A delegation, led by Deputy Lord Mayor Colette Finn, and including the Chairs of the Cork City Council Strategic Planning Committee and the equivalent for Community, Culture & Placemaking, plus members of Senior Management, undertook Cork City Council’s first study visit to Brussels since early 2018 from 6th-8th December 2023.
Over the course of three days, the group met with a range of speakers variously representing regional, national and European interests to learn more about priority areas of identified interest to Cork City. The predominant theme across a busy agenda of 16 engagements was the challenges of climate change for cities, a frontline issue for local authorities throughout the Union, and how to avail of targeted opportunities to help to accelerate local progress towards reaching net zero carbon emissions status over the coming years.
Day one was given over primarily to meeting with Irish officials and representatives. It began with a scene-setting briefing from the Irish Regions European Office (IREO) on current EU policy issues of potential relevance at local level. This was followed by Ireland’s Ambassador to the EU, Aingeal O’Donoghue, a Cork native, who made time to welcome the group and explain the role of the Permanent Representation (Embassy) she heads up. Sessions followed with senior attachés from Government Departments stationed there, on Climate Action and on European Maritime Day 2025 which will be hosted in Cork. The day concluded with meetings in the European Parliament with three of the Ireland South MEPs – Mick Wallace; Sean Kelly and Billy Kelleher – with apologies from Deirdre Clune and Grace O’Sullivan who had prior engagements.
The European Commission Visitors’ Service provided the focus of the second day, hosting a series of sessions in that institution’s Berlaymont and Charlemagne buildings, with officials sourced from across various Directorates-General. These covered all three EU Missions in which Cork City is participating: on Restoring our Oceans and Waters; Climate-Neutral & Smart Cities; and Climate Adaptation. In the afternoon, attention turned to learning about the ‘Renovation Wave’ initiative on buildings retrofitting and energy efficiency and to migrant integration at city level. There was also a courtesy call from Paul Moley of Commissioner Mairead McGuinness’ Cabinet who was otherwise engaged. The day ended with a discussion at the European Investment Bank.
The final day involved meetings seeking to identify how to maximise the value of Cork’s interaction with the Committee of the Regions, represented by senior Irish staff Micheal Collins and Micheál O’Conchúir, and with the ICLEI Europe network for local government sustainability. The visit concluded with a site visit to an innovative hybrid model of community-managed social housing.
As a city seeking to marry its growth targets with sustainability and quality of life concerns, Cork is actively informing these objectives through involvement in a host of EU initiatives. 20 separate projects or designations which have been competed for and won over recent years, mostly during 2023, are now ongoing as activities, with numerous others having ended over the course of the year also. Primarily involving in-depth partnership with other cities over several years to address issues of shared concern in new ways, they are variously providing opportunities for Cork to benchmark their comparative performance; access fresh perspectives and investigate whether novel approaches and best practices can be adapted to our own situation; incorporate specialist insight and tailored expertise into Cork’s thinking; undertake pilot activities and trial new technologies; be part of collective efforts to devise innovative and practical solutions; and actively involve key local stakeholders and communities in the process. In fitting with the theme of the study visit, increasingly, these activities reflect climate-related issues such as influencing positive public behavioral change towards sustainability; electric vehicle infrastructure planning; green and blue infrastructure; energy efficiency in social housing; and engaging businesses in green practices and opportunities.