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Xavier Troussard: The New European Bauhaus will require strong cooperation from all levels of government

Xavier Troussard: The New European Bauhaus will require strong cooperation from all levels of government

An in-depth interview with the Head of the New European Bauhaus Unit at the European Commission

Since December 2020, Xavier Troussard has been leading the New European Bauhaus Unit created at the Joint Research Centre. He joined the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in 2014 to create and lead the development of the EU Policy Lab at the crossroads of anticipation disciplines (horizon scanning, foresight), behavioural sciences and design.

Before that, Mr Troussard worked at the DG for Information, Communication, Culture and Audiovisual where he contributed to the establishment and development of the EU audiovisual policy before representing the European Commission and leading the EU coordination in the negotiation of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions.

Xavier Troussard graduated in Law and General Administration from the University of Rennes (France) and from the College of Europe in European Studies (Bruges, Belgium).

Mr Troussard, what are the main lessons, in your view, from the first phase of the NEB?

The first phase of the NEB brought to light the experiences, ideas and visions of thousands of people from all over the world on what makes our living spaces and lifestyles beautiful, sustainable and inclusive. A vibrant community of partners has spread the conversation from the local level to the international level, crossing perspectives between sectors and contexts.

Listening to all these voices, it becomes evident that people care and want to be engaged in debating these issues and shaping their future together, through inclusive and sustainable practices and to re-discover what beauty means to them in their everyday lives.

This so-called “co-design phase” has also emphasized the importance of building networks and communities to develop and sustain a New European Bauhaus movement to empower individuals and communities to lead the transformation in their local context.

As explained in its Communication adopted on 15 September, this co-design phase has also allowed the Commission to identify the fundamental axes which will guide the further development of the initiative: reconnecting with nature, regaining the sense of belonging, prioritising the places and people that need it the most and adopting a long term and full life-cycle thinking.

It also inspired the key principles that will structure the ways of working on its implementation: a multi-level, participatory and cross-sector approach which is also reflected in the decision to establish a NEB Lab to support the delivery phase.

The numbers show there is a growing expert interest in the initiative. Still, can NEB further emphasize its 'social inclusivity' principle and potentially attract more attention from the wider civil society?

Beyond the necessary involvement of public authorities, industries and businesses in the New European Bauhaus initiative, engaging civil society is and will continue to be paramount for the project.  The initiative aims at having an impact on the ground, in living spaces and in the industrial ecosystem. It also wants to question perspectives and mindsets. This is only possible if citizens and civil society stakeholders are on board.

The NEB Lab that will be set up will play a role in engaging the community in testing and experimenting with new solutions and policy actions that will have a concrete impact on the ground. Among the actions planned, the Commission will also aim at supporting small-scale initiatives initiated by individuals and communities at the local level.

The Prizes and the New European Bauhaus Festival that we will pilot next year will be other ways to raise awareness and trigger interest in the movement.

Ultimately, it will be for each individual local transformation project to reach out to all citizens, including the most vulnerable groups, to secure a meaningful co-design and a widely shared ownership.

What was your main takeaway from the New European Bauhaus Prizes?

The NEB Prizes is a clear illustration of how the New European Bauhaus’ triangle of values can be translated in a variety of contexts. We are building on a fertile ground of inspiring achievements and new innovative ideas and concepts!

A notable takeaway from this first edition of the prizes is how creativity and connecting people and different disciplines can create new products and meanings that benefit both the community and the planet. By making these ideas and projects visible, they inspire others, for example, to re-discover the natural materials, local knowledge, crafts and creativity in their own community and bridge those with innovative ideas related to sustainability, social inclusion and aesthetics.   

The Delivery phase is slated as the next step of the NEB. Can you give us a preview of the main requirements to be included in the calls for the pilots?

The Commission has put together a full package of calls for proposals, harnessing the complementarity between various EU programmes. It will also invite Member States to reflect their commitment to support and mainstream the New European Bauhaus in the implementation of cohesion policy 2021-2027 and to mobilise the relevant parts of their recovery and resilience plans (e.g. on renovation or infrastructures) on New European Bauhaus transformative projects.

Among the call from EU programmes, 25 million euros have been earmarked for a first selection of “lighthouse demonstrators’’ – the so-called “pilots”. These projects will have to demonstrate an exemplary implementation of the core values of the New European Bauhaus (sustainability, inclusion, aesthetics), and enable meaningful transformation processes in their contexts in the long term. They will have a strong participatory and multidisciplinary dimension and respond to clearly identified challenges.

Other calls will focus on more specific dimensions like, for example, a call on social, affordable and sustainable housing district demonstrators.

Since the start of 2021, has anything changed in the way the Commission initially planned to unfold the initiative? Have you encountered unexpected hurdles or positive detours?

From the start, the New European Bauhaus has been designed in an innovative way. The co-design phase took off in January with an open invitation to engage with three core values without a proposal or a consultation questionnaire. It worked and the direct participation of citizens and of very small organisations across Europe has been impressive.

This proved an effective way to connect to the matters of care and concerns of people. Receiving more than 2000 applications – coming from all Member States - for the first edition of the New European Bauhaus Prizes was also certainly a very positive surprise, exceeded our expectations.

The commitment and dynamism of the High Level Round Table members and of the community of partners – now already 270 organisations – have also been very impressive. They created the conversation and we are confident we can work very effectively with them to expand the community – including beyond Europe - and work on concrete outputs, including through the NEB Lab.

Since January, this has been altogether a challenging but highly rewarding journey and we hope to find the same energy and enthusiasm in the delivery phase of the project.

The NEB has been prominently included at the upcoming European Cultural Heritage Summit in Venice. Do you expect this to spark a new approach to the future development of the initiative? Could the creation of heritage-worthy urban spaces become a new pillar of the NEB?

The cultural component is a central element of the New European Bauhaus. As echoed by many voices during the co-design phase, the cultural, architectural and landscape heritage elements ingrained in the spirit of a place are key factors underpinning the “sense of the place” and the associated sense of belonging shared by the members of a community.

Culture and cultural heritage can also strongly contribute to social cohesion around creative networks, new forms of innovation and business models, experiences improving the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals and communities, and reaching out to those who are socially and economically excluded.

Re-discovering, re-interpreting and protecting heritage during processes of local transformation, innovating to improve the sustainability and the accessibility of heritage, are key dimensions for the New European Bauhaus. The challenge is to build on the rich diversity of our heritage assets to create future-proof sustainable solutions, adapted to new climate, economic and demographic conditions.

How can the New European Bauhaus contribute to speeding up the cohesion between the different regions of the European Union?

By focusing on places and people that need it the most, the New European Bauhaus will certainly bring its contribution to the cohesion both within regions – e.g. furthering connections between rural and urban areas – and between regions.

The inclusive, participatory and transdisciplinary approach promoted by the initiative can also trigger positive developments. For example, conversations carried out during the co-design phase between different stakeholders from coal regions in transitions have highlighted the fact that transition policies often overlook the dimension of community-building, cultural and architectural heritage and purpose. That would benefit from re-centring around the community’s needs and vision for the transformation of their surroundings.

For the success of the implementation of the initiative on the ground and to speed up cohesion between regions, the cooperation of national as well as regional and local authorities will be crucial. From the promotion of participatory co-design processes to the ability to support the financing of local transformation projects, the New European Bauhaus will require strong cooperation from all levels of government. The mobilization of the instruments of the Cohesion Policy will be complemented by the networking of the relevant stakeholders for mutual learning and support.

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