Europe is becoming smart and sustainable through cooperation with cities

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2019-07-02 Jukka Mäkelä

Finland’s post as the President of the Council of the European Union starts at the beginning of July. The presidency is a wonderful opportunity for Espoo to highlight its forerunner role in Europe.

The European Union provides cities with many chances to learn, develop and influence. Cities are important players in the implementation of sustainable development in particular. Espoo is committed to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals as early as by 2025 and being the most sustainable city in Europe – now and in the future. The EU also needs a strong sustainable development agenda that supports ambitious projects, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals must take centre stage in guiding future EU strategy.

Espoo is home to the largest innovation hub in northern Europe — Espoo Innovation Garden. Research organisations, companies and cities work together on projects to exert significant social influence and create solutions to challenges shared by all cities. Intelligent and innovative Europe cannot, however, be built without proper research and innovation funding, which operators in Espoo, such as Aalto University, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and Laurea University of Applied Sciences have utilised actively. In fact, Finland should heed the proposal of the European Commission and make increasing the amount of Horizon Europe funding the main objective of its national lobbying efforts in terms of the EU budget. Investments in research and innovation are investments in the future of Espoo, Finland and Europe.

Espoo is committed to using data and technology to improve services in accordance with the City as a Service model. Utilisation of cooperation networks and digitalisation must also be a guiding element in developing urban communities. European cities must be involved in creating European rules for using data and AI in the development of public services. Digital innovation hubs, such as the Finnish Center for Artificial Intelligence (FCAI), of which Espoo is a member, can act as shared development platforms for entire communities. Securing sufficient and flexible EU funding for ecosystems is key. The funding should be allocated to pioneer projects that promote the utilisation of public sector data by developing artificial intelligence, for example, thus enabling Europe to become a forerunner in the ethical use of data.

Jukka Mäkelä

The author of the blog is Jukka Mäkelä, Mayor of Espoo.

Espoo is a city of competence and learning, and its schools are among the best in the world. In Espoo, learning starts with early childhood education and continues throughout life. We are already active participants in EU programmes in the fields of education, culture and youth work, where we share our excellence and learn from others in international networks. Going forward, the EU should continue to support strong national and local steering of education by encouraging peer learning and interaction across land borders. Expertise, learning and education are key to both Espoo and the sustainable development, solidarity and competitiveness of the EU, as well as the participation and well-being of the people. The EU has long emphasised the instrumental value of education as a means of providing skilled labour to the labour market. In the future, we should highlight the educational and cultural values of education alongside its instrumental value.

It is important for the EU to offer cities opportunities to make a difference. Cities also need platforms for learning and sharing good practices, so that in the future, cooperation can be implemented increasingly flexibly and from local starting points. Espoo excels in getting people, communities and companies to participate. Participation is a fine principle for the EU presidency, as well.