2010-03-03: On Wednesday afternoon, 24th February 2010, the URBAN InterGroup of the European Parliament met for the first time in the new Parliamentary Term … at 16.30 hrs … in Meeting Room 6Q2 of the Parliamentary Complex in Brussels, Belgium. Dr. Jan Olbrycht, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), chaired the proceedings. The attendance was large, and included a large proportion of the 50, or so, MEP’s who are directly involved with the InterGroup. Please forgive the jargon, but … many other URBAN InterGroup Partners, Sectoral Stakeholders and Interested Practitioners also attended. However … not one Irish MEP appears to show any interest in this important InterGroup. Why is that ?
I was very pleased to attend this Meeting, representing Sustainable Design International Ltd. (a Multi-Disciplinary Design & Research Practice in Europe, and a Micro-SME). Further to a series of interventions on my part, the following are some Comments on last Wednesday’s Meeting … and a few Suggestions …
1. Accountable & Representative Governance is an important component in the implementation of Sustainable Human and Social Development. It is not being too ambitious, therefore, to say that the URBAN InterGroup has an important task to fulfil within the ‘system’ of the European Parliament.
2. Within such a ‘system’ … it is a big advantage that the InterGroup’s Structure is informal and fluid. This allows the InterGroup to be cross-party and cross-committee at the Parliament … and to adopt a ‘flexible’ horizontal approach to Urban-Related Issues.
3. This same Horizontal Approach must, however, be applied to a proper consideration of the Urban Environment (City) itself … which is far more than the sum of its buildings, public spaces, transport systems, engineering infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), and service utilities, etc., etc.
4. In order to deal effectively with Urban-Related Issues and the many different Sectoral Stakeholders … it is essential that the Intergroup discusses and develops a comprehensive and coherent vision of what exactly is a Sustainable Urban Environment (City). Please see the previous post on this Blog, dated 2010-03-02.
And … even though the regular InterGroup Meetings will be of short duration … it will be of great benefit to link small, individual issues to that larger, coherent vision. Then, and only then, will the InterGroup always know where it is … and, more importantly, in which direction it is travelling … in order to monitor progress.
5. It was not clear to me, at the Meeting, that the significant differences between the words ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Green’ are fully understood. This will cause problems for the InterGroup in the future, and should be examined in more detail.
The European Union (E.U.) Treaties refer to ‘Sustainable Development’ … not to ‘Greenness’ !!
6. It was also evident, at the Meeting, that there is a Lack of Communication between the European Parliament and the European Commission on Urban-Related Issues. Let me immediately say, however, that there is a worrying lack of communication (on any issue !) between the different Directorates-General within the Commission.
It must be a Priority for the InterGroup … a difficult one, I know … to have direct access to available Urban-Related Information … across all of the European Union’s Institutions. It is too wasteful of the InterGroup’s limited resources to be required to ‘re-invent wheels’ !
7. With regard to the URBAN InterGroup’s Work Programme … it is necessary to add a specific mention of the following Two Subjects:
(i) Proactive Climate Change Adaptation
Climate Change Adaptation, generally, encompasses actions to reduce the vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of the Human Environment, including ecological and social systems, institutions and economic sectors … to present and future adverse effects of climate change and the impacts of response measure implementation … in order to minimize the threats to life, human health, livelihoods, food security, assets, amenities, ecosystems and sustainable development.
Urban Environment Climate Change Adaptation, more precisely, means … reliably implementing policies, practices, projects and institutional reforms in the Urban Environment (City) … with the aim of reducing the adverse impacts and/or realizing the benefits directly/indirectly associated with climate change, including variability and extremes … in a manner which is compatible with Sustainable Human and Social Development.
Following detailed briefing meetings, in Dublin, from high-level participants in Copenhagen … the suggestion of this subject arises from what happened … or, more correctly, did not happen … to the European Union and its inadequate Climate Change Policies at the 2009 Climate Summit in December.
(ii) Accessibility for People with Activity Limitations (Personnes à Performances Réduites)
The 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities entered into force on 3rd May 2008, i.e. it became an International Legal Instrument. European Union (E.U.) Member States are currently undertaking the process of ratifying this Convention at national level. At a certain stage in the near future, the Union (as a polity, post Lisbon Treaty) will certainly also ratify the Convention.
People with Activity Limitations now have a clearly defined right, under International Law, to be able to access and use the Urban Environment (City). They also have the right to receive an equal and meaningful consideration in situations of risk, e.g. when there is a fire in a building.
The InterGroup must fully take account of these rights ! This is no longer an option. In this regard and until now, the attitudes and performance of the E.U. Institutions has been nothing less than a complete and utter disgrace.
8. With regard to the Main Objectives of the URBAN InterGroup … it is necessary to add the following Preamble to those Objectives …
Adopting a long-term perspective, i.e. beyond the lifetime of any single parliamentary term … the Main Objectives of the InterGroup are to:
– monitor the legislative and non-legislative work of the European Parliament’s Committees on Urban-Related Issues ;
– work on common European Union Strategies – to put Urban Needs on the agenda of E.U. Policies ;
– be actively involved in the preparation of E.U. legislation ;
– constantly stay in contact with partners and practitioners ;
– be informed about the realization of E.U. Policies on the ground.
Please note well … that the short-term perspective of elected politicians, whether at European, National or Local Levels, is a Serious Impediment to the proper implementation of a Sustainable Urban Environment (City) !