Ministers from 29 European countries arrive in Bristol today with the common goal of improving quality of life for 450 million citizens across Europe by creating more sustainable communities where people want to live and work.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott is hosting the two-day meeting of EU ministers, with Danuta Hubner, the European commissioner for regional policy, Peter Sedgwick, the vice president of the European Investment Bank, and representatives of the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions.
Ministers will share experience and expertise to help deliver the EU’s goals of full employment, sustainable growth, decent public services and better quality of life across Europe, while aiming to reduce regional economic and social disparities.
Ministers will also discuss ways of delivering Europe-wide regional policy through an integrated and balanced approach to creating more sustainable communities in a rapidly changing global economy.
It is anticipated the first day of the meeting will end with an agreement to provide a framework of key ingredients through which communities of all sizes across Europe can be made more sustainable, and to share good practice examples – to be called the “Bristol Accord”.
Prescott says: “I believe creating sustainable communities is a big idea for a bigger Europe. It is about achieving better places for all European citizens. We all know people across Europe recognise the ingredients of a sustainable community. Europeans have been creating outstandingly successful towns and cities for over 2,000 years. Yet somehow we lost our way.
“During the 20th century, millions of people gave up living in cities. They left for the suburbs – driven out for a variety of reasons including poor education, the fear of crime, and the domination of the motor car. But we have begun to learn from our mistakes.
“Here, in Britain, cities like Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle have created an urban renaissance. People feel a real sense of pride in where they live. We’re taking our city centres back from the motor cars, and giving them back to the pedestrians. We’re attracting people, homes and jobs back into town and city centres, by reusing old industrial assets like warehouses and waterways and by clamping down on out of town retail.
“We are not trying to impose solutions on Europe. Member states need the flexibility to pursue the right regional policies to meet their differing needs. But there should continue to be a shared policy framework for regional policy across the European Union, so that we continue to work towards shared goals, with an appropriate focus on urban areas.
“We need to promote new ideas, new money and new partnerships to create more successful – more sustainable – towns and cities. I hope what we achieve in Bristol over the coming two days will lay a firm foundation of future progress and cooperation between EU states over the coming years.”
Bristol City Council has been working alongside the ODPM to organise the event. Barbara Janke, council leader, says: “We welcome EU ministers, their officials and the international media to our beautiful and historic city. For over 800 years, Bristol has been at the forefront of Britain’s international trade and relationships with the rest of Europe and this conference is an important recognition of the city’s continuing role at the heart of the European Union. ”