Cities Forum 2020: interviews with Ahmed Aboutaleb, Begoña Villacís Sánchez and Elisa Ferreira

  • Article


Porto was host to the Cities Forum 2020, which was held at Porto Customs, on 30 and 31 January and gathered at the Invicta the Mayors of the main cities in Europe to debate the topic of sustainable cities, under the motto "Together we shape a sustainable future". The event was organised by the European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy and hosted by the City of Porto.

The European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira chaired the event, jointly with Mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira.

Officials from the main European cities attended the event and shared best practices, knowledge and debated ideas towards the common goal of a unified Europe.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam, Begoña Villacís Sánchez, vice-Mayor of Madrid and Elisa Ferreira European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms kindly granted an interview to "Porto.", where they spoke about their idea on urban governance, local and regional governments in Europe and the future of cities.

The Mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb spotlighted that the future of Europe "is really dependent of the future of cities" as more and more people are living in cities; also "the wealth must be generated in cities, and the labor market is in the cities, the innovation is in cities, the energy transition is in cities, the hospitals are in cities, cultural institutions are in the cities, so it is really important that we learn to work together, between the national states, national governments, parliaments, with city governments, to change the way we make our economies and our cities and that's a real lesson for Europe, to try to find another focus, instead of having a focus on national governments, to move a bit the focus to the cities".

Ahmed Aboutaleb also shared that he doesn't agree that Europe is always linked to this idea of economy, even because people should remember that Europe "is about peace and about stability".

The reason for establishing the European Union must, according to the Mayor of Rotterdam, be made clear to every citizen: "it was because we don't want any more a big war in Europe, so let's really focus on what matters in Europe. First of all, one strong united Europe, against any turbulences that can lead to war, the aisle between Paris and Berlin is very important", Aboutaleb enhanced.

"So, to me, Europe is about peace, about stability and not about the economy first. Economy is second. We have five hundred million consumers in Europe, so we are one of the major blocks in terms of the economy, the US, the Chinese, and the Europeans. We are a rich continent, so we have a lot of rich consumers, so we mean something in the world, in terms of negotiating deals with the US, with the Chinese; and doing that in a god manner, if you're united in a good manner in the European common space when it comes to the economy, it will be to the benefit of all of us", the Mayor of Rotterdam stressed, also adding that, as far as he is concerned, the next chapter regarding Europe is "building a Europe of citizens".

We asked the vice-Mayor of Madrid, Begoña Villacís Sánchez, what was the role of cities, within Europe, and how relevant that could be if citizens might feel unconnected with the idea of Europe; Begoña argued that this could be somewhat a paradox, as "there are two types of politics that coincide: on one hand the local one, and on the other side, the European; interestingly though, the local is the one that is most close to the citizen, and citizens realise that the European is the one that is furthest from them", she highlighted.

"I think Europe, working with cities, makes its policies more familiar and that citizens feel more European, because Europe does a lot for citizens, and at the same time, cities have to become more visible within Europe, because we are in a time when this is not the century of states but rather the centuries of the cities, which are becoming more important and cities need to empower themselves, to gain more competences in order to solve many problems that occur in our cities like housing, isolation, pollution, things that happen in our cities and that we are able to see first, because we are the policy which is closest", the vice-Mayor of Madrid stated.

Begoña Villacís Sánchez also expressed how amazed she is every time she visits Porto, "because Porto is one of my most favourite cities of the whole Europe. It captivates me!"

We agree with madam Begonã on this!

Elisa Ferreira, the European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, kindly took some of her time to talk to "Porto." and explained a bit of what she understands the role of the European Commission is and how one can try to avoid scenarios such as Brexit.

"Cities are large centres for reflection and discussion and also of economic and cultural dynamics, naturally; so, I think that it is up to cities, and that is their role, as well, to establish a close relationship that exists but it is not visible still, between the citizen and the European Union. And I think that is one of the lessons we need to draw from Brexit, which is to know why there were citizens that when asked "what is Europe to you?", they said "I want out!"; This makes us reflect and the cohesion policy is seeking answers, because our motto, what drives us is "leave no one behind", and that's why we must be able to reach out to the citizen and tell him "you are with us, you are not dispensable, everyone belongs here, everyone must feel they are part of this common project, and that's not easy but the Media have a role to play, as well, they can help substantially; in fact, we should not only make propaganda, but we must reach the citizen and there is this work to be done, from below-upward", Elisa Ferreira stated.

On her recent mission as a European Commissioner, Elisa Ferreira explains that this job must be carried out daily and "that is what I have been doing; I have visited the most remote areas, I have just arrived from Silesia, I talked to citizens, to Unions, miners, Mayors, because development begins from below and works its way upwards and cities are exceptional tools to doing that".

Also, Elisa Ferrreira urged cities to be "more visible, as well, when it comes to fighting marginalisation and by leaving people behind, because by doing that, those people will feel detached, even emotionally, of the entire process, as they will say "This is not for me, I am against it"".