Interview with Xavier Troussard

Xavier Troussard is the Head of the New European Bauhaus Unit at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission since December 2020. He joined the Joint Research Centre in 2014 to create and lead the development of the EU Policy Lab, a space designed to foster creativity and engagement, and to develop interactions, processes and tools able to bring innovation into European policy-making. The interview was conducted in the beginning of July, only a few weeks after the inaugural New European Bauhaus Festival that saw around 200.000 people participating in events, workshops and cultural activities in Brussels and across Europe.

D&S: We are living in difficult times. Europe is really facing, I think, its biggest challenge in decades since the Second World War. And there is the question of what we have, how we can strive toward the future, how we can challenge the future in order to change into a better world.What is the deal and the goals you want to reach with the New European Bauhaus in this matter, in these circumstances of change?

Xavier Troussard: The project is a way to bring Europeans together to shape their future. The Green Deal provides a target and the framework in terms of regulations. It provides the incentives in terms of support and capacity building to achieve the goal of climate neutrality, shift focus, and push forward the ambition for 2030. The challenge is to bring citizens into the picture. We have the technology, the regulation, and the funding. We have the support of Europe’s citizens to make the Green Deal a transformation that improves our lives by co-creating better spaces and ways of living. To achieve that, we should get out of the traditional silos of society and work together towards a better, common future. The process should be a space where we can have, at the same time, the artist working with the engineer, the architect working with the real estate investor and the social worker working with the local authorities. That’s where we should have all the forces in society working together. That's the other strong dimension of the project, and  bringing Europeans together to save the future.

D&S: It's a big target you're facing.How do you motivate people to change?

Xavier Troussard: You can, on one side, have clear rules. For example, new rules for buildings regarding energy efficiency or smart readiness. You have a way of  influencing the basic conditions of the operation of certain activities. Then you have smart regulatory approaches where you mix incentives. You create a kind of give and take between the legitimate interests of businesses to ensure they have an investment that was paid back with the public interest. You can promote new models of ownership when you have cooperative and private ownership coming together. You can have different types of incentives. More activities, but not for a new regulation level. It's for local and regional authorities to create visions in which they can bring together different interests in a new balance. It can be a win-win situation for citizens and businesses.

D&S: This is maybe what our modest contribution to Re-Building Europe is heading toward. How can we enhance the role of citizens in order to help them co-create their own urban or rural or suburban environments?

Xavier Troussard: I think it's maybe a way of restructuring the design process. We usually tend to have a design process that starts from the top or those in a position of power. I believe you can have community-based innovation and not just community resistance to the project. You have to trust that you can have a real community-based innovation process. And then there’s the question of method. One of the big challenges is that we need to explore and test the method of engaging citizens at different levels in shaping their future environment. You have examples of  European cities that have transformed how they engage with their citizens in managing the city as a whole. We have to learn from their experience. There are a lot of New European Bauhaus methods that could apply to a building, a district, or to the whole urban planning process. The requirements and the processes are not the same. But we must formalize those processes and equip the different actors with the faculty to create this space where this operation can happen. Many actors in the system see it as a burden or as an extra future investment. There isa much better result, where this win-win effect is maximized across different societal actors.

D&S:Nevertheless, there is a lot of competition between the cities and between districts. In terms of this competition, they try to attract talent, companies, and investors.How can cities enhance their prosperity and knowledge-based developments in sharing their knowledge with one another?

Xavier Troussard: I think it’s a question of mindset. We have a trajectory where, a decade ago, certain regions were competing in precisely the same kind of framework. They were using all the same buzzwords in their strategy to attract the same type of entity, businesses, and talent. Now we move to a so-called smart specialization strategy, where you first look at your assets. Therefore, you’re selectively looking at attracting what can help your particular assets to shine. I think this is an essential element: to concentrate more on developing the talent already there and cultivating them so they can grow.

D&S: Do you also get impulses from Asia, from the UK, from America, to learn from other districts and areas in order to copy them?

Xavier Troussard: We started the initiative focusing on Europe to ensure that we have a critical mass of actors onboard, but it's clear that the ambition is to make it a global conversation. It's clear that, other continents are far more advanced in certain fields than we are. If we look at nature-based solutions or use nature-based construction materials in Africa, there’s much more experience than in Europe. So I think we have to create a space where we can learn from each other.

D&S: We have the knowledge, we even have the funding. The Green New Deal is unlocking immense funding opportunities. We have an exchange.What is this secret ingredient we’re missing in order to create the Europe that we want?

Xavier Troussard: I think what we need is a ‘willing’ context. It can be rural or urban, a different scale, an entire city or even a whole region, or the scale of a neighborhood. But there should be a shared will between those who lead the development of the decision needed at the political level and support from the community. When we have this kind of framework, we can invite other actors, add other variables to the co-creation process, and shape common decisions that make sense in a specific context or for a particular challenge. Over time we have gathered a large community of Partners that are the guardians of the values of the European Bauhaus. These are mainly nonprofit organizations, from small collectives to UN networks that will cover the whole range of sectors that we invite to the European Bauhaus. They need to work together with the local and regional authorities to find real contexts, and with businesses that bring the know-how, the technology, and the funding.That's why we have created the New European Bauhaus Lab.

In April this year, we opened the initiative also for companies and public actors (regions, villages, cities, etc.). They can join the New European Bauhaus community as Friends . The idea is to start matching our Partner’s visions and aspirations with the context, know-how, and resources of our Friends. We need to move from competition to cooperation. We don’t start with funding, we start with ideas. Because if you attach funding to a core proposal, you end up with a willing consortium, but in the meantime, these are people in competition. We want to encourage collaboration around ideas and ensure that you create an attractive project that materialises thanks to onnecting the will, the capacity, and the context.

D&S: Is the UK somehow also involved here in this part of the European Bauhaus? Or is it the political border that you draw around?

Xavier Troussard: There are some things for which the border is relevant. For example, the funding opportunities available in the support framework at the EU level have a limited number of countries that can benefit. This is in line with the rules of  EU-level financing instruments. If we look at the New European Bauhaus Lab and the Community, the Community is open to third-country partners interested in working with European partners. We already have partners from the UK and other countries in our Community. Similarly, we also have Friends, who are based in other places joining the initiative. Our scope is not limiting to the EU.

D&S: Because we have so many other districts. We started in Paris, we will end in London. In between we visited wonderful Barcelona also. You supported this idea, and it's a wonderful change which is happening there. Can other European committees learn from this kind of Barcelona district development?

Xavier Troussard: Yes, first, in Spain, the New European Bauhaus has been very impactful since the beginning. When we started the co-design phase, there was an ongoing conversation in Spain about the new overall national legislation for architecture and buildings. The New European Bauhaus was involved there. I think that in Barcelona they’ve taken a brilliant approach to the development of the superblock concept. They put effort into finding a win-win result for the private interests of the investors and their wish to give back to the citizens and improve the quality of life in terms of more green space and public space.

That’s certainly a model that could be exported or debated further in Europe. In the New European Bauhaus, we have started to collect the experiences of individual businesses, organizations with regulation. Through a survey, we’ve been tracking the experience, good or bad, with regulations, and I think Barcelona will be a positive example in our collection. We expect to have a series of inspiring examples of how you can creatively use regulation at a different level. To find this win-win where citizens can be the winners and concretely see how their quality of life can be improved in urban or other settings.