Mayor Emil Boc in 2021, Source: Municipality of Cluj-Napoca

Emil Boc: Cluj is a city that discovered the power of 'togetherness’

Emil Boc: Cluj is a city that discovered the power of 'togetherness’

Academia, government, business, non-profits and involved citizens are all working to tackle the city’s problems

Emil Boc is the mayor of Cluj-Napoca and President of the Romanian Municipalities Association. A former Prime Minister and president of the Democratic Liberal Party, he is the Rapporteur for the Brain Drain in the EU and Achieving the European Education Area by 2025 (Committee of the Regions).

Mayor Boc will attend and speak at European Research and Innovation Days 2021. You can hear him at the plenary session on “Cities and citizens delivering on EU missions”. There, he and high-ranking politicians will be discussing the role of cities and citizens in the ambitious goals of the European Union. The session starts at 10:15 CET on 23 June and you can register here.

Mr Boc, you will be speaking at this year’s Research and Innovation Days. What are some of the key points you will be addressing at this flagship event?

I will speak in the plenary session on “Cities and citizens delivering on EU missions”. Back in March 2020, Cluj volunteered to hold the first-ever citizen engagement event to test the concept and possible design of an EU mission on climate-neutral and smart cities.

The response to a green and smart transformation of the city was very positive because local stakeholders would be driving the process based on local needs. As we approach the launch of EU missions, I look forward to sharing the point of view of cities on what we expect from this new EU mechanism and what we hope to accomplish with its help.

Cluj, for instance, wants to become carbon neutral and the transition is already underway. We are working to re-design the city as a more livable place with walkable areas, green spaces, where everyone has equal access to services.

We also aim to stop all sources of urban pollution, from transport emissions and waste management to construction and noise. This can only be achieved by massive investments – and our city could benefit from mission guidance on how to plan and access funding and financing to make this goal a reality.

This event hopes to bring a lot of professionals from different fields together. What made you decide to take part in it and what do you hope to gain from the experience?

Cluj is a city that discovered the power of 'togetherness’ in the last decade. Now we have a functional ecosystem that includes academia, the local government, the business sector, a strong non-profit sector and very involved citizens.

Whether we face hard and urgent choices or we plan for a long-term mission, we are already at the same table, working together to tackle the city’s issues and testing new ways to solve them.

So I always feel in my element when I attend the R&I Days because there is clear ‘togetherness’ quality to the event. One gets to hear from experts and policymakers from across disciplines and sectors, comparing notes and combining insights from across Europe.

This kind of exposure is very important to me as a mayor because the challenges that I deal with in my city are complex by nature, with multiple and sometimes diverging views and interests at stake.

How can research and innovation be applied to a city’s government? Please tell us about your experience as Mayor of Cluj-Napoca.

Cluj needs ideas, energy and fresh views represented by its universities, their faculty and students. This is why I encourage local universities and research centres to take up their home city as an object of study and testing. I want them to see the city as an extension of their campus, with opportunities for learning and making a difference.

This type of collaboration is especially important now as cities are looking to re-invent and re-shape themselves, in very locally specific ways, in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

I also think that the launch of the European Green Deal has made it more important than ever to include scientific data and evidence when making local decisions and investment.

This is a growing area of interest for Cluj, especially as we want to make the best decisions on local infrastructure that will have to meet the needs of the city and its citizens for decades to come.

Our participation in the City Science Initiative of the EU’s Joint Research Centre, where Cluj leads the working group on sustainable mobility, has taught us useful strategies for closing the science-policy gap at the urban level.

Finally, what can the innovation community of Cluj-Napoca gain from participating in Research and Innovation Days 2021?

The conference is a good opportunity to stay informed on the latest policy initiatives and R&I topics in relation to the green and digital transition.

So, whether you are an energy professional trying to get insight into emerging trends in clean energy, an IT start-up looking to understand the EU approach to digital, or a non-profit wanting to learn more about the New European Bauhaus initiative, you will find something of interest.

But I would also encourage them to get outside their comfort zone and explore some less familiar topics.

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