Executive summary

One year ahead of the European parliamentary elections, Eurocities decided to ‘take the pulse’ of European mayors and uncover the major challenges, priorities and trends that shape urban affairs in 2023. The Eurocities Pulse is a major element of the Eurocities Monitor, which presents all the most interesting data and insights gathered throughout the year by Eurocities’ Brussels-based staff, and via input from our network of more than 6,000 city officials from all over Europe.

This first edition of the Eurocities Pulse survey is based on research conducted among mayors from the 210 member cities of the Eurocities network. Between January and March 2023, the mayors were invited to reply to an online survey. The survey consisted of 24 open-ended and closed questions, available in the annex. For the closed questions, the results are presented at an aggregated level with no further manipulation. For some of the questions, such as top challenges and top priorities for 2023, we used open-ended questions to allow mayors to respond freely without predetermining their response.

To make sense of these responses, we further analysed them, categorised, and ranked them accordingly. The survey was complemented by a focus group of city leaders from our Executive Committee that helped us discuss and validate some of the assumptions and the results. We received 92 responses from mayors of large cities across 28 European countries. The responses thus offer a good representative sample of the political voice of mayors from major European cities on key issues.

Almost 100 mayors across Europe responded to the Eurocities Pulse survey

Almost 100 mayors across Europe responded to the Eurocities Pulse survey

What you will read in these pages is a selection of the main findings of the Eurocities Pulse. With the support of our research partners, we will further analyse our data and combine it with other sources to develop more detailed insights and thematic analyses on urban trends.

Mayors are increasingly at the centre of politics at all levels of governance. It is only with mayors on board, ensuring a proper implementation of policy in our cities, that the twin digital and green transformations can be enacted, and broader societal and international goals achieved.

Among the top challenges shared by mayors via the Eurocities Pulse survey, the energy crisis and climate change feature strongly. Other challenges, such as managing the post Covid-19 economic recovery and the response to Russia’s War in Ukraine reflect challenges faced equally by leaders at national and European levels of governance.

More locally, top challenges mayors reported in 2022 include the state of their public budget, and housing, which has been a perennial and growing issue in cities over recent years.

As well as their top challenges, mayors shared their top priorities. Climate action is by far the top priority for mayors in 2023, with more than half of mayors selecting it as one of their top three responses – more than double any other category.

While the results of the Eurocities Pulse Mayors Survey 2023 show that over 80% of mayors feel that they are contributing to EU policy priorities and processes; more than half of mayors within the EU consider that the EU institutions and policies tend not to take account of the specific needs and potential of cities.

Moreover, a similar number of EU-based mayors have encountered situations where current EU rules and policies prevent them from achieving their goals. For example, mayors report on EU rules for social housing often being too strict for a city to invest effectively.

When it comes to their expectations of being able to fund different priorities and where the greatest gaps exist in their projections for the next five years, mayors clearly highlight that current resources are not enough. Looking at these results in relation to mayors’ needs to finance their priorities, it is clear that EU funding is helping mayors to somewhat cover the huge financial gaps for climate and energy investments. Nevertheless, more investment is still needed. Meanwhile, it is also clear that mayors do not feel that they are receiving comparable EU support for other mayoral priorities where resources will be insufficient to match needs, such as housing and the inclusion of refugees, migrants, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.

Other headwinds clearly effect mayors’ ability to steer a clear course. For example, at city level, over 86% of mayors said the current high level of inflation had affected their ability to make strategic long-term investments. At the same time, the data suggests that mayors are particularly wary of reducing municipal support or postponing planned investments in areas that are crucial for the functioning of the city, such as public health, policing and security, as well as the provision and support to essential public goods.

A guest essay by LSE Cities highlights how important it is to directly engage cities to deliver on cross-border and global challenges. This is a sentiment closely shared by mayors responding to the Eurocities Pulse, a majority of whom would like to focus on working with other cities to promote the transition to climate neutrality, among other challenges and priorities.

The section on voices from cities presents 10 essays compiled by staff from the Eurocities office in Brussels. Each one shares further insights into a key aspect of Eurocities work, picking up on many of the points raised by mayors in the Eurocities Pulse survey. As André Sobczak explains in his introductory essay, over the next year much of the content of this years’ Eurocities Monitor and Eurocities Pulse will form the basis of the messages put forward by cities ahead of the European parliamentary elections.

From climate neutrality to sustainable culture, ‘Voices from the cities’ raises concerns, as well as real solutions offered by cities related to current trends. You will find links to further source material, including videos and articles on the Eurocities website to help expand on each of these points.

In this first edition of the Eurocities Monitor, two special sections are dedicated to current affairs: the Russian war in Ukraine and the energy crisis. Guest essays by Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, and Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, help to set the scene for each section respectively. In her essay, President Metsola outlines the good work of cities across Europe in sending hundreds of power generators to Ukraine this winter via the ‘Generators of Hope’ campaign initiated jointly by the European Parliament and Eurocities.

City-to-city cooperation has taken on new meaning following Russia’s illegal full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Long-established twinnings, cooperation through networks such as Eurocities, and friendships between mayors have provided a basis for cities to demonstrate their ability to be diplomatic actors – all of which is explored in more detail.

Sharing her thoughts, Kadri Simson, European Commissioner for Energy, writes a guest essay that takes the Russian war in Ukraine as a starting point to look at recent actions to accelerate the EU’s clean energy transition, which was decisively aided by stalwart action by local governments.

In their responses to the Eurocities Pulse survey, captured in the final section on the energy crisis, mayors share that their top three challenges when looking at ways to speed up the energy transition in their cities are access to finance, considering how to best make buildings energy efficient, and dealing with a lack of administrative capacity locally.

Whether the more recent or the long-standing challenges and priorities discussed in these pages, all of them are covered by working groups and projects within Eurocities, the network of major European cities.