Interview with Andrea Ricci

Following the EU-China Mayors’s Forum on September  20 2012, Andrea Ricci gave an interview to News Eurideas, a Brussels-based company specialised in linguistic services.

Europe’s 2020 growth agenda and China’s 12th Five Year Plan make way for opportunities for China-EU cooperation to develop in areas such as urbanisation. Both China and Europe have to tackle the challenge of dealing with ageing populations, the growth of mega-cities and setting up the foundations for an inclusive society. Have common goals and the exchange of best practices been fruitful for both entities in the field of sustainable urbanisation?

Indeed, the ultimate goal is common to the EU and China: to ensure the sustainability of their cities. It is, however, too early to draw lessons from the experience of cooperation so far: a structured, strategy-driven cooperation has only been devised recently, while in past years cooperation activities have been rather uncoordinated and often left to the initiative of individual Member States. On the other hand, although the ultimate goal is shared, the EU and China are following quite different paths, owing to past history and to the differentiated challenges and constraints that characterise their respective socio-economic and political contexts: China looks at city sustainability in the context of a very fast growing economy and of a massive movement of population from rural to urban settlements, which is not the case for the EU, where the overall structure and pattern of urban settlements is rather stabilised, and has in fact contributed to the growing awareness of the severity of the environmental impacts potentially associated with urbanisation. 

The EU-China Urbanisation Partnership covers a lot of ground and it has ambitious goals. Has energy proven to be a central factor in urban policies?

Energy is one of the preferred fields of cooperation between the EU and China, and this was the case even before urbanisation was identified as a priority for cooperation: several flagship initiatives, such as the EU China Clean Energy Centre, have already been successfully launched. The EU-China Urbanisation Partnership now follows an agenda that clearly confirms and reinforces the priority role of energy, and does so in a context that should help streamline concrete cooperation, based on the commonality of energy-related issues in cities across the planet, on both the supply and demand side: the integration of renewable sources in high density settlements, the smart provision and use of electricity, energy efficiency in buildings, and electromobility, to name a few.

How about the concept of Smart Cities? Has it proven to be a viable policy, central to our EU-China cooperation on urbanisation?

Smart Cities have been so far looked at primarily from the energy angle, which has the merit of laying concrete ground for cooperation in an area that certainly has a considerable potential, and expected impacts are high at both the local (city) and the global level (e.g. through the reduction of GHG emissions). The Smart City concept, however, encompasses a much wider range of drivers, impacts, policies and technologies, which will hopefully be integrated in the EU-China cooperation framework. For instance, the interrelation between urban form (and land use patterns) and the potential “smartness” of cities, is a key element in urban development and this should be explicitly recognized.

What instruments for bilateral cooperation have been used between China and the EU so far?

The range of instruments is rather broad, from research all the way to policy agreements, including demonstration projects, exchanges of best practices, twinning programmes, technology transfer and support services such as those targeted by the above mentioned EU-China Clean Energy Centre. Each of those can be potentially effective, provided that their design and implementation are part of an integrated strategy. The URBACHINA project, funded within FP7, is a good example of how EU and China can, with the same instrument, pursue the dual objective of (i) jointly addressing common challenges while (ii) establishing and reinforcing the cooperative relationship in the field of social sciences.

Interview full version 

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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