European Week of Regions and Cities
7-10 OCTOBER 2019 Brussels

Thirty years of EU Cohesion Policy: What works? Where? for Whom?

Over the past thirty years a variety of approaches and tools have been experimented in order to promote development in all regions of the European Union (EU). The future of EU Cohesion Policy crucially depends on our capacity to take stock of past experience and figure out what works in practice and under what conditions. Researchers, practitioners and policy makers will discuss what policies, programs and projects have delivered concrete and measurable results and what conditions need to be in place in order to maximize achievements and address local needs with limited resources.

Future of cohesion policy, EU budget
AESOP, European Commission - DG REGIO, European Regional Science Association

Session summary

The workshop brought together academics and policy makers to discuss the conditions that shape the heterogeneous impacts of Cohesion Policy across regions and policy areas: What works? Where? For Whom?

Riccardo Crescenzi, London School of Economics, opened the floor introducing the key questions on the future of Cohesion Policy that this session aims to address. Sophisticated diagnoses of the drivers of regional wealth are not matched by "well-tested medications" able to address developmental bottlenecks in less advanced regions. Limited attention has been devoted to understanding "how regional development policies work and where" in terms of economic outcomes. Vassilis Mastiriotis, London School of Economics, delivered the opening lecture offering some key insights based on cutting-edge scholarly research on this topic. A critical overview of the most recent evidence on the impacts and conditioning factors of Cohesion Policy suggests that two key dimensions matter: targeting of EU resources and mobilisation of local assets. Careful decisions on concentration, targeting, sequencing and strategies should be evidence-based. However, Cohesion Policies should be able to mobilise new local productive resources as well as facilitate a more efficient use of existing local assets. The panel discussion revisited these questions from a variety of different perspectives based on both academic evidence and practical policy experience. Lewis Dijkstra (European Commission, DG Regio) highlighted that Cohesion Policy has been successful in a number of fields (e.g. transports and energy) but fundamental problems remain in regions characterised by persistent economic stagnation, low government quality and/or rapid economic decline. Mafini Dosso (European Commission, DG JRC) focused her attention on how Smart Specialisation Strategies can address some of these challenges by offering renewed opportunities for collaborative innovation efforts supported by new data and tools. Thomas Farole (World Bank) highlighted that institutions are critical and evidence suggests that technical assistance and capacity building can have an impact addressing regional structural factors and 'fundamentals'. Ugo Fratesi (Politecnico di Milano) stressed the importance of nature and 'typology' of territorial capital accumulated in each region and how this can shape Cohesion Policy impacts. Conversely, Laura Polverari (EPRC, University of Strathclyde) focused on the practical implementation of the policy to highlight that certain areas definitely delivered (e.g. investments during the crisis) while interventions in the area of administrative capacity, simplification and public perceptions need additional efforts. Enrique Garcilazo (OECD) summarised the key critical points emerged in the round table and in the lively question time that followed. In his lecture he suggested that priorities should be identified based on regional needs rather than on programmes. He also discussed the importance of the promotion of bottom-up processes within strong national frameworks while capacity building should be part of a long-term strategy.



Take away message

The debate conducted in the workshop gave an increasing emphasis to the diversity of impacts that Cohesion Policy can bring about in the EU regions in terms of broader socio-economic, environmental and welfare level transformations. Convincing evidence-based answers to these questions are central to the debate on the future of EU Cohesion Policy.

Keywords: Cohesion policy, Regional development, Smart specialisation, Policy evaluation

"In order to justify its existence in the Post-2020 Europe, Cohesion Policy needs to convince EU citizens that it works and that it ensures the best possible use of public resources vis-à-vis other alternative expenditure options." Riccardo Crescenzi, London School of Economics

"Targeting of EU resources and mobilisation of local assets are central to the success of EU Cohesion Policy in all regions." Vassilis Mastiriotis, London School of Economics

"Regions characterized by persistent economic stagnation, low government quality and/or rapid economic decline need even more effort in post-2020 EU Cohesion Policy." Lewis Dijkstra, European Commission, DG Regio

"Smart Specialisation Strategies offer renewed opportunities for collaborative innovation efforts in all EU regions." Mafini Dosso, European Commission, DG JRC

"Structural factors and 'fundamentals' matter a lot... and therefore effective Cohesion Policy requires going beyond traditional Cohesion Policy interventions." Thomas Farole, World Bank

"It is territorial capital that matters the most for Cohesion Policy to deliver its benefits." Ugo Fratesi, Politecnico di Milano

"More work is needed in some key areas such administrative capacity, simplification and public perceptions." Laura Polverari, EPRC, University Of Strathclyde 

"Bottom-up and endogenous process can only work when grounded into solid national policy frameworks." Enrique Garcilazo, OECD 

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