An interview with the Mayor of Zaragoza, Spain
Jorge Azcón (Zaragoza, 1973) has a Law Degree and a Master's Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Zaragoza. He has worked as a territorial director of the MRA Group. He entered politics and the Zaragoza City Council as a councillor in 2000. Mr Azcón held various council positions until 2019 when he was elected as mayor of the city. He is a member of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) since 2020.
Mr Mayor, how would you describe Zaragoza in your own words?
Zaragoza is the fifth-largest city in Spain in terms of population, with about 700,000 inhabitants. It stands out for its economic fabric, services sector, logistics, agri-food and automobile production. Zaragoza is the capital of the autonomous region of Aragon, (which is vast and sparsely populated), and it is home to more than half of the Aragonese population.
The city stands out in the educational field for its University, whose Faculties of Law and Medicine are especially valued, as well as for the generation of different scientific research centres. Above all, we are hard-working, enterprising people with a great desire to improve as a city and as a society.
What was the effect of Covid on the local economy?
Devastating. Similar to how it has been in all of Spain, with a brutal impact on the services sector, in the hotel business, restaurants, transport, tourism, culture and leisure. We are facing the largest global health crisis in the last century and the repercussions are enormous and serious, not least due to rising unemployment and uncertainty.
It seems that maintaining economic vitality and employment were the main concerns during the past year for your administration. What are the latest initiatives in this regard?
In Zaragoza we have done everything possible to maintain the maximum economic activity, always following the anti-Covid regulations prescribed by the health authorities. Our obsession has been to keep the largest number of businesses afloat so that the impact on unemployment would be less prominent. With this objective in mind, we launched a line of ten million euros in zero-interest microcredits that have been very well received.
In addition, we have proposed tax cuts, worth ten million euros, and we have developed an initiative to promote consumption in local businesses, subsidizing a percentage of the purchases, with the financing of more than four million euros. On the other hand, we are working to attract foreign investment and we have managed to finish the installation of a large hospital belonging to Quirón Group, as well as a Becton Dickinson factory.
The Zaragoza tram was awarded the ‘Best Customer Initiative’ at the Global Light Rail Awards in 2020 for its first actions to ensure passenger safety. Can you tell us more about that award or other initiatives that have eased the difficult situation of citizens?
Protecting the passengers of public transport as much as possible has been one of our great priorities since the beginning of the pandemic and receiving this award was very satisfactory for recognizing that work. Zaragoza was the first city in Spain that, in the face of the pandemic, ordered the special and daily disinfection of trams and buses.
We were also the first to install hydroalcoholic gels in the units and to install air quality measurement devices. Despite everything, public transport has suffered a huge decline in users and now it is time to do everything possible to regain their confidence so that they can use it again.
The European Commission also recently gave its stamp of approval to the new public procurement services of the City Council. How does that affect the governance of the city and the trust of citizens?
Good data governance translates into having knowledge of public administrations and cities. It, therefore, facilitates decision-making, the development of participatory processes and quality services to empower citizens so that they can exercise their individual rights.
Participation in this European project has served to reinforce the public data management strategy by improving the quality of existing data, increasing transparency, generating new visualization services on economic information and making this information more understandable.
There is also ongoing testing of an ecosystem of artificial intelligence tools that have made it easier for an organization to generate specifications and improve its hiring processes.
How does your administration plan to utilise European funds from the Recovery Plan?
We have developed an intense work, since last February, with a portfolio of 40 strategic projects that will be presented to the different calls for European funds. These projects together add up to 2 billion euros and focus on aiding economic sectors hit by Covid, as well as funding energy efficiency, sustainable mobility, renewable energy, digitization and environmental improvements.
However, in Spain, we have a problem; and that is that the national government has decided to allow municipalities to only manage 4.2% of the European funds they receive, which is clearly insufficient. In fact, from the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) we have unanimously demanded that this participation be raised to at least 14.16%, but so far that request has not been answered.
What is your vision for the future of Zaragoza?
My hope is that Zaragoza stays a city open to investment and attractive to talents in order to continue enhancing its good quality of life. May we be a city that puts a red carpet out for entrepreneurs and companies that want to come and work with us.
Our vision aims to place Zaragoza in the group of leading cities that are at the forefront of the three revolutions that will shape the future of the world and that are interconnected: the environmental and energy revolution, the revolution of new mobility and the technological revolution. It is essential that cities join these three revolutions with determination both to offer their residents the best public services and to contribute to the sustainability of the planet.
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