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Knowledge Centre for Territorial Policies (ARCHIVED)

Until this Knowledge Service was archived in July 2024, it supported EU policymaking through better knowledge management on territorial (urban and regional) related issues.

Topic / Tool | Last updated: 25 Mar 2024


Help cities to grow sustainably through sharing of knowledge, funding, and other urban policies and initiatives.

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Urban Policy

The Commission is working together with cities to ensure a good quality of life, helping them to grow sustainably through sharing of knowledge, funding, and other urban policies and initiatives. To this extent, among the others, the European Commission has created a one-stop-shop for cities.

The 2014-2020 period has put the urban dimension at the very heart of Cohesion Policy. At least 50% of the ERDF resources for this period will be invested in urban areas. This could increase even further, later in the period. Around 10 billion euros from the ERDF will be directly allocated to integrated strategies for sustainable urban development. And about 750 cities will be empowered to implement these integrated strategies for sustainable urban development.

Urban Agenda for the EU


Urban agenda

the Pact of Amsterdam agreed upon by the EU Ministers Responsible for Urban Matters on 30 May 2016 established the Urban Agenda for the EU. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, the Urban Agenda focuses on the three pillars of EU policy making and implementation: Better regulation, Better funding and Better knowledge.



The urban agenda for the EU brings together the Commission, national ministries, city governments and other stakeholders to promote better laws, easier access to funding and more knowledge sharing on issues relevant for cities. 

The urban agenda's priority themes for cities are:


12 priority

Presentation of the Urban Agenda for the EU 


On 20 October 2016, In the context of the U.N. Habitat III conference, the European Commission has presented three commitments to
reach global targets in sustainable urban development.  The first of these commitments consist in making the Urban Agenda for the EU a key delivery instrument for the New Urban Agenda within the EU.

Additionally, in its communication of 22 November 2016, the European Commission has confirmed its commitment to actively support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015)  and the Sustainable Development Goals. Cities and local authorities have a particular role in the 2030 Agenda implementation with a specific dedicated goal (SDG 11 - "Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable") as well as the other urban related targets through the 2030 Agenda.

Eurostat releases an annual EU SDG monitoring report which is based on the EU SDG indicator set.

The new Urban Agenda

The New Urban Agenda, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 23 December 2016, is a cornerstone in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other milestone reform agendas such as the Paris Agreement. It sets a new global standard for sustainable urban development, and helps rethinking how to plan, manage and live in cities. The New Urban Agenda is a roadmap for building cities that can serve as engines of prosperity and centres of cultural and social well-being while protecting the environment.


The New Urban Agenda incorporates a new recognition of the correlation between good urbanisation and development. It underlines the linkages between good urbanisation and job creation, livelihood
opportunities, and improved quality of life, which should be included in every urban renewal policy and strategy. This further highlights the connection between the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development, especially Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities.
The New Urban Agenda presents a paradigm shift based on the science of cities; it lays out standards and principles for the planning, construction, development, management, and improvement of urban areas along its five main pillars of implementation:

  • national urban policies
  • urban legislation and regulations
  • urban planning and design
  • local economy and municipal finance
  • local implementation 

A report to support the Urban Agenda for the EU and the new global Urban Agenda was jointly produced by the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission and UN-Habitat. The following video presents its main findings.

Developing a global, harmonised definition of cities

The second commitment to reach global targets in sustainable urban development, taken by the European Commission on 20th October 2016, consists in the development of a global, harmonised definition of cities. In partnership with the OECD and the World Bank, the EU will develop such a definition, relying on the EU-OECD definition of cities, based on population size and density and the EU degree of urbanisation. A proposal for a global definition of cities will eventually be submitted to the United Nations.



Urban funding

In the 2014-2020 programming period, the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) support 11 investment priorities, also known as thematic objectives:

  1. Strengthening research, technological development and innovation
  2. Enhancing access to, and use and quality of information and communication technologies (ICT)
  3. Enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  4. Supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors
  5. Promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and management
  6. Preserving and protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency
  7. Promoting sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in key network infrastructures
  8. Promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility
  9. Promoting social inclusion, combating poverty and any discrimination
  10. Investing in education, training and vocational training for skills and lifelong learning
  11. Enhancing institutional capacity of public authorities and stakeholders and efficient public administration

The first four of these thematic objectives constitute key priorities for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and a significant part of the investments focus on these areas (between 50% and 80%, depending on the region’s level of development). The ERDF also gives particular attention to specific territorial characteristics. ERDF action is designed to reduce economic, environmental and social problems in urban areas, with a special focus on sustainable urban development. At least 5 % of the ERDF resources are set aside for this field, through 'integrated actions' managed by cities.

A tool (STRAT-Board) providing continuously updated state of play on how ESIF supports the integrated approach to urban and territorial development has been jointly developed by the JRC and DG REGIO.


(©Mapbox, OSM)

STRAT-Board is an interactive mapping tool that provides a visual overview of Sustainable Urban Development (SUD)  and Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI)  strategies currently implemented across Europe.

Other sources of EU funding providing support to cities:

European Fund for Strategic Investments

Horizon 2020


Urban Innovative Actions

European Investment Project Portal (EIPP)

European Investment Advisory Hub

Europe 2020

Europe 2020 is the European Union’s growth and jobs strategy for the current decade to create the conditions for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The strategy envisages measures to overcome the economic crisis and move beyond it by addressing the structural weaknesses in the European economic model. The final objective is to deliver high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion in the Member States, while reducing the impact on the natural environment. To reach its objective, the EU has adopted five headline targets to be attained by 2020:

  • Employment — increase the employment rate among those aged 20–64 to at least 75%
  • Research and development — increase combined public and private investment in R&D to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP)
  • Climate change and energy sustainability — reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% compared with 1990 levels, increase the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption to 20%, and encourage a 20% increase in energy efficiency
  • Education — reduce the rate of early leavers from education and training to less than 10% and increase the proportion of those aged 30–34 having completed tertiary education to at least 40%
  • Poverty and social exclusion — lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion

To accommodate the heterogeneity among EU countries, the above European-wide objectives were subsequently transformed into a set of national targets for individual countries in order to reflect the situation and possibilities of each Member State to contribute to the common goal.

The EU statistics office, Eurostat, regularly publishes comprehensive progress reports for the targets, an overall visualisation at EU level and a scoreboard by country.

In 2014-15, the Commission performed a mid-term review of Europe 2020. Following the review, the Commission decided to continue the strategy, monitoring and implementing it through a process known as the European Semester.

Europe 2020 Strategy: Territorial dimension

In March 2014, the European Committee of the Regions adopted the Athens Declaration, which made the case for giving the Europe 2020 strategy a territorial dimension and introducing an enhanced monitoring system at the regional and local levels. As a result, the Europe 2020 monitoring platform has been set up to analyse the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy at different territorial levels and facilitate the exchange of information and good practices between local and regional policy makers.

Europe 2020 Index

The Europe 2020 Index is a composite indicator that has been jointly developed by DG REGIO and the JRC to measure regional progress towards meeting the key objectives set forth by Europe 2020 strategy. The index can be applied to measure the distance to both EU and national targets at different levels - national, regional and city level – based on a group of relevant economic, social, and environmental indicators.

For the national level, all five headline targets have been taken into account. Each country receives between 0 and 20 points for each. If a country has reached a headline, it receives 20 points. The countries furthest removed from this get 0 points. The rest receive a score proportional to the distance to the. The index is the sum of these points. If a country has reached all targets it scores 100.

Due to data availability, innovation and climate change and energy sustainability have been omitted at the city level.
As a result, each is worth 33 points at the city level (instead of 20, as at the national level).

The results at the city level with respect to the EU targets are shown below.

Capital regions are almost always among the top performers within countries and frequently outperform the EU aggregate score. In a number of countries, the gap between the performance of the capital and next-best region is wide, for example in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia. As a result, the capital regions of Romania and Bulgaria outperform a number of EU-15 Member States such as Spain, Greece and Italy.

Related links:

The Europe 2020 Regional Inde (JRC Science and Policy Reports - European Commission, Joint Research Centre)
The Europe 2020 Index: The progress of EU countries, regions and cities to the 2020 targets (Regional Focus reports - European Commission, Regional and Urban Policy)
Smarter, greener, more inclusive? - Indicators to support the Europe 2020 Strategy (2018 edition - EUROSTAT statistical books)

Territorial Impact Assessment

Territorial Impact Assessment is generically referred to as the procedure (or method) to evaluate the likely impact of policies, programmes and projects on the territory, highlighting the importance of the geographic distribution of consequences and effects and considering the spatial developments in Europe.

Living conditions as well as industrial structures, infrastructure endowment and geographical conditions vary substantially across the EU. EU's cohesion and regional policies are designed to mitigate these differences and ensure that poorer regions have means to address regional challenges. In spite of good progress in convergence across Europe on many parameters, there is still significant dispersion within the EU. Still many policy measures address specific territorial areas or have specific consequences concentrated in certain territories. For example, the reduction of poverty and social exclusion is a common Europe 2020 objective, but the extent of the problem varies a lot across countries and regions.

A spatially uneven problem can lead to an uneven geographical distribution of costs and benefits and a policy measure may produce uneven territorial impacts even where a problem is not necessarily unevenly distributed.

Territorial Impact Assessment contribute to the better understanding of spatial impacts of policies and support the decisional process towards the selection of the best options for European territories (regions, macro-regions, cities and specific geographical areas)


The KCTP provides access to a wide suite of tools, models and data in support to Territorial Impact Assessment of EU Policies.

The procedure for a Territorial Impact Assessment can be summarised in the following main steps:

Quantification of the issue at stake
Definition of the "Territorial Baseline Scenario"
Evaluation of options and proposals vs. baseline
Involvement of experts and stakeholders

Thematic Domains

Regional disparities and territorial differences need to be dealt with by a holistic and integrated approach to evaluate local specificities and opportunities for innovation and growth.

The KCTP approaches the analysis of selected policy relevant topics by firstly looking at their territorial (regional and urban) dimension and will progressively quantify inter-sectoral relationships to evaluate trade-offs and elaborate possible scenarios of developments.

A selection of themes with a direct territorial dimension includes:

The list is not exhaustive nor is conclusive. It will change and evolve as the KCTP acquires more functionalities and following stakeholders' requirements.

Urban Classification

Definition of "City"

The current definition of "city", developed in 2011 by the European Commission and OECD and applicable to EU and OECD countries, is based on population size and density.

This definition works in four basic steps and is based on the presence of an ‘urban centre’, i.e. a spatial concept based on high-density population grid cells:

  1. All grid cells with a density of more than 1.500 inhabitants per km2 are selected
  2. All contiguous high-density cells are clustered and only the clusters with a minimum population of 50.000 inhabitants are kept as an ‘urban centre’
  3. All the municipalities (local administrative units) with at least half of their population inside the urban centre are selected as candidates to become part of the city
  4. The city is defined ensuring that:
    • there is a link to the political level,
    • that at least 50% of the city population lives in an urban centre and
    • that at least 75% of the population of the urban centre lives in a city

In most cases the last step is not necessary as the city normally consists of a single municipality that covers the entire urban centre and the vast majority of the city’s residents live in that urban centre.

According to the above definition, 828 (greater) cities have been identified in the EU, Switzerland, Croatia, Iceland and Norway, and 492 cities in Canada, Mexico, Japan, Korea and the United States.

Functional Urban Areas

Once all cities have been defined, a commuting zone can be identified based upon commuting patterns using the following steps:

  • if 15% of employed persons living in one city work in another city, these cities are treated as a single city;
  • all municipalities with at least 15% of their employed residents working in a city are identified;
  • municipalities surrounded by a single functional area are included and non-contiguous municipalities are dropped.

The functional urban area (FUA) consists of the city and its commuting zone.

Metro Regions

Metro regions are NUTS level 3 approximations of functional urban areas (city and commuting zones) of 250.000 or more inhabitants. Each metro region consists of one or more NUTS level 3 regions and is named after the principal functional urban area inside its boundaries.

The typology distinguishes three types of metro regions:

  • capital metro regions
  • second-tier metro regions
  • smaller metro regions

The capital metro region includes the national capital. Second-tier metro regions are the group of largest cities in a country, excluding the capital.  The regions which do not belong to a metro region are simply called non-metro regions.

The boundaries of a functional urban area do not necessarily coincide with those of NUTS level 3 regions. Therefore, NUTS level 3 regions in which at least 50% of the population lives inside a functional urban area are components of the metro region related to that functional urban area. In some cases, the NUTS level 3 approximation of the functional urban area is very good. In other cases, the metro region may be larger or smaller than the functional urban area. Each functional urban area is represented by at least one NUTS level 3 region, even if that NUTS level 3 region has less than 50% of its population inside the functional urban area.

Community of Practice



The Community of Practice - CITIES (CoP-CITIES) is an initiative of the European Commission, open to external stakeholders (cities and networks of cities, International and Intergovernmental Organisations and research bodies). It builds on and brings together ongoing work and expertise on cities by JRC and REGIO.

Cities are the places where many challenges faced by the EU, such as unemployment, migration, air quality, are experienced first-hand by its citizens. Cities are also places where opportunities can be seized, such as innovation, clean mobility, reduction of inequalities, social inclusion, etc.
The European Commission and EU Member States clearly recognise that the local dimension is crucial to the formulation and implementation of numerous EU policies and where they can impact effectively on citizens' life.
The Urban Agenda for the EU, launched in May 2016 with the Pact of Amsterdam, gives a framework to stimulate growth, liveability and innovation in the cities of Europe and to tackle successfully social challenges. Globally we have the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda which the EU and its Member States have been instrumental in the development thereof. The European Council recognises that the Urban Agenda for the EU is a key delivery mechanism of the global goals within the European Union.
In view of this centrality of the urban dimension, the Knowledge Centre for Territorial Policies offers now a Community of Practice on Cities. It allows addressing specific challenges and features of cities and urban systems (including for instance social polarisation and spatial segregation, housing unaffordability, and demographic trends) promoting the adoption of a 'territorial' point of view, i.e. placing the 'territory' and not the 'theme' at the centre of the analysis. 

The mission of the CoP-CITIES is to tap the potential of an extended pool of expertise to improve information sharing and enhance collaborative work among relevant stakeholders, including with EU citizens. The CoP-CITIES intends therefore to offer a place and open platform for the exchange of knowledge and practice within the Commission, with other European institutions and beyond, adopting an operational and pragmatic approach. In this sense, it complements more formal organisational arrangements, such as internal Commission inter-service groups and established networks working on urban issues. The overall aim of the CoP-CITIES is knowledge management on urban issues in order to support:
a) strengthening European policies related to cities and
b) discussing potential future challenges and opportunities for cities.

The CoP-CITIES complements and further expands the policy reach of the KC-TP on two themes of high relevance for urban development, namely:
- The contribution to the global actions on sustainable urban development, ensuring coherence with relevant EU actions for both internal and external dimensions;
- The investigation and application of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and new Big Data sources that offer an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the urban phenomena but also new solutions to urban challenges.

As the urban environment is an ideal framework for the development of new participatory techniques, the CoP-CITIES aims – in the medium term – to foster the engagement of a wide range of stakeholders, from ‘traditional’ ones to urban communities who might not have a permanent presence or role in the city. In combination with top-down approach to urban policy, co-creation gives citizens, local officials, researchers and the private sector an equal say in the decision-making process. As such, the CoP-CITIES would have the ambition to be instrumental for the localisation of policy principles, beyond traditional and formal consultation processes.