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Burkhard Jung has been the mayor of Leipzig since 2006, Source: City of Leipzig

Burkhard Jung: Democracy and engagement are the life and soul of my city

Burkhard Jung: Democracy and engagement are the life and soul of my city

An interview with the mayor of Leipzig and Eurocities Vice-President

Burkhard Jung has been the mayor of Leipzig since 2006 and the president of the Association of German Cities since 2019. He studied German and Protestant Theology in education at Westphalian Wilhelms University in Munster.

He first moved to Leipzig after the German reunification in 1991 where he became the headmaster of the newly established Evangelical School Centre (Eva Schulze). He joined local administration in 1999 when he became the Alderman for Youth, School and Sport and after 2001, Youth, Social Affairs, Health and Schools.

Mayor Jung, considering you have been in office for the last 15 years, it would be safe to say you are an expert on your city. How would you describe it to our readers? What is the heart and soul of Leipzig?

Leipzig’s DNA is formed by its outstanding history as one of the world oldest places of trade, its University, and its music and books fair. Also - its citizens. For years, they have shown their support for science and culture with donations that have led to the establishment of the art gallery, the Opera house or the famous Gewandhaus orchestra.

It’s not by accident that the Peaceful Revolution in the former GDR (German Democratic Republic) started here with the powerful Monday demonstrations that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. This spirit of democracy and engagement is the living soul of my city.

Leipzig hosted the 2021 Eurocities Conference. What would you say is the significance of this development? How has the city grown through your involvement in the Eurocities community?

Eurocities, with its more than 200 participating municipalities, is a very powerful voice of European cities - if not to say the most powerful in Brussels! Leipzig is an active member of the association since the early 1990s and has taken responsibility from the very beginning.

I am a member of the Executive Committee and last year I was elected as the Eurocities’ Vice President. As a result of our engagement, my city - together with our local politicians, institutions and community associations - became an important factor in European affairs. Leipzig is well recognised on the European level for its activities.

Our European network demonstrated its amazing strength and readiness to act in the current situation of the pandemic. We developed platforms fostering the exchange of experiences, information, common policies and programmes and urgent political statements. This has helped European and national institutions, as well as other networks to find solutions for specific urban challenges.

Our 2021 annual conference in Leipzig reflected this with a strong political message to COP26 in Glasgow: the ambitious goals of the EU and its member states towards the “Green Deal” and the fight against climate change will not be successful without us - the cities!

One of the most pressing issues lately has been climate change coupled with the transition to green energy. What would that transition look like in Leipzig, considering it is located in a coal region?

Transforming the energy and heat sector towards climate-neutral technologies is a major financial and social challenge considering the efforts coming from mainly coal-fired energy production chains in the region of Leipzig. Nevertheless, we are on track to increase our renewable share in the district heating system and use highly efficient coupling of heat and power production with natural gas as a technological bridge to a climate-neutral heat and energy supply.

Despite our ambition to realise a sustainable energy transition by substituting fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, we always have to be aware of the social implications due to rising energy prices and the affordability for all households.

What are some of the biggest hurdles to decarbonising in the short and in the long term?

The long-term objectives of a cross-sectoral energy and transport decarbonisation strategy are particularly relevant for municipalities since this is where they have the most direct impact. Increasing the renewable share of electricity and heat supply is a major lever to raise a city's degree of self-sufficiency and thereby become less dependent on international price developments.

To permanently reduce the CO2 footprint in the mobility sector, we will experience massive changes in the coming years and major investments in the expansion of local public transport and flexible sharing offers. This will, however, heavily affect municipal budgets.

Therefore, targeted financial support programmes and investment incentives from various political levels up to the European Union are enormously important. Only through integrated funding approaches can we succeed in ensuring affordable housing and attractive transport options in growing metropolises that also meet the ambitious requirements of climate-conscious urban development.

One year ago, you claimed that your administration’s biggest achievement was reducing the unemployment rate from 22% to 6%. Could weaning Leipzig off of coal risk undermine that achievement?

Of course, we are directly affected by this necessary structural change due to the loss of workplaces in the coal-based industry and its supporting companies. But we are on track to establish successful high-quality and well-paid jobs, not only for academics.

We are also set to see growth in future-oriented branches of energy and environment, biotechnology, medicine, the automotive industry and the IT sector. One example: the coming European Hydrogen-Trade-Organisation HINT.co will be established in Leipzig.

TheMayor.EU is a platform devoted to sharing local government´s good practices and achievements. What is something you do in Leipzig that could be applied to other cities as well?

One achievement, which already has been applied by other cities, is Leipzig’s “Self-user Programme”. Since the early 2000s, our administration provides support for communities of mostly young families, that create individual and affordable living space in vacant houses or on building lots.

This includes leasing municipal properties for a fixed price and a network of experts – the „Netzwerk Leipziger Freiheit“, which advises the groups in the planning and building process. Another instrument the City of Leipzig uses to oppose the trends on the housing market is social preservation statutes for six neighbourhoods with rapidly increasing rents.

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