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Reposition or lose - municipalities' reactions to European integration

Stephan Articus

Reposition or lose - municipalities' reactions to European integration

1. Introduction
2. What Europe means to cities
3. "Individual" city strategy
4. Cities' "collective" strategy
5. Closing remarks


Europeanization is having far-reaching effects on urban areas. This has led cities to augment their "skills for Europe". Examples of how individual cities are doing this include constructing both internal and external "information systems", heightening city councils' and local authorities' awareness and knowledge of Europe, establishing networks with other European cities and increasing their profile among Europe's competing metropolitan areas. German cities' strategy in regard to Europe is that of a powerful interest group and relies on three components: 1.) the European Office of the German Association of Cities (Deutscher Städtetag) in Brussels, where administrative staff address European issues at the headquarters of Europe's most important institutions, 2.) the work done on European issues by the association's specialist departments located at its main offices, 3.) the establishment of networks to ensure coordinated and concerted efforts with European partners. A pressing issue for European municipalities in the coming years will be how to adjust their public services to the European legal framework without forfeiting the freedom to formulate their own policies. Considering the collective action being taken by cities, efforts to reduce the "dissonance" between representatives of local interests in Europe should be redoubled. The sheer number of networks and associations illustrates the range of these interests.


1. Introduction

The shifting conditions under which German cities operate demand a substantial willingness to change and pronounced flexibility. European integration is one of the driving forces behind this shift. The pressure Brussels is exerting on cities to reform will change the way municipalities govern themselves. The institutional function and the internal organizational structures of municipalities are massively affected by European legislation and politics. On the one hand this compels cities to formulate their own responses to European demands and to reassess their position in the European economic zone. On the other hand they have to fashion a collective strategy to be considered serious partners in crafting European policies. This strategy must aim to play an active role in the transformation process and influence the environment in which cities will have to fulfil their duties to the benefit of Europe's citizens in years to come.(1) 


2. What Europe means to cities

The execution of European law and European legislation
European law has a profound influence on municipalities. Some legal acts affect them directly, some indirectly. Primary legislation is directly relevant, e.g. the treaties founding or stipulating the further development of the European Communities, municipal voting rights for EU citizens, the free movement of labour, which opens local authorities to EU citizens, and EU rules on competition and state aid as stipulated in Art. 86 ff. of the Treaty Establishing the European Community. European secondary legislation, i.e. legislation enacted pursuant to the treaties by responsible organs of the European Communities, have such comprehensive ramifications for cities that a full analysis here would be unfeasible (see Schäfer 1998, p. 133 ff.; Nazarek 2001, p. 41 ff.). The spectrum ranges from regulations on working hours, which affect basic organizational issues for a wide range of municipal services, to broad environmental laws executed in Germany in large part by counties (Kreise) and cities with Kreis status, the entire bundle of lawmaking dealing with municipal public services including energy provision, public transport and a myriad of social services, extending to the currently topical field of public procurement law, i.e. the directives on public contracting.(2) The latter no longer encompass solely classical procurement activities on the common market, but are increasingly becoming determinant factors in the organization and performance of municipal responsibilities. This applies in particular when a third party from the private sector is involved, though it is also the case when independent municipal companies have been engaged and even when municipalities cooperate with one another.(3) The energy industry, waste disposal services, legislation on working hours and in certain circumstances social services sponsored by local authorities are being impacted by European legislation.

EU funding for municipalities
Local authorities are not only affected by the execution of European legislation and the framework it provides for the performance of municipal responsibilities. EU funding policies also bear heavily on them. A sizeable portion of aid is granted for initiatives for which municipalities are either directly responsible or which have an indirect impact on them as centres of economic activity, work and residence. Funding for these purposes is available from the four European Structural Funds, above all from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). These funds are bound to specified priority regions (objective areas) and must be integrated into national programmes. A number of action programmes set up in the framework of field-specific EU policies also provide aid. Cities, municipalities and administrative districts can apply directly for this funding.(4) The next section discusses the "individual" strategy of cities. A sketch of municipalities' "collective" response in the form of concerted efforts through the German Association of Cities will follow.


3. "Individual" city strategy

The recognition that Europeanization is having an acute effect on cities has led them to augment their "skills for Europe". The highest-priority tasks for cities are the following:

  • Building "information systems"The main task in this case was to ensure an efficient and all-embracing means of gathering information on European developments, initiatives and programmes. On the one hand this necessitates an external interface, i.e. to the European institutions or to locations which have access to the information needed. On the other hand it demands an internal interface to ensure that relevant information is routed to the appropriate administrative offices.
  • Strengthening councils' and public administrations "skills for Europe"A prerequisite for improving city councils' and administrations' "skills for Europe" is that local government officials and volunteers are well-versed in the European political system and can evaluate the actual consequences of European legislation and politics for their region (cf. Kreher 2001, p. 15 f.).
  • Networking European citiesNetworking Europe's cities is a key element of the European strategy in many cities, which focus on building regional, national and European city networks. One of the aims of networking is to build alliances which champion cities' political goals vis-à-vis European institutions. Yet they also serve as a forum for gathering information, sharing experiences and analysing best practices.
  • Raising profile among Europe's competing cityscapesAnother important component of municipalities' European strategy is sculpting a more distinctive profile for themselves among EU urban regions. Measures which help to achieve this include securing funding, participating in European action programmes, organizing European events, attracting European institutions and government agencies to the city and applying for EU titles such as European City of Culture.

Cities manage these endeavours in various ways. Larger cities in particular have reacted by creating administrative units for European affairs. Depending on the focus, each unit either operates under the auspices of the central administration, the commerce department or the business development department.

The issues the units address depend on, among other factors, whether the city is in a region covered by the EU Structural Funds. (cf. Landeshauptstadt Hannover 2002, p. 5). In this case European affairs units should focus their activity on procuring and managing aid from the EU Structural Funds. Cities outside the bounds of priority regions tend to concentrate on participating in action programmes, networking, raising their profile and cultivating their skills for Europe. One example of the work of an administrative unit for European affairs work is provided by the Europabüro (Office for European Affairs) in Cologne (Europabericht der Stadt Köln 2001/2002,, p. 6). The office:

  • actively fosters European and international cooperation,
  • seeks to maintain and extend local self-government rights and the subsidiarity principle stipulated in the EU's multi-level system,
  • obtains and exploits EU funding for city schemes,
  • influences European legislation and funding policy for the benefit of the City of Cologne,
  • networks the City of Cologne, raises its profile as a European metropolis and improves the city's marketability in Europe and around the world,
  • contributes to transforming the EU into an alliance of its citizens.

The City of Stuttgart has its own equally sweeping approach, the Stuttgart Three Column Model. The first column entails establishing, maintaining and developing a network of EU information points in the city. The network is designed to obtain information and make it readily available (cf. Schuster 2003). The second column bolsters the European competence of the "Stuttgart Corporation" and prioritizes further training for city employees, public officers and elected officials. The third and final column carves out Stuttgart's position among Europe's competing metropolises by selectively presenting the city's projects, cooperating in European networks and attracting European events (cf. ibid.).

A look at the work done in offices for European affairs in a number of German cities provides a good overview of the broad spectrum of their activities. For instance Cologne's 2001/2002 Europabericht (European Report) shows that from 1992 to 2002 the European office coordinated, ran and successfully completed 16 projects with a total volume of more than 100 million euros in direct EU funding through its specialist departments. Over 35 European cities and 100 businesses and research institutions were involved in these projects. (Europabericht der Stadt Köln 2001/2002,, p. 8).

European offices also coordinate their municipalities' networking activities.(5) The City of Munich illustrates just how spirited this activity is with membership in ten European and international associations. Participation ranges from city associations like Eurocities and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) to expert networks such as POLIS (Promoting Operational Links with Integrated Services),(6) Energie Cité, the Verband kommunaler Unternehmen (association of municipal businesses) and the European Centre of Enterprises with Public Participation and of Enterprises of General Economic Interest (CEEP) (cf. Landeshauptstadt München, Referat für Arbeit und Wirtschaft 2003, p. 20 ff.). Engagement in the German Association of Cities European initiatives rounds off the list. Cologne too has demonstrated its commitment to European networks. Apart from involvement in the foremost national association (German Association of Cities), Cologne works intensively with Eurocities, CEMR and the specialist networks Telecities, POLIS and Global Cities Dialogue.(7) 


4. Cities' "collective" strategy

Formulating a strategy for cities within the EU's institutional makeup

a) Valid EU treaties
For a long time the institutional framework of the European Communities left little leeway for cities to strategically enter the European stage. The Maastricht Treaty, which entered into force on 1 November 1993, established the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and took the first steps towards correcting the "blindness to municipalities" in the Treaties of Rome. In Germany, however, the CoR is widely considered a regional rather than a local institution. This is evidenced by the distribution of Germany's 24 seats on the committee - the Länder occupy 21 seats, municipalities only three.(8) At the same time the CoR provides an institutional framework for local authorities to influence European policy, so German cities use it as a component in their political strategy in Europe. Beyond this the Treaties constituting the Treaty of Nice, which entered into force on 1 February 2003, do not foresee any measures pertinent to municipalities. In its concentration on the relationship between the Communities and the member states, the subsidiarity principle in Article 5, Paragraph 3 of the Treaty Establishing the European Community does not provide a tenable point of reference which municipalities could cite to justify a claim for greater influence.

b) Looking ahead: Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe
The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe, signed by Europe's heads of state and government at the summit in Brussels on 20 October 2004, broadens the institutional framework for municipalities considerably (cf. Leitermann 2004, p. 139 ff.). Including local self-administration in the fundamental principle establishing national identity, which stipulates that the EU must respect the national identity of its member states and extends the scope of the subsidiarity principle to regional and local levels, could benefit municipalities immensely. The same goes for the more tangible role foreseen for the CoR. The Constitutional Treaty also obliges the organs of the EU to maintain an open, transparent and frequent dialogue with representative associations and civil society. This gives municipal associations a right to be consulted which even the German constitution does not explicitly grant.(9) Although the Constitutional Treaty still requires ratification by all 25 member states and this process is shrouded in uncertainties, recognizing the institutional function of municipalities as foreseen in the draft could in itself increase the clout of cities and towns in future. A collective strategy must aim to exploit these new possibilities in a pointed and appropriate manner beneficial to municipalities (Leitermann 2004, p. 142).

The cornerstones of German cities' European policy strategy
German cities' European policy strategy has three facets. The first is the German Association of Cities' European Office in Brussels, which addresses European issues and is located at the headquarters of Europe's most important institutions. The second is the Europe-related work of the German Association of Cities' specialist departments at its main offices. The third involves building common networks to coordinate activities with European partners.

a) The German Association of Cities' European Office and the Consortium of Municipal Associations

General information
The three associations which form the Consortium of Municipal Associations (the German Association of Cities, the German County Association and the German Association of Towns and Municipalities) had run a joint contact office in Brussels since 1991. The continuing integration process made it clear that more personnel and increased expertise on European issues were necessary in the Capital. In addition, all three associations had a growing desire to be more responsive to their members' concerns and to deliver more specific information and services relevant to their association. Yet the necessity of German towns and cities to speak "with one voice" in Brussels was never in doubt. This tension between the need to create a united front and the wish to provide association-specific services was resolved by transforming the common office into an office community. This joint bureau for European interest groups, called the "Eurocommunalle"(10), still exists today. Under this umbrella the associations formed independent, cooperative units with the capacity to act separately in the interests of their own members.

A "collective board of directors for Europe" comprising the three member associations' presidents, their chief executive officers and the president of CEMR (German Section) governs the Consortium's European policy. A different chairman presides over the board every year. Particularly the establishment of an independent body to formulate a municipal position on European policy ensures that municipal interests are represented consistently in Brussels.

Founding the office community significantly enhanced the consortium's staff presence. Three experts represent the German Association of Cities in Brussels. The Brussels office is the lynchpin that secures German cities' position on European policy.

As a "cross-sectional administrative bureau" the European Office supplies the Association of Cities' specialist departments with information on EU topics, offers advice and lobbies for the German Association of Cities in Brussels. Accordingly, the European Office sees itself as an internal "service provider" within the German Association of Cities.

It also processes the mass of often unstructured information from Brussels, allowing in-house experts to analyse it efficiently. The information must be furnished, verified and supplemented. This requires a contact and cooperation network involving the European Office. The advisory services also evaluate the information from a Brussels perspective: What kind of prospects does an initiative have? Who are the contacts in the EU institutions? What stance do other affected parties take? What coalitions can be formed in Brussels to effectively advance member interests?

What the European Office does: A case study
This section will describe how German cities adopt a position with the help of the German Association of Cities Brussels office by considering an actual European Commission initiative. The EU legislative process can be roughly broken down into two phases: the preparatory phase and the formal legislative procedure as stipulated in the Treaties. It is essential that German municipal associations introduce informed arguments into the discussion at the preparatory phase of legislation. This is designed to thwart any attempts by the Commission to introduce new positions which oppose municipal interests at the formal procedure stage. A concrete example of the work of municipal interest groups is an initiative supporting the acquisition of environmentally-friendly vehicles. The Commission's Legislative and Work Programme for 2003 included the following passage (11):

"Communication on the need of public authorities to foster demand for energy-efficient and clean vehicles, including those which implement the latest technologies (e.g. hydrogen fuel cells), in order to give manufacturers adequate confidence to introduce new products. A commitment on the part of public offices to ensure that government bodies purchasing environmentally-friendly vehicles receive exhaustive briefing and support services. A commitment on the part of public offices to formulate purchasing strategies both centrally and locally to guarantee that quoted offers for vehicles and fuel can be duly assessed and that local government gets the best possible deal both economically and ecologically, and not just the lowest price."

How deeply this simple statement from the Commission's work programme affects municipalities is evident. Even if this is not one of the hotly debated and weighty political issues frequently mentioned in connection with EU schemes for local authorities, it is an example of how European legislation can have a multitude of ramifications for local government operations. Regardless of the form, committing local government to prioritize a specific type of vehicle when purchasing would have imposed a standard which, regardless of its political value, restricted the freedom of local government to act.

To discuss the Commission's plans more extensively, a representative of the Directorate-General Energy and Transport was invited to a Council of European Municipalities and Regions working group to present the Commission's plan. This meeting with municipal representatives led the Commission to ask them for opinions, comments, criticism and ideas. In July 2003 European Office employees took part in a stakeholders' meeting at the Directorate-General Energy and Transport. These talks helped clarify the goals of the Directorate-General and the groups affected by the scheme. As well as local authorities, representatives of the automobile industry, transport companies and employees from other Commission departments were present. In autumn 2003 the Directorate-General Energy and Transport began evaluating the project's feasibility. Meanwhile, the German Association of Cities' European Office, in close cooperation with the association's relevant specialist departments, strategically analysed the situation and identified the interests of the stakeholders. A complex picture emerged. The Directorate-General Energy and Transport endorsed a directive implementing the goals it had set itself. The Directorate-General Internal Market and Services was sceptical about the draft, expressing concerns that it might create supplementary public procurement law. The Directorate-General Internal Market and Services also noted that amendments to public procurement law were already in the works and that any misappropriation should be categorically rejected. The automobile industry sought to increase the market volume of vehicles using alternative energy but did not consider that a Commission legislative proposal was the proper means to achieve this. On the one hand local government attached considerable importance to retaining a free hand in procurement and environmental policy. On the other hand its interest in energy-efficient, eco-friendly vehicles became clear. This notion was fed by hopes to cut expenditure and by the ecological benefits to urban environments.

Taking this conflict of interests into account, the German Association of Cities drew up its own position, setting goals for further negotiations with the General-Directorate Energy and Transport. With the assistance of the European Office this position was brought into line with the interests of the two other leading municipal associations within the Consortium of Municipal Associations. They looked for other potential "allies" who might join them in a concerted attempt to influence the procedure.

The manoeuvring of the municipal associations was one factor in the European Commission's abandonment of the project in 2004.

b) The national organization of work on European issues

Formulating a position for German cities on European issues has become a bread and butter task for the German Association of Cities' specialist departments. Just as these departments monitor national policies and legislation, they also continuously examine the agenda of Europe's institutions with the aid of the European Office in Brussels. This is why work done to establish positions on European policy has been fully integrated into the departments' specialized work. Nonetheless, this work must also be perceived as an interdepartmental task. To this end the main office maintains its own European department which reports directly to the executive director and whose director presides over the European Office in Brussels. This ensures close interaction between Germany and the Brussels office on European issues. The German Association of Cities' European department also heads the office of the German section of the CEMR. Under the auspices of the European department, a study group on European politics involving all specialist departments at the main office was established. This study group deliberates regularly on European initiatives and possible responses to them. The Brussels office also monitors interdepartmental issues, e.g. questions on the Convention on the Future of Europe or EU enlargement.

Federal work on European issues is fused with the German Association of Cities' expert committees. Much of the deliberation on European politics takes place in the Economics and European Internal Market and Services Committee. The Law and Constitution Committee also often focuses on European issues, particularly constitutional and basic legal questions on European integration. The other expert committees convene regularly to discuss European policy topics in their fields.

c) City networks for work on European issues

The German Association of Cities and the cities it represents are firmly integrated in a number of networks which champion municipal interests at the European level. As well as belonging to the German section of the CEMR, the German Association of Cities is a direct member of the European CEMR. Beyond this the Association has a voice in the CEEP, Europe's umbrella association for public companies and employers. A group of the association's member cities are engaged in the European city association Eurocities.(12) The German Association of Cities in its turn offers German Eurocities members a common platform. This platform, entitled "German Eurocities Dialogue", serves to coordinate association activities with those of the German members of Eurocities in the context of the Eurocities Association. The German Eurocities Dialogue ensures a constant flow of information among German Eurocities members.

Most importantly the German Association of Cities is involved in the European Local Authorities Network (ELAN). This network is an informal working group comprising the federal municipal associations and the CEMR which convenes in Brussels every fortnight. The complexity of the various structures in Brussels makes it essential to act in interest group alliances to gain recognition and succeed. The ELAN network functions as an information exchange forum and develops and coordinates common activities and strategies.

Beyond institutional networking, European Office employees and the specialist departments at the German Association of Cities main office are engaged in a number of working groups and committees at the European level. City representatives take part in the EU Commission's working groups on waste management and on environment protection in public transport. They also work on CEMR expert committees and the relevant CEEP committees. The association bureaux collaborate with representatives of the Länder in Brussels in a working group on public services.


5. Closing remarks

As the juggernaut of European integration moves forward cities must develop more in-depth responses to the European model. This applies to the response of individual cities as much as to European municipalities' collective reaction as a powerful alliance of interests. A priority for individual cities is adapting their services to the European legal framework without sacrificing their freedom to formulate their own policies. With regard to the concerted efforts on the part of municipalities, more effort should be made to reduce the "dissonance" among local authorities in Europe, manifested in the cornucopia of existing networks and associations.



(1) Cf. on this Keller in Articus/Schneider, Gemeindeordnung NRW, note 4 preceding §§ 1-3. (back)

(2) Directive 2004/18/EC of 31 March 2004, Official Journal L 134 of 30 April 2004, p. 114-240; Directive 2004/17/EC of 31 March 2004, Official Journal L 134 of 30 April 2004, p. 1-113. (back)

(3) Cf. the decisions of OLG Düsseldorf, VII-Verg 78/03 of 5 May 2005 and OLG Frankfurt, 11 Verg 11 and 12/04 of 7 September 2004. (back)

(4) For a comprehensive overview see: Rat der Gemeinden und Regionen Europas (RGRE), Deutsche Sektion (ed.), Förderprogramme für Städte, Gemeinden und Kreise 2004, Bonn 2004. (back)

(5) See below for information on "collective" networking activities. (back)

(6) POLIS supports operational connections with integrated services. The common goal of this network of European cities, regions and regional organizations is to solve urban traffic and environmental problems by introducing an advanced traffic telematics system. (back)

(7) Global Cities Dialogue, founded in 1999 in Helsinki, functions as a globally operating city network which strives to achieve a socially just and sustainable information society. The association funnels the majority of its resources into information technologies software for cities and local government and encourages civic participation by finding practical uses for these technologies. (back)

(8) Paragraph 14 of the Gesetz über die Zusammenarbeit vom Bund und Ländern in Angelegenheiten der Europäischen Union - EuZBLG (law on the cooperation of the federal government and Länder on European issues) of 12 March 1993, BGBl. 1993 I, p. 313. (back)

(9) At the federal level the right for leading municipal associations to be heard is designated only in the rules of procedure, e.g. in Paragraph 69 GeschO Bundestag (Procedural Rules of the German Parliament) and Paragraph 47 Gemeinsame Geschäftsordnung der Bundesministerien (Collective Procedural Rules of the German Federal Ministries). (back)

(10) An acronym formed of the words Europe, commune and allemand (German). (back)

(11) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of the Commission's Legislative and Work Programme for 2003. (back)

(12) Current German members of Eurocities are Berlin, Bonn, Chemnitz, Cologne, Dortmund, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt am Main, Leipzig, Munich, Münster and Nuremberg. (back)



 Articus, Stephan/Schneider, Bernd Jürgen (2004), Gemeindeordnung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Stuttgart. (back)

 Stadt Köln (2002), Europabericht der Stadt Köln 2001/2002, (back)

 Kreher, Alexander (2001), Internationale Arbeit als zentrale Aufgabe, in: Europa Kommunal, Heft 1 (2001), S. 15 f. (back)

 Landeshauptstadt Hannover (2002), Europabericht 2001/2002, Hannover. (back)

 Landeshauptstadt München, Referat für Arbeit und Wirtschaft (2003), Europabericht 2003, München. (back)

 Leitermann, Walter (2004), Mehr Rechte und Mitwirkung in Europa, in: kommunal Q4 (2004), S. 139 ff. (back)

 Nazarek, Jürgen (2001), Kommunale Selbstverwaltung und Europäische Integration: gemeindliche Betroffenheiten und Absicherung der kommunalen Selbstverwaltung durch institutionalisierte Vertretung kommunaler Interessen, Leipzig. (back)

 Schäfer, Thomas (1998), Die deutsche kommunale Selbstverwaltung in der Europäischen Union, Stuttgart. (back)

 Schuster, Wolfgang (2003), Stuttgart als Partner im Prozess europäischer Politikgestaltung, in: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (Hrsg.), Diskurs Kommunal 2003, Berlin. (back)

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