Jorge Azcón: May we be a city that gives a red carpet to entrepreneurs and companies that want to work with us
An interview with the Mayor of Zaragoza, Spain
Jorge Azcón (Zaragoza, 1973) holds a law degree and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Zaragoza. He served as the territorial director of the MRA group. In 2000 he entered politics as a councilor and member of the Zaragoza City Council. Mr Azcón held various council positions until 2019 when he was elected mayor of the city. He has been a member of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) since 2020.
Mayor, how would you describe Zaragoza in your own words?
Zaragoza is the fifth largest city in Spain with around 700,000 inhabitants. It is characterized by its economic structure, its service sector, its logistics, its food and automobile production. Zaragoza is the capital of the autonomous region of Aragon (which is large and sparsely populated) and is home to more than half of the Aragonese population.
In the field of education, the city is distinguished by its university, whose law and medical faculties are particularly valued, as well as the emergence of various scientific research centers. Above all, we are hardworking, enterprising people with a great desire to improve as a city and society.
What impact has Covid had on the local economy?
Devastating. Similar to the whole of Spain, with brutal effects on the service sector, in the hotel industry, in gastronomy, in transport, in tourism, in culture and in leisure. We are facing the biggest global health crisis of the last century and the effects are enormous and grave, not least due to rising unemployment and insecurity.
It appears that maintaining economic vigor and employment over the past year has been a primary concern for your administration. What are the latest initiatives in this regard?
In Zaragoza, we have done everything we can to maintain maximum economic activity, always in compliance with the anti-Covid regulations prescribed by the health authorities. Our obsession has been to keep most businesses afloat so that the unemployment impact is less severe. With this goal in mind, we have launched a line of ten million euros in interest-free microcredit, which has been very well received.
In addition, we proposed tax cuts of ten million euros and developed an initiative to encourage consumption by local businesses that subsidizes a proportion of purchases with funding of more than four million euros. On the other hand, we are working to attract foreign investment and we have managed to complete the installation of a large Quirón Group hospital and a Becton Dickinson factory.
The Zaragoza tram was recognized as the “Best Customer Initiative” at the Global Light Rail Awards 2020 for its first measures to ensure passenger safety. Can you tell us more about this award or other initiatives that have eased the difficult situation for citizens?
The greatest possible protection of public transport passengers has been one of our great priorities since the beginning of the pandemic and receiving this award was very satisfactory for the recognition of this work. Zaragoza was the first city in Spain to order special and daily disinfection of trams and buses in the face of the pandemic.
We were also the first to incorporate hydroalcoholic gels into the devices and to install air quality meters. Despite everything, public transport has suffered a huge drop in users and now it is time to do everything possible to regain your trust so that you can use it again.
The European Commission also recently approved the City Council’s new public procurement services. How does this affect the governance of the city and the trust of its citizens?
Good data governance means having knowledge of public administrations and cities. It therefore facilitates decision-making, the development of participatory processes and quality services to empower citizens to exercise their individual rights.
Participation in this European project has helped to strengthen the strategy of public data management by improving the quality of existing data, increasing transparency, generating new visualization services for business 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 a company to create specifications and improve their hiring processes.
How does your administration plan to use European funds from the recovery plan?
Since last February, we have developed intensive work with a portfolio of 40 strategic projects that will be presented in the various tenders for European funds. These projects add up to a total of 2 billion euros and focus on supporting economic sectors affected by Covid, as well as on financing energy efficiency, sustainable mobility, renewable energy, digitization and environmental improvements.
However, in Spain we have a problem; and that is, the national government has decided to allow municipalities to manage only 4.2% of the European funds received, which is clearly insufficient. In fact, we unanimously asked the Spanish Association of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) to increase this stake to at least 14.16%, but so far this request has not been granted.
What is your vision for the future of Zaragoza?
I hope that Zaragoza will remain a city that is open to investment and attractive to talents in order to further improve their quality of life. May we be a city that gives entrepreneurs and companies that want to work with us a red carpet.
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 transition, the new mobility revolution and the technological revolution. It is important that cities join these three revolutions with a determination to provide the best public services to their residents and to contribute to the sustainability of the planet.