Highlights from the city-dialogue ‘Providing Services of General Interest in times of Covid-19’ hosted in collaboration with CEEP
During the city-dialogue ‘Providing Services of General Interest in times of Covid-19’ organised by Eurocities, in partnership with CEEP, European local authorities, SGIs providers and EC representative carried forward a sharp and incisive debate featured with far-sighted ideas on the provision of Services of General Interests (SGIs) aimed to boost the European recovery process in the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic brought to light the urgency of upholding the provision and the quality of public services, from well-equipped hospitals, safe public transport, reliable water and energy supply to efficient public collection system of waste, green spaces and affordable housing.
During the event it has been called for stronger support to the public services in recovery process, pursuing the green transition and the digital transformation, together with a strong and deep Single Market, aim to foster new growth opportunities, promote cohesion and convergence, and building a resilient Europe.
Panellists shared their experiences on:
- public services’ reusing approach (e.g. the waste in one sector might be resource in another);
- readaptation and testing of new solutions taking under consideration the health safety;
- ‘make it green’ (use the crises as leverage to make public services greener and more sustainable);
- restoring efficient procedures without impacting the quality of care or patient safety;
- redesigning the support for the SGI in the EU regulations (SGP).
It is imperative strengthening SGIs, which employ over 60 million workers in a broad range of sectors, contribute approximately to 26% of the EU’s GDP and represent a large percentage of the activities remained operational through the pandemic
Renate Brauner, Commissioner of the City of Vienna for Services of General Interest and Municipal Economy presented the study the ‘Remunicipalisation in Europe’. Ms Brauner emphasised the importance for cities and local communities of stepping into SGIs, steadily sold off to private investors over the past decades, to regain service quality while offering affordable prices and focusing on social and green targets, as evidenced by the Vienna example. The remunicipalisation, already taking shape in the pre-COVID - 19 era, counts today 700 case in 20 countries all over Europe and across all political borders, from big to small and medium cities, from London underground to water supply in Paris and Budapest and energy provision in Hamburg and Vilnius. Financial and political support, now within the framework of the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility, must be provided to boost public infrastructure investment (following the ‘Golden rule’) and resilient public services, which are the backbone of our society.
Hence, Mirzha De Manuel, Member of the Cabinet of Executive Vice-President responsible for an Economy that Works for People Valdis Dombrovskis, delineated the Recovery and Resilience Facility, which intends to channel €672,5 bln, in grants (€312.5) and loans to support both investment and reforms in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and the societal transformation towards a greener, more digital and fairer economy. Increased from €560 billion, the centrepiece of the “Next Generation EU” recovery instrument will be operational when the negotiations among the co-legislators on the Regulation are concluded. It is estimated that an effective implementation of Next Generation EU can deliver 2% of additional GDP by 2024 and create 2 million jobs. The two mutually reinforcing pillars of a recovery, the green transition and the digital transformation, together with a strong and deep Single Market, aim to foster new forms of growth, promote cohesion and convergence, and strengthen the EUʼs resilience. Its main objectives are to deliver the European Green Deal and to build a more sustainable, resilient and fairer Europe for the next generation - in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Mirzha De Manuel also underlined the relevance of SGIs in this process and looked forward to further dialogue.
In light of the Next Generation EU recovery package and its implementation criteria, Eurocities and CEEP opened in a panel section the debate on the specific role of SGIs providers, and cities and local authorities, in shaping a green, digital and fair recovery across the EU.
The representative of the Public Utilities Company of Vienna, Elisa Schenner, showed the example of Wiener Stadtwerke Group within the energy sector, which is 100% owned by the City of Vienna but outsourced as GmbH. As a multi-utility that includes energy and mobility, the Wiener Stadtwerke Group pursues sector integration in using “waste” in one sector as a resource in another (e.g. use of traditional waste to produce renewable diesel and power diesel buses). During the Corona crisis, they have pursued to hire workers and provide services of general interest seamlessly.
Maria Dolores Ortiz Sanchez General Director Planification e Infrastructure of Movilidad en Ayuntamiento, Madrid, and Alberto Alonso Poza, Financing and Strategy Director at EMT Madrid, gave an overview of the opportunities and challenges of the public transport sector in Spanish capital. EMT - a resilient public transport operator and provider of SGIs - reacted immediately to the pandemic by ensuring excellent hygienic conditions on all means of the transport fleet and enforcing capacity control system. Thus, it has also been crucial adopting measures as the reallocation of part of existing road space for biking and walking which has in turn led to a major increase (10% on average per month since April) in users and trips with BiciMAD (the Madrid Bikesharing system). Further, EMT committed to have the entire transport fleet either electric or natural gas fuelled by 2024, feature with the designing of a pilot experience on hydrogen buses (100% circular project) powered by energy from photovoltaic sources.
Virginie Toussain, Legal Officer at the National Union of Federations of Housing and Low-Cost Housing Organisations (Union nationale des federations d'organismes HLM) presented housing sector condition in France. She reported that the demand for social housing has increased significantly in the context of the pandemic and there will soon be a capacity problem if people will keep being laid off from their job or experiencing reduction on their income. In this sense, it is essential that EU increase investment in high-quality social housing to best mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
Tjitte Alkema, Vice-Secretary General of HOSPEEM, stressed out the need for flexible and essential training for the health workforce in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not only negative, but also positive developments were discernible in the crisis: procedures that used to be more time consuming had been made more efficient, without impacting the quality of care or patient safety. Furthermore, a boost in digitalisation of health services (e-health) and more flexibility in procedures and processes were observed. Nevertheless, changes are needed. Mr Alkema called for a "golden rule of investment" for SGIs and warned of the danger of a renewed austerity policy after the crisis, which could end the current momentum of SGIs.
Following these case studies from the energy, mobility, housing and health sectors, Valeria Ronzitti (CEEP Secretary General) concluded the event by underling the importance of having a strong SGI alliance. In this context, she promoted the entry of Eurocities into the “SGIs facing COVID-19” platform.
Already underlined during the opening of the event by Anna Lisa Boni (Eurocities Secretary General), the city-dialogue is just a starting point to pursue a constructive exchange of ideas, experiences and solutions, between Eurocities and CEEP.