Saturday

29th Apr 2017

'It's our duty to turn the migration challenge into an opportunity'

  • "We cannot avoid the fact that around 1 million people is already on the EU territory and that most of them are here to stay," EU regional policy commissioner Corina Cretu said in an interview with EUobserver. (Photo: European Commission)

The refugee crisis that took Europe by surprise last year has posed many challenges for the EU's asylum system, border management and decision-making.

But it is cities that have borne the brunt of the arrival of more than 1 million people in a single year.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • "I admire mayors of small cities," Corina Cretu said, mentioning the example of a 6,000-inhabitant town in Slovenia that had dealt with more than 10,000 migrants a day at the height of the crisis. (Photo: European Commission)

Roughly 70 percent of the European population and 75 percent of the continent's jobs are concentrated in cities. Many of the problems governments have to address – from affordable housing and air quality to energy efficiency and poverty – are also concentrated in cities.

To this list of challenges has been added the short-term welcoming and long-term integration of a massive number of refugees. They have all been included in an Urban Agenda that the European Commission and member states presented recently.

Refugee crisis is testing ideas

"Member states and cities came to realise that with all these challenges nobody can go alone. With this pact we can start working with a consolidated agenda for years to come," EU regional policy commissioner Corina Cretu said in an interview with EUobserver.

The idea for an Urban Agenda was launched by the commission in 2014 to increase cooperation between the EU, member states and regional and local authorities. Almost two years later, the refugee crisis is testing the idea.

"It's our duty to do everything we can to turn the migration challenge into an opportunity," Corina Cretu said.

While the EU was addressing short term needs like accommodation, mobile hospitals, sanitation or water supply, she said "we all know that most effective solutions will be long term".

"We cannot avoid the fact that around 1 million people is already on the EU territory and that most of them are here to stay," she said.

EU regional and social funds have been used for many years to run development projects and community initiatives. But these programmes were designed before the migration crisis, the commissioner noted.

More flexibility required

Addressing new challenges will require more flexibility in the way the EU, member states and regional and local authorities are used to manage EU-funded projects.

Money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was used to finance hotspots and mobile hospitals in Italy and Greece. Social funds were used to train refugees, mainly with language lessons.

For this year, with the risk that more migrants come to Italy after the closure of the Balkan route, plans have been made to establish a working group between the commission's directorate general for migration and home affairs and the Italian interior minister to see how funds can be used to help cities.

"It is important for member states and regions to know how to exploit all possibilities of EU funds," Cretu said. "We have to find the balance between the necessity of stable investment and adapting ourselves to the challenges."

In April, the commissioner, along with her migration colleague Dimitris Avramopoulos hosted a meeting with representatives from EU cities on coping with the crisis. At the meeting, she stressed that cities directly managed €15 billion as part of the EU’s 2014-2020 cohesion funds.

"It's a sign of trust but at the same time a great responsibility," she told EUobserver. European cities are encouraged to exchange their experiences and offer to help the most affected cities. "We ask member states to come up with ideas" for projects and initiatives, Cretu said.

Amsterdam took the lead

As part of the Urban Agenda, Amsterdam accepted the lead on migration. It is one of the urban areas, with Berlin and Stockholm, where projects have been run for years and could be used as model.

In Sweden, the country which has received the most refugees as a proportion of its population, the capital Stockholm has developed what the commissioner called a "nice project" with ERDF and social funds.

Refugees have been given housing as well as language courses and job training. Children have been able to go to school for the first time, Cretu noted.

In Berlin, another project was launched several years ago with EU funds, where German mothers help Turkish mothers when they have to deal with administration.

Corina Cretu noted that the atmosphere in the EU since the start of the crisis had not been good, with difficult discussions about how to share the burden across the EU.


But "no matter how hard discussions are between EU leaders, at the end of the day it is up to local administration to find very quick solutions," she noted.


She said that Barcelona had offered to take more than 100 refugee from German cities, but the Spanish national government did not approve.

 She also noted that large cities were not the only ones confronted with the need to find solutions.

"I admire mayors of small cities," she said, mentioning the example of a 6,000-inhabitant town in Slovenia that had dealt with more than 10,000 migrants a day at the height of the crisis.

Linked with the migration issue, other areas covered by the Urban Agenda are social housing and the fight against poverty.

"It is important to avoid ghettos and segregation. Social inclusion is not only for migrants, but it is now the most important issue," Cretu said. "We want to tackle areas where there is a structural concentration of poverty."



France and Belgium are the pilot countries in this domain. One of the areas where the agenda is being tried out is the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek, which has become infamous in recent months for being the home town of some of the terrorists from the Paris and Brussels attacks.

The commission will also present in June its Integration Agenda, which will complete what is in the Urban Agenda.

A version of this story also appears in EUobserver's new print magazine, entitled Business in Europe, due out this week. You can download a free PDF version of the magazine.

EU cities want say on refugee policy

Overwhelmed by refugees and let down by national governments, European cities had to step in. Now they want more funding and a seat at the table on migration policy.

What is European Business?

EUobserver, in its new Business in Europe Magazine, looks at business in the EU context

Cities demand access to EU migration funds

Cities are struggling to deal with the influx of refugees and asylum seekers, but EU funds go to national governments, and mayors complain they are getting no help.

Europe's rare youthful villages

Some villages in the EU are bucking the trend by attracting young people. But unless there is outside funding and local action, Europe's countryside will be full of ghosts.

What is European Business?

EUobserver, in its new Business in Europe Magazine, looks at business in the EU context

News in Brief

  1. Vote of no confidence prepared against Spanish PM
  2. Syria to buy Russian anti-missile system
  3. Germany seeks partial burka ban
  4. Libya has no plan to stop migration flows
  5. EU has no evidence of NGO-smuggler collusion in Libya
  6. Poland gets 'final warning' on logging in ancient forest
  7. Commission gives Italy final warning on air pollution
  8. Romania and Slovenia taken to court over environment policies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  2. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  3. Counter BalanceParliament Sends Strong Signal to the EIB: Time to Act on Climate Change
  4. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  5. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  7. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  10. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  11. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  12. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process

Latest News

  1. May’s election juggernaut
  2. EPP scolds Orban over university and NGO laws
  3. Oxford-Studie besorgt über 'Schrott' News in Frankreich
  4. Alte Freundschaft zwischen Le Pen und Putin
  5. EP chief faces questions after homophobic 'summit'
  6. EU signals Northern Ireland could join if united with Ireland
  7. One year later: EU right to open internet still virtual
  8. Rethinking Europe's relationship with Turkey

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  2. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate
  3. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  4. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  6. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  7. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  8. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  9. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  10. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  11. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  12. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved