#EURegionsWeek UNIVERSITY: Territorialising EU Cohesion Policy to bring it closer to citizens

Tue 8, October 2019
09:15 - 10:45

Cohesion Policy has the potential for remedying the eroding image of the EU among citizens, as it impacts directly the citizens' lives and their cities and regions. This potential, however, is weakened by ineffective communication, investment ignoring the actual needs of the territories and detachment from domestic spatial planning processes. This session reopens the debate on territorialisation of Cohesion Policy to ensure greater synergies between its instruments and urban policies and planning practice in European cities and regions and to deliver impacts that matter for European citizens.

The session addresses the underused potential of Cohesion Policy for spurring the development of European cities and regions through place-specific interventions, tightly linked to territorial challenges and synergising with domestic spatial strategies, policies and planning activities. By this, Cohesion Policy misses an opportunity for making a difference in citizens' lives, including them shaping the futures of their cities and regions, and contributing to reversal of the trend towards eroding support for European integration. The session will engage the audience in a lively and bold debate revolving around the findings from several EU-funded research projects (e.g. H2020 COHESIFY or ESPON COMPASS) and on-going scrutiny of the implementation of Cohesion Policy, particularly in cities, and of its potential to become more integrated with domestic urban and regional policies to promote reduction of socio-spatial inequalities.

Chair: Leaza McSorley (University of Sunderland, United Kingdom)


  1. John Bachtler (University of Strathclyde) – Territorialisation of Cohesion Policy as a means to bring it closer to the citizens;
  2. Giancarlo Cotella (Politecnico di Torino, Italy) – Exploring the potential for cross-fertilisation between EU Cohesion Policy and spatial planning across EU Member States;
  3. Marcin Dąbrowski (TU Delft, Netherlands) – EU Cohesion Policy: how well does it perform in ensuring spatial justice in cities?
  4. Sonia de Gregorio Hurtado (Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Spain) – The changing urban dimension of EU Cohesion Policy against the backdrop of urban poverty.
John Bachtler, Head European Policies Research Centre, University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom.
Giancarlo Cotella, Associate Professor of Spatial Planning, Politecnico di Torino, Italy.
Sonia De Gregorio Hurtado, Professor and Researcher, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. Department of Urban and Spatial Planning, Spain.
Marcin Dąbrowski, Assistant Professor, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.
Leaza McSorley, Professor of Enterprise, University of Sunderland, United Kingdom.
A Europe Closer to Citizen
Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP), European Regional Science Association (ERSA), Regional Studies Association European Foundation
english (en)
SQUARE - Brussels Convention Centre - 201 A+201 B.
Address: Mont des Arts, 1000 Brussels

Session summary

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.


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