Thank you Commissioner Ferreira for an inspirational speech.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The beautiful city of Ljubljana is also known as the city of dragons. Legend has it that the Greek hero Jason founded Ljubljana after stealing the Golden Fleece from the king of the Black Sea. He did this by fighting and killing a dangerous dragon that lived in the marshes nearby.
Sadly, because of Covid, we are unable to convene in this historical city. Nonetheless, I would like to thank the Slovenian Presidency for its hospitality, and for the extraordinary job it has done. I expect this to be a fruitful meeting with a resounding result: the Ljubljana Agreement.
It will cement the continuation of the Urban Agenda for the EU, which started life in my home city Amsterdam, in 2016. The Netherlands is and will remain a strong supporter of the Urban Agenda and its multi-level approach. I am delighted that today we will be laying the groundwork for 4 brand new 'Ljubljana Partnerships'.
A lot more will be said today about the future of urban and territorial development. What I would like to speak about is Europe's youth, as embodied by the boisterous Jason. In the same way that the history of Ljubljana started with this young man, the future of our cities begins with our young people.
As we all know, Covid-19 has disproportionately affected young people across Europe. A recent study commissioned by the European Parliament shows just how severely young people have been hit by the pandemic in terms of employment, education, training and mental well-being.
Our key priority in addressing these challenges should be funding for youth employment. However, we should also make use of the strength of our youth. Young people are keen to contribute to society, to be useful and to be taken seriously. To cite European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: ‘While they are anxious about the future, they are determined to make it better.’
The European Commission has quite rightly declared 2022 the European Year of Youth. Europe needs the vision, engagement and participation of all young people to build a better future. A future that is greener, more inclusive and digital.
We politicians are inclined to look no further than the electoral cycle. Young people remind us how important it is to extend our horizons, even to the generations that are not born yet.
We should become what philosopher Roman Krznaric [spreek uit; Krznarik] calls ‘good ancestors’. In this respect, we can take inspiration from Finland that has had a parliamentary committee for the future since 1993.
In my country, we are developing a 'generation check'. It gives civil servants an insight into the effects of new policies and laws on different generations and enables them to take these effects into account.
We have also presented our own Dutch vision for the future, the National Strategy on Spatial Planning and the Environment, or NOVI. It tackles the large and complex challenges facing our small country, such as climate change, the energy transition and the circular economy.
While national government is in charge, the challenges themselves are addressed in a coherent approach, together with regions, cities and civil society organizations.
On the urban scale, cities, social partners and central government are working together on an equal footing in so called City Deals. These projects are practical and result-driven, with solutions that often circumvent traditional administrative, financial and policy channels.
Together, the NOVI and the City Deals represent the Dutch approach to multilevel cooperation, as reflected on a European level in the Urban Agenda. They aim to make the Netherlands an attractive nation for future generations.
Last year, we approved the New Leipzig Charter and in doing so committed ourselves to the crucial principles that will be a guiding force for sustainable urban development in Europe. This will only truly be a success if it results in real improvements on the ground, for the cities, the people and indeed the youth of Europe.
The Urban Agenda for the EU has shown that such improvements can be achieved, provided that we work together as equal partners, and leave sufficient space for innovation and experimentation.
I call upon you all to once again set to work in that spirit. We have agreed on the principles. We have agreed on the governance. Let us now agree to produce tangible results for the cities and citizens of Europe.
Finally, I would like to return to the dragons of Ljubljana. I am told that today they are all over the city. One day I would like to see them with my own eyes.
And like Jason fighting the dragon, I wish you all strength and wisdom in fighting the persistent pandemic that is still ravaging our countries.
Thank you for your attention.