperation program involves cooperation on common urban and territorial challenges, paying particular attention to green and digital transitions and inclusive post-pandemic recovery, in particular by involving the EU with partner cities or regions non-EU members in order to share knowledge and best practices. Cities and regions will cooperate within three thematic networks: ecological transition and the green deal; urban and regional renewal and social cohesion; and innovative, sustainable and carbon-neutral ecosystems and strategic sectors.
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The TAIEX REGIO PEER 2 PEER tool is designed to share expertise between organizations that manage funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund.
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