#EURegionsWeek UNIVERSITY: Territorialising EU Cohesion Policy to bring it closer to citizens
Territorialisation of Cohesion Policy could contribute achievement of better results from more place-based interventions, but also it could bring EU Cohesion Policy closer to the citizens, contributing to addressing the "democratic deficit" in the EU and counteracting the rising tide of anti-EU populism.
John Bachtler kicked off the sessions with an observation that "place-based policies were especially important in light of the growing public discontent with the economic, social and political status quo in many regions" that had been neglected by regional policies so far. He argued that the biggest challenge in territorialising Cohesion Policy was effective engagement of citizens. Thus, he pleaded for democratic innovations in Cohesion Policy such as "open programming" or "participatory budgeting".
While recognising that the EU lacks competence in spatial planning, Giancarlo Cotella observed that there were many ways in which cross-fertilisation between Cohesion Policy and domestic spatial planning could take place, leading to more place-based interventions. In practice, however, these synergies between Cohesion Policy and planning are seldom realised, due to a separation of programming for the purpose of EU funds. His recommendation was to “develop a strong Territorial Agenda for Europe post-2020, and focus on its application.”
Marcin Dąbrowski brought attention to the notion of spatial justice. In his talk he illustrated that despite growing convergence in economic terms across the European region, a closer look at the scale below that of a region (below NUTS 2) reveals that a growing number of territories remains stagnant or in decline. By the same token, in many urban areas across the EU socio-spatial inequalities and segregation have been rising and deepening as a result of the 2008 crisis. Against this background, he argued for adopting spatial justice as an alternative lens through which one could assess and manage Cohesion Policy. For this, however, “we need higher resolution data and new assessment tools to understand the impacts of interventions funded with ESIF on the procedural and distributive dimensions of spatial justice”.
Finally, Sonia de Gregorio Hurtado underscore the issue of growing urban poverty and explored the scope for using Cohesion Policy to reduce it. She offered a valuable historical overview of implementation and outcomes of the now somewhat forgotten URBAN initiative, predating the currently used urban policy tools, such as JESSICA, CLLD or ITI. Positing that the “urban decline and poverty cycle are one of the biggest challenges for the EU”, she argued that in the current programming period the focus has shifted away from integrated area-based interventions targeting vulnerable neighbourhoods in cities, to projects that relate more to wider urban strategies and thematic objectives, dictated by the economic policy priorities of the EU.
Take away message
EU Cohesion Policy can be brought closer to the citizens by more open programming and delegation of decision-making on parts of ESIF allocations to citizens. There is an under-used potential for connecting Cohesion Policy more closely to spatial planning at various scales, which would make the interventions supported by ESIF more place-based. The pursuit of spatial justice in the management and evaluation of the outcomes of Cohesion Policy could bring new aspects of added value of this policy.