Espoo is the best

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2019-09-02 Markku Markkula, Chair of the Espoo City Board

A few members of the European Committee of the Regions often greet me by saying “Espoo is the best.” They have been doing this for more than two years now, based on their seminar experience of the Espoo Innovation Garden activity and their experience of our nature when we went ice-fishing and took a sauna in Nuuksio in late April to round up the seminar.

The Committee of the Regions is one of the EU’s official administrative bodies, based originally on the Maastricht Treaty and later on the Treaty of Lisbon. Its members include 350 mayors, regional ministers and other leading decision-makers from across Europe. Espoo has had a strong representation for the past two terms: of Finland’s nine members, Sirpa Hertell and I are from Espoo. The Committee is in close contact with the Commissioners, the Directorate Generals of the European Commission and the European Parliament. I have had a true position of influence since the EPP Group elected me President of the Committee for the first part of the current 5-year term and First Vice President for the second part. I have been able to encourage change in Europe by presenting Finnish expertise, the methodology of innovative solutions and the outlines of bringing about changes at hundreds of conferences, seminars and meetings in Brussels and around Europe.

What is always interesting is practical activity: the innovative implementation of the Espoo story mentality of working together and of partnering. Espoo’s operations are not just about what our city officials and administration do. Everybody is interested in a new way to act.

The city is an enabler and a catalyst. The general activity and the partnership activities of the municipal residents are instrumental: together with companies, universities and other communities, we can achieve quality. An indication of this is the selection of Espoo as the “Most Intelligent Community in the World 2018”.

The foundation of all this is how we have transformed a scattered city structure based on suburbs into a dynamic network city and a test platform for innovations. It is therefore natural for Espoo to be the lead city in implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

As part of this, Espoo hosted a seminar in June for 150 SDG (sustainable development goal) influencers, most of whom were international executives and investors. Nearly 80% of them were in Finland for the first time. What brought them here was the UN’s network activity with companies.  Hanasaari, Dipoli and Haltia provided the setting for the meeting. Visits to different parts of Espoo introduced the participants to innovative solutions such as the Espoo Hospital, the Service Centre concept, new school solutions and the circular economy and 5G plans with Nokia and other companies in the Kilo area.

The benefits gained from the global visibility and partnership activity of the city are manifested especially in the success of companies and the creation of new innovative solutions and jobs. A dynamic city creates well-being.

Another example of the significance of human networks was the sustainable development seminar in Hanasaari in early June, at which the beginning of Finland’s EU presidency was celebrated by around 50 members of the European Committee of the Regions. For them, the archipelago cruise to Pentala was a memorable event.

As a nation, we should come to appreciate what is unique here: FINNISH NATURE. Nearly 80% of our area is forest, which equals 4 hectares for each Finn. We have nearly 200,000 lakes and the same number of islands, half of which are in archipelagos in the sea and the other half in lakes. In Espoo we have 100 lakes and 150 islands. I always use slightly rounded numbers because that way the proportions make a greater impression and stick in one’s mind more effectively.

We must attract many more foreign guests, investments and skilled workers to Finland. At the same time, we must open international markets to Finnish expertise. The activities in Espoo are already a foundation pillar of the success of Finland, but we can achieve much more together by being innovative and broad-minded.

The potential to influence of the Finnish EU presidency has been wrongly underestimated. During this autumn, the new Commission will be nominated and its objectives, as well as loocatation of Commissioners´ portfolios, will be determined. The next strategy of the EU will be finalised - hopefully with a strong focus on committing to achieve the SDG goals, as we have outlined in the Committee of the Regions. The main points regarding the EU multiannual financial framework will be megotiated when having an impact on all the Directorate Generals preparing their new working programmes. The EU can be the strongest global actor of the future, and this development will be more and more city-led as it is practice that determines the future.

Markku Markkula

Chair of the Espoo City Board
First Vice President of the European Committee of the Regions