The international activities of cities are mushrooming all over Europe. Traditional city partnerships are more frequently giving way to policy-oriented cooperation schemes in city networks. A few of these city networks clearly have the goal to lobby upper-level governments. This is most pronounced in the Eurocities network, the lobby organization for large city-regions at the European Union (EU) level. However, the multi-level governance aspects of policy-oriented horizontal city networking are less clear. My paper analyzes international activities of cities in a multi-level governance scheme, with a special focus on the question of how the relationship between cities and the EU is structured by city networking.
The paper argues that the relationship between cities and the EU in this respect is twofold: First, cities use city networks to lobby jointly at the EU for their own benefit (i.e., uploading). The goal hereby is to gain knowledge on upcoming EU regulations concerning urban issues and to prevent the EU from establishing rules that are not in the interest of cities. Second, cities also obtain financial help for their inter-urban cooperation schemes from (i.e., downloading). The EU is increasingly financing city networking to allow the dissemination of best practices in several policy fields and to thereby strengthen the overall competitiveness of the European Economic Area.
The paper concludes that the underlying motive of the EU is to strengthen the economically important city-regions against the national-states. The cooperation between the supranational EU and the sub-national cities thereby brings together the two scales responsible for economic competitiveness in the age of globalization. The role of the EU in urban foreign policy is much bigger than a priori expected. I therefore plead for the incorporation of vertical aspects in the analysis of horizontal urban cooperation schemes.