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How Europe hits home? The impact of European Union policies on territorial governance and spatial planning

Comment l'Europe frappe à la maison ? L'impact des politiques de l'Union européenne sur la gouvernance territoriale et l'aménagement du territoire
Giancarlo Cotella

Résumés

L'Union européenne (UE) dispose d'un agenda territorial implicite depuis sa création. Depuis la fin des années 1980, la nécessité croissante de prendre en compte les impacts spatiaux des programmes de dépenses sectorielles a favorisé le développement d'un ensemble hétérogène de concepts, d'outils et de processus de planification spatiale à l'échelle continentale. Un cadre de gouvernance territoriale de l'UE, progressivement consolidé, a attiré l'attention des universitaires et des praticiens. Comment l’UE, malgré l’absence de compétences formelles, influence-t-elle les questions de gouvernance territoriale interne et d’aménagement du territoire et pourquoi cela est-il accepté par les pays européens ? Les processus et les pratiques promus au niveau de l'UE ont déclenché un mélange complexe d'effets désirés et non voulus dans les États membres qui ont adapté progressivement leurs systèmes d’aménagement. Cette situation correspond à une complexification croissante de la gouvernance territoriale supranationale. S'appuyant sur les résultats du projet de recherche ESPON COMPASS (Comparative Analysis of Territorial Governance and Spatial Planning Systems in Europe), la contribution proposée vise à éclairer ce processus, souvent qualifié d'européanisation de la gouvernance territoriale. Pour ce faire, elle examine le rôle que les politiques aux effets spatiaux, mises en place par l'UE au fil du temps, ont joué dans la transformation de la gouvernance territoriale et de l’aménagement du territoire dans les États membres. Précisément, elle présente et compare les effets des directives sectorielles (dans les domaines de l’environnement, de l’énergie et de la concurrence), des politiques spatiales (politique de cohésion, coopération territoriale et politique urbaine) et des processus discursifs (document d’orientation général, politique spatiale intergouvernementale, agenda urbain, ESPON) développés au niveau de l'UE afin d’établir comment ces différents éléments jouent un rôle dans la gouvernance territoriale et l'aménagement du territoire dans les 32 pays qui composent l'espace ESPON.

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Introduction

  • 1 Following Janin Rivolin (2012), the wording “territorial governance and spatial planning system”, r (...)

1The European Union (EU) has had an implicit territorial agenda since its inception. Through time, the increasing need to consider the spatial impacts of sectoral spending programmes fostered the development of a heterogeneous set of spatial planning concepts, tools and processes at the continental scale. Developments in the territorial dimension of EU policies fostered member states’ territorial governance and spatial planning systems1 to become one of the key components of EU integrated development strategies and policy delivery mechanisms. This integrated European territorial governance framework has progressively caught the attention of academics and practitioners. The extent to which it created a catalytic environment resulting in a so called ‘Europeanization’ of territorial governance is however subject of debate.

  • 2 The project ESPON COMPASS (Comparative Analysis of Territorial Governance and Spatial Planning in E (...)

2Aiming at providing a contribution in this direction, the paper draws on the results of the ESPON COMPASS project2 to investigate the role that the EU plays in shaping national territorial governance and spatial planning. It does so by identifying three possible channels through which the EU may trigger changes in the Member States. These channels are explored systematically for the 32 countries that take part to the ESPON programme (the 28 EU Member States plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), in order to discuss the main commonalities and differences that characterise the Europeanization of territorial governance and spatial planning, as well as to reflect on the actual potentials for cross-fertilization between the EU and the Member States in this field.

3After this brief introduction, section 2 sketches out the various understandings of the concept of Europeanization and its implications for territorial governance and spatial planning. Section 3 gives account of the methodology adopted by the ESPON COMPASS research team to collect and compare evidence of these implications. Section 4 constitutes the core of the contribution, presenting and discussing (i) the structural influence pivoted around the transposition of EU directives and regulations, (ii) the instrumental influence deriving from the implementation of EU funding policies and (iii) the discursive influence triggered by the development of concepts and ideas at the EU level. Finally, section 5 rounds off the contribution, comparing the evidence collected in relation to the identified types of influence and paving the way for further research on the matter.

The Europeanization of domestic territorial governance and spatial planning

4The EU is an organisation based on the rule of law, whose action is legitimated by treaties voluntarily and democratically agreed by its member states (Hix, 2005). It is a unique, hybrid institutional context, characterised by the coexistence of national and supranational authorities and combining ‘intergovernmental’ and ‘supranational’ features (Nugent, 2006). Through time, the EU integration process has led to the progressive dispersion of sovereignty on a number of issues between various administrative levels, as it is effectively described through the concept of ‘multi-level governance’ (Scharpf, 1994; Hooghe & Marks, 2001). The latter is an ‘unstable equilibrium’ continuously reshaped by the EU and the Member States through means of reciprocal influences, usually altogether referred to as ‘Europeanization’ (Olsen 2002, Featherstone & Radaelli, 2003; Radaelli, 2004; Lenschow, 2006). Born in the cradle of European policy studies, Europeanization refers to the mechanisms and impact of the co-evolution and mutual adaptation of the institutional contexts involved, seen as meaningful components of the EU integration process itself. In spite of the many definitions and applications, in its broadest sense Europeanization describes a particularly complex process of institutionalisation, that includes both the impacts of the EU on national polities, policies and politics (Knill & Lehmkuhl, 1999; Borzel & Risse, 2000), the simultaneous national influences ‘uploaded’ at the EU level (Wishlade et al., 2003; Salgado & Woll, 2004) as well as those ‘horizontal’ influence between member states, whereas the EU operates as a common platform for mutual exchange and policy transfer (Holzinger & Knill, 2005; Lenschow, 2006; Cotella et al., 2015a).

5Since the start of the 2000s, the concept has progressively entered the field of spatial planning studies, as a consistent approach for interpreting the complexity of outcomes resulting from over thirty years of European spatial planning experiences (Williams, 1996; Faludi, 2002, 2010; Waterhout, 2008; Dühr et al., 2010). Interestingly, this has occurred despite the lack of a formal mandate for spatial planning and territorial policies in the EU treaties, with these competences that remain entirely ruled by national territorial governance and spatial planning systems (Nadin & Stead, 2008; Janin Rivolin, 2012; Berisha et al., 2020). More in detail, the inclusion of the ‘cohesion’ objective in the EU Treaties in the late 1980s – as the agreed condition for a balanced integration in terms of “levels of development of the various regions” (former Treaty Establishing the European Community, Art. 158) – has implied a factual engagement of the EU in the field of territorial policies, and consolidated through time into some sort of EU territorial governance (Janin Rivolin, 2010).

6One consequence is that “planning for Europe is conditioned and at the same time changes the context (or system environment) of planning in Europe”, a phenomenon that can be investigated in terms of ‘Europeanisation of spatial planning’ (Böhme & Waterhout, 2008, p. 226). As explicitly highlighted by the European Commission, this does not entail any attempt to develop “a top-down and separate EU territorial policy” (DE Presidency, 2007a, p. 9); neither it leads to the convergence and homogenization of national territorial governance and spatial planning (Stead, 2013). It rather generates differential outcomes (Cotella & Stead, 2011) that very much depends on how domestic actors interpret, implement and instrumentalize European policies, programmes and documents in the light of their own policy goals and interests (Purkarthofer, 2016, 2018). In order to shed more light on the matter, numerous authors had through time investigated these processes, and how they work in relation to and impact on different European countries (Dabinett & Richardson, 2005; Giannakourou 2005, 2011; Zonneveld, 2005; Waterhout, 2007; Fritsch & Eskelinen, 2011; Maier, 2012; Purkarthofer & Mattila, 2018; Elorrieta, 2018; Dabrowski & Lingua, 2018). However, no systematic pan-European comparison of how national territorial governance and spatial planning systems have changed in response to the progressive consolidation of EU territorial governance has been produced yet.

7Aiming at filling this gap, the ESPON COMPASS research team drew on the work of Cotella & Janin Rivolin (2015, 2019), to conceptualize Europeanization as an iterative cycle of uploading and downloading influences that links EU territorial governance with national territorial governance and spatial planning systems (ESPON 2018a, 2018b). This allowed to frame the changes triggered by the EU in the various countries as occurring due to three main “catalysts of the Europeanization”: directives and regulations, funding instruments and hegemonic discourses (Böhme & Waterhout, 2008: 244). More in particular:

  • A structural influence is identified when domestic legislations adjust as a consequence of the transposition of EU directives and regulation. Whereas the lack of a formal competence for spatial planning largely limits the overall impact of this influence, a number of contributions shows how indirect impacts are however visible as the EU legislates in various fields that have implications for spatial planning, such as the environment (Jordan and Lieffering, 2004), energy (Cotella et al., 2016; Valkenburg & Cotella, 2016) and competition (Colomb & Santinha, 2014);

  • An instrumental influence follows the introduction of recursive incentives addressed overall to more ‘cohesive’ regional policy, to systematic territorial cooperation (Duhr et al., 2007), and to widespread application of an EU standard of sustainable urban or rural development (Cotella, 2019), that progressively modify the cost-benefit logics of Member States’ actors and stimulate variations in established spatial planning practices;

  • A discursive influence is embedded in a circular process of “discursive integration” that “can be successful when there are strong policy communities active at European and national levels and direct links between them” (Böhme, 2002, p. III), and occurs whereas EU concepts and ideas are used by Member States’ actors to pursue their agenda and vested interests. In this concern, various authors explored the ongoing contamination between domestic and supranational discourses, especially in relation to the evolution of the EU spatial planning agenda (Adams et al., 2011a).

8As argued by Purkarthofer, the Europeanization of territorial governance and spatial planning in a country can be read as the reaction “from within” to these three channels of influence, with the domestic actors that, within processes of regulatory, remunerative and discursive governance, comply to EU directives and regulations, programme and implement EU funds and subsidies and pick up specific concepts and ideas from EU guidance documents (2018, p. 19).

The ESPON COMPASS methodology

9The ESPON COMPASS project investigated trends across 32 European countries, systematically exploring changes in territorial governance, planning institutions and practice during the period 2000-2016. Given that conducting a set of 32 in-depth case studies would have required resources and time that were far beyond the scope of the project, the research team opted instead for relying on the opinion of experts, that were selected on the basis of their proven knowledge on and, where possible, experience in the practice of spatial planning in their respective countries.

  • 3 A full account of the project’s theoretical and methodological framework is provided in ESPON, 2018

10For each of the countries, the chosen expert was asked to compile two questionnaires on the basis of (i) their own knowledge, (ii) the readily available information sources, and (iii) at least five interviews or a focus group session with other planning experts and actors involved in spatial planning and/or regional and urban development policies in the country in question. The consultation of further local experts aimed at improving the validity and precision of the responses to the questionnaires. The questionnaires probed for both factual information and the experts’ judgement about the trends in spatial planning and territorial governance, with a particular attention paid to the role of the EU and its policies in these trends. Data collection through questionnaires was carried out in two phases: the first one focusing on the changes in the structure of territorial governance and spatial planning systems, and the second one emphasising the operation and performance of these in practice. For each of the phases, pilot studies were conducted to refine the method on the basis of the feedback from the experts and the project team3.

11The ESPON COMPASS questionnaires included a set of questions that required the country experts to assess the role played by EU spatially relevant sectoral legislation, policy and guidance documents in triggering changes in countries’ territorial governance and spatial planning between 2000 and 2016 (Table 1). More in detail, for each of these questions, experts were asked first to give a general indication of the influence on a scale from ‘strong significance’ (for example, leading to the creation of new planning instruments, procedures or organisations); ‘moderate significance’ (for example, leading to revisions of existing arrangements); ‘low significance’ (for example, where only minor changes can be identified) and ‘no influence’. They were also asked to assess the trends of the influence as ‘increasing’, ‘constant’, ‘decreasing’, or ‘swinging’, that is having variable influence from 2000 to 2016. Finally, they were required to motivate the indicated levels of influence and trends, by reporting relevant examples concerning both the occurred changes and their drivers.

Table 1 : List of questions from the ESPON COMPASS Questionnaires that were analysed for this contribution, and their scope

Questions

Main elements

Structural Influence

How and to what extent had the EU environmental legislation an influence on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • Environmental impact assessment

  • Strategic environmental assessment

  • Nature 2000 (birds and habitats directives)

  • Urban waste and water treatment directives

How and to what extent had the EU energy legislation an influence on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • Energy directives

How and to what extent had the EU competition legislation an influence on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • State aid guidelines

  • Directive on public procurement

Instrumental Influence

How and to what extent had the EU cohesion policy an influence on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • Community strategic guidelines

  • Partnership agreements

  • National and regional operational programmes

How and to what extent had the European territorial cooperation objective an impact on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • INTERREG (cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation)

  • EU macroregional strategies

  • European grouping of territorial cooperation

How and to what extent had the EU urban policy an impact on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • Urban pilot programmes

  • URBAN I and II

  • JESSICA

  • Integrated territorial investments

  • Cohesion policy earmarked quote for urban areas

Discursive Influence

How and to what extent had the EU mainstream development strategies an influence on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • Lisbon strategy

  • Gothenburg strategy

  • Europe 2020

How and to what extent had the EU Urban Agenda an influence on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • Leipzig charter on sustainable cities

  • Thematic strategy on the urban environment

  • EU urban agenda and related partnerships

How and to what extent had the EU spatial policy documents an influence on spatial planning at the national, sub-national and local levels?

  • European spatial development perspective

  • EU Territorial agenda 2020

  • EU territorial agenda 2020+

  • EC green paper on territorial cohesion

Source: authors’ own elaboration on the basis of ESPON 2018c.

12To limit the risk of bias towards the issues that the experts may specialise on or deem more important, the methodology was based on a common framework and terminology to describe the situation and trends in each of the national systems in the same way. At the same time, the project team members were providing guidance to country experts on the interpretation of methodology, using examples. Importantly, the methodology also included a thorough quality control of the questionnaire answers, carried out by the project team, checking for adequacy and coherence of responses and, where necessary, asking for clarification or additional information. Moreover, the questionnaire findings were also validated by the ESPON Monitoring Committee members and ESPON national contact points, leading to some further revisions and updates with the most recent information.

The role of EU legislation, policy and discourse in shaping territorial governance and spatial planning systems

Following the steps described above, it was possible to collect evidence of the changes that the progressive consolidation of EU territorial governance triggered on the territorial governance and spatial planning systems of the 32 countries under scrutiny. The results of the analysis are presented and discussed in the sub-sections below, respectively focusing on the impacts of (i) EU sectoral legislation, (ii) EU policy and related funding instruments and (iii) the various strands characterising the European spatial planning discourse.

The impact of EU legislation

  • 4 A small group of respondents (from Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom) reported a significant (...)

The collected evidence shows that EU directives and regulations focusing on other fields may produce indirect effects on territorial governance and spatial planning (Table 2). Environmental legislation appears to be by far the most influential, triggering impacts that was evaluated as strongly or moderately significant by 28 of the 32 country experts. Energy legislation is also influential with 19 countries indicating a strong or moderate importance, followed by competition legislation, with 10 countries noting a strong or moderate influence.4

Table 2 : Relevance of EU sectoral legislation for domestic territorial governance and spatial planning systems between 2000 and 2016, by significance and trend

Significance

Trend

Strong

Moderate

Low

No

Increasing

Constant

Decreasing

Swinging

Environmental legislation

AT, BE, BG,

CY, CZ, DE,

DK, EE, EL,

ES, FI, FR,

HU, IE, IS

IT, LV, MT,

NL, PL, SE,

SK, SI, UK

CH, HR, NO, PT

LT, LU, RO

LI

AT, BE, CH, CY, CZ, DE, EE, EL, ES,

FR, HR, IS,

LU, LV, MT,

NL, NO, PL,

PT, RO, SK,

SI

DK, HU, IE,

IT, FI, LI,

SE

BG,LT, UK

Energy legislation

CZ, CY, EE,

FR, LV

BG, CH, DE, EL, ES, HU,

IE, IT, MT,

PL, RO, SE, SK, SI

BE, FI, HR,

NL, NO, PT,

UK

AT, DK, IS,

LI, LT, LU

BE, BG, CH, CY, DE, EE,

EL, ES, FI,

FR, HR, HU,

IE, IT, LV,

MT, NL, PL,

PT, RO, SE,

SK, SI

AT, CZ, DK,

IS, LI, LT,

LU, NO, UK

Competition legislation a

UK

DE, EE, ES,

FR, IE, IT,

LV, SE, SI

BE, HR, CH; CZ, FI, EL,

HU, MT, NL, NO, PL, SK,

AT, BG, DK,

IS, LI, LT,

LU, PT, RO

CZ, DE, EE,

IE, IT, HR,

LV, NL, PT,

SI, SK, UK

AT, BE, BG,

CH, DK, EL, HU, IS, LI,

LT, LU, MT, NO, PL, RO,

SE

ES, FR

a No answers from CY experts. No answer concerning trend from FI expert.

Source: authors’ own elaboration on the basis of ESPON 2018b.

  • 5 As an example, experts from Bulgaria and Poland stress the importance of the EU Strategy for Sustai (...)

13As mentioned, in the majority of countries a strong or moderate influence of the EU environmental legislation is reported, and this influence has been increasing through time almost everywhere, mirroring the growing number of EU environmental directives published throughout the 2000s. Interestingly, the form of adoption of the sectoral legislation within the domestic frameworks and the general effect and value it has on spatial development follows a specific geographical pattern, characterised by clear difference between Western and Eastern countries. More in particular, as a result of transposing the acquis communautaire during the pre-accession phase, Eastern countries experienced deeper and faster changes in terms of the adjustment to, or creation of, new spatial planning tools and procedures, and the modification of the governance structure and mechanisms5. Another general trend concerns the way in which directives have been transposed in the Member states: Some countries implemented EU environmental legislation in a step-by-step approach (e.g. the United Kingdom), while other countries followed a comprehensive approach, and have transposed environmental legislation in an overall reform of the national environmental code (e.g. Italy). When it comes to the effect and value of environmental legislation, country experts tend to take one of two views. On the one hand, some see it as mostly introducing specific restrictive rules, as for instance in the case of the implementation of the Habitat Directives in Malta and Romania (Habitat Directive 92/43 EEC). On the other hand, a wider impact on the way territorial governance and spatial planning systems operates as a whole is reported, as a consequence of the changing balance between ecological, economic and social spatial concerns (e.g. Germany).

14Various countries modified their territorial governance and spatial planning as an indirect consequence of the requirements of the EU legislation. The environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment procedures are, in the view of most experts, the most important drivers of change, together with the requirements introduced as a consequence of the Natura 2000 framework. EU legislation has also stimulated the introduction of a heterogeneous set of sectoral plans within or strongly related to the spatial planning system at all planning levels. Notable examples are how the Habitats and Birds Directives (92/43 EEC; 2009/147 EC) fostered the introduction of management plans, often focusing on newly created administrative areas. Similarly, the Water Framework Directive (2000/60 EC) stimulated the introduction of sectoral plans and new administrative bodies, and some countries adopted for the first time national adaptation strategies and national action plans on climate change. Additional impacts mentioned by national experts concern the alteration of the territorial governance setting, for example, with the creation of new public authorities and/or the introduction of new administrative areas and boundaries such as river basin districts and newly designated natural areas for protection.

  • 6 Such trends appear to be much stronger at the national and local levels. Overall, experts point out (...)
  • 7 In France, the combined effect of environmental and energy regulations increasingly became a struct (...)

15If environmental legislation triggered the most widespread, consolidated impact, energy-related issues seem to be the very emerging theme with growing significance almost everywhere, even in those countries for which it has not yet had a strong influence.6 Whereas the majority of experts from Eastern and Mediterranean countries (with the exception of Croatia, Malta, Lithuania and Portugal) describe EU energy legislation as moderately relevant for territorial governance and spatial planning, experts from North-Western countries reported a milder impact, with some notable exceptions (Germany, France, Ireland and Sweden). Overall, in the period 2000-2016, as many as 22 countries introduced national plans and strategies focusing on energy issues and reshaping of national policy targets, and various experts also reported, a widespread modification of the scope of spatial planning towards the inclusion of energy issues at the national (to address, for example, new international power and gas connections) and sub-national levels (for planning of major wind energy plans etc.).7

16Finally, the development of EU competition legislation has until now triggered only limited changes in territorial governance and spatial planning. The most frequently reported process is the integration of the directive concerning public procurement (2004/18/EC) into domestic law, with transposition of the principles regarding non-discrimination, equal treatment, transparency, proportionality and mutual recognition for all public procurement. This had an indirect influence at all levels, and especially on local planning procedures that involve public sector purchases of private services and products in relation to the planning and building. In some cases (as in Finland and Slovenia), a direct influence is reported on architectural and planning competitions, with side effects resulting either in the lengthening of the planning process (Belgium) or in the enhancement of competitiveness (Italy). Notably, experts in France and United Kingdom report the creation of new, ad hoc agencies, which have important statutory responsibilities in relation to planning and to which government outsources operations in order to streamline public procurement procedures.

The impact of EU policy

  • 8 Of particular importance here are the mainstream cohesion policy programming, the European territor (...)

17In addition to legislation, national territorial governance and spatial planning may change as a consequence of EU spatially relevant policies and related funding instruments(Table 3).8 Among them, the cohesion policy mainstream programming stands out as the most significant trigger of change for national territorial governance and spatial planning systems, and it is considered strongly or moderately relevant in 21 countries. European territorial cooperation and EU urban policy follow closely, with 16 country experts assessing them as strongly or moderately influential.

Table 3 : Relevance of EU spatial policies for domestic territorial governance and spatial planning systems between 2000 and 2016, by significance and trend.

Significance

Trend

Strong

Moderate

Low

No

Increasing

Constant

Decreasing

Swinging

Cohesion Policy

BG, ES, HU,

IT, PL, RO,

SI

BE, CY, CZ,

DE, EE, EL,

FR, HR, IE,

LV, MT, PT,

SK, UK

AT, FI, LT,

LU, NL

CH, DK, IS,

LI, NO, SE

AT, BG, CY,

CZ, DK, EE,

HR, IE, LT,

LV, MT, PL,

PT, RO, SI

BE, CH, DE,

EL, ES, FI,

FR, HU, IS,

IT, LI, LU,

NL, NO, SE,

SK

UK

Territorial cooperation (a)

FR, IT, LV

BE, BG, CH,

CY, DE, EL,

ES, HU, IE,

PL, PT, SK,

UK

CZ, EE, HR,

LT, LU, MT,

NL, NO, RO,

SI

AT, DK, IS,

LI, SE

BG, CH, CZ,

DE, DK, EE,

IE, FR, HR,

HU, LT, LV,

PL, PT, RO,

SI

AT, BE, CY,

EL, ES, IS,

IT, LI, LU,

MT, NL, NO,

SE, SK

UK

Urban policy

IT, HU, RO

BG, CH, CY,

CZ, DE, EL,

FR, LV, MT,

PL, PT, SK,

SI

BE, DK, EE,

ES, FI, HR,

IE, NL, UK

AT, IS, LI,

LT, LU, NO,

SE

BE, BG, CH,

CZ, DE, DK,

FR, HR, MT,

NL, LV, LT,

PL, PT, RO,

SI

AT, CY, EL,

FI, IE, IS,

LI, LU, SE,

SK, NO, UK

IT

EE, ES, HU

(a) No answers from FI expert. (b) No answers from FI and NL experts.

Source: authors’ own elaboration on the basis of ESPON 2018b.

  • 9 As demonstrated by the introduction, in Italy, of a National Strategies for the development of Inne (...)

18The influence of mainstream cohesion policy is not surprisingly related to the amount of funding available. Countries reporting low or no influence are those of North and North-Western Europe which receive a lower amount of funding, or those that are excluded from the cohesion policy framework as they are not members of the EU. Eastern European (with the surprising exception of Lithuania) and Mediterranean countries report a strong or moderate influence, and so do Ireland (traditionally a strong beneficiary of this policy) and Germany (where this policy plays a prominent role in the eastern side of the country). Regional levels are more affected, reflecting an institutional architecture that identifies NUTS2 regions as crucial for implementation. Some countries of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean also mention important impacts at the national and local level, where the participation to the Cohesion Policy programming activities contributed to increase the ‘strategic attitude’ of the public authority9. The trend of this influence is increasing or constant in all countries, with the sole exception of the United Kingdom, where the EU support has diminished in the last 10 years. Moreover, cohesion policy has stimulated significant change where the ‘goodness of fit’ (Cowles et al., 2001) between its framework and domestic institutional settings was lower (Eastern and Mediterranean countries), whereas in countries already featuring a good fit the impact is more marginal (as in France and Belgium).

19Among the institutional innovations triggered by the EU cohesion policy, one should underline the more or less successful attempts to create NUTS2 regional level bodies responsible for developing and managing Structural Funds operational programmes, that has characterised several Eastern European and Mediterranean countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Poland and Portugal). At the same time, various other coordination and partnership platforms have been introduced through time to accompany the functioning of the EU cohesion policy, such as monitoring committees at national and regional levels, as well as local and subnational advisory groups. Additional instrumental innovations include the introduction of strategic, multi-annual regional and national planning documents, often structured around EU-inspired concepts or principles such as territorial cohesion, inter-institutional partnership or integrated and the cross-sectoral approach. However, most experts from eastern Europe report that, whereas the implementation of cohesion policy in the various national context favoured a re-engagement with the practice of planning, this activity remained scarcely concerned with spatial issues, rather focusing on programming investments and technical assistance funding and only in some cases involving specific planning tasks (such as those related to urban regions and other functional areas).

  • 10 On the other hand, cooperation initiatives are relevant for Switzerland that, despite not being a m (...)

20Often mentioned in the literature among the most concrete manifestation of European spatial planning (Faludi 2010; Dühr et al, 2007), European territorial cooperation is reported to have largely moderate influence on territorial governance and spatial planning across Europe. Surprisingly, some countries located at the very heart of Europe and/or traditionally involved in territorial cooperation report a low or irrelevant influence over domestic spatial planning (as in the Netherlands and Nordic countries)10. When it comes to the trend, the influence of European territorial cooperation has been generally increasing or constant through time almost everywhere. Its most important impact has been to ‘reduce the distance’ among bordering communities along the EU internal and external borders, and to favour the emergence and consolidation of transnational and inter-institutional partnerships. More importantly, among other things to participate to cooperation activities has led regions to an increasing awareness of their spatial positioning and role within the European space, at the same time favouring institutional learning and the development of strategic capacity. Few experts reported the creation of new or amended cross-border or national planning instruments. An exception is, unsurprisingly, Luxemburg where the cross-border dimension has had significant influence on both policy-making and spatial planning tools. Elsewhere, tools for inter-institutional partnerships at national level are highlighted, together with the creation of functional areas, and the transversal impact of specific sectoral policies (for example on cross-border transport infrastructure in Slovenia and environmental cooperation in the Danube area).

  • 11 Most experts from ‘old’ member states highlight the importance of the URBAN Community Initiatives a (...)

21Also the changes triggered by EU urban policy on national territorial governance and spatial planning have been rather moderate. At the same time, the influence of this policy is increasing or constant everywhere with the exception of Italy, where the impact of the Community Initiative URBAN left room to the rather lukewarm attitude towards the financial incentives introduced in 200711. Various experts report that, inspired by the participation to the EU Community Initiative URBAN, numerous integrated revitalisation plans and programmes were introduced, that either took advantage of the EU financial support or introduced specifically dedicated national funds (as in Greece, Italy and Portugal). In general terms, the URBAN approach played an important role in the modernisation of local urban development plans throughout Europe, leading to the introduction of a more integrated approach that accompanied physical requalification with a number of other issues (as for instance energy efficiency, sustainable mobility; densification and land-take reduction, heritage preservation, fight to social exclusion etc.). Overall, the EU Urban policy contributed to promoting a renewed interest in urban policies and projects, and to introducing a programming approach to urban development issues, increasing the number and range of actors involved, promoting co-financing and the integration of resources.

The impact of EU discourse

  • 12 With knowledge arenas, we refer to those institutional arrangements within which various communitie (...)

22Finally, Member States’ territorial governance and spatial planning may also change as domestic actors selectively adopt and apply those spatial concepts and ideas defined within a number of more or less structured knowledge arenas12 to support their own policy goals and interests (Table 4). The most relevant of these arenas is the high level political negotiation among member states, that through time led to the development of a set of EU mainstream development strategies as the Lisbon Strategy (CEC, 2005) and the more recent Europe2020 (CEC, 2010). These documents are considered highly or moderately significant drivers of change for national spatial planning discourses, and their impact has been usually reported as constant through time, with increasing trends in some countries. On the contrary, the role of the EU Urban Agenda and of the EU documents that presents a more ‘spatial’ flavour – as for instance the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP, CEC, 1999) and the following EU Territorial Agendas (DE Presidency, 2007b; HU Presidency, 2011) – seems less prominent in the domestic debates. More in detail, only 17 experts mentioned the EU Urban Agenda as strongly or moderately significant, and the same is true for EU spatial policy documents, assessed as strongly or moderately significant by as few as 16 experts.

Table 4 : Relevance of the EU discourse for domestic territorial governance and spatial planning systems between 2000 and 2016, by significance and trend.

Significance

Trend

Strong

Moderate

Low

No

Increasing

Constant

Decreasing

Swinging

main dev. strategies (a)

BG, EL, ES,

FR, HU, PT,

SI

AT, CZ, FI,

HR, IE, IS,

LV, PL, RO,

SE, SK, UK

BE, CH, CY, DE, DK, EE,

IT, LT, LU,

MT, NL, NO

LI

BG, EE, FR,

HR, HU, IT,

LT, LU RO,

SK

AT, BE, CH, CZ, DE, EL,

ES, FI, IE,

IS, LI, LV,

MT, NL, NO, PL, PT, SE

SI, UK

DK

EU urban agenda (a)

BG, SI, UK

BE, CY, DE,

EL, ES, FI,

HR, HU, IS,

LV, NL, PT,

PL, RO

CH, CZ, DK, EE, FR, IE,

IT, LT, LU,

NO, SE, SK

AT, LI, MT

BE, BG, CH, CZ, DE, EE, HR, IE, IT,

LT, LU, LV,

PT, RO, SI,

SK

AT, DK, EL,

FR, HU, IS,

LI, MT, NL,

NO, PL, SE

ES, FI

UK

EU spatial docs (a)

BG, HU, PL,

RO

BE, CZ, DK,

EL, FR, HR,

IE, IS, LV,

PT, SI, UK

AT, CH, CY, DE, ES, FI,

IT, LU, NL,

NO, SE, SK

EE, LI, LT, MT

BE, BG, HR, HU, IS, SK

CZ, DE, EE, ES, FI, FR,

IE, LI, LT,

LV, MT, NO, PL, SI, UK

AT, CH, DK, EL, LU, NL,

RO, SE

IT, PT

(a) CY expert reports no trend.

Source: authors’ own elaboration on the basis of ESPON 2018b.

  • 13 Among them, Europe 2020 is generally seen as more concrete and, in turn, more applicable for region (...)

23The most frequently cited strategies are the Lisbon Strategy (CEC, 2005), the Gothenburg Agenda (CEC, 2006a) and the Europe 2020 Strategy (CEC, 2010)13. Generally, domestic policies show a twofold relationship with the issues associated with these strategies, either through explicit reference (as in the case of Bulgaria and Malta national policy documents) or by mean of generic correspondence in terms of aims and goals (as in the Netherlands). The influence concerns mostly national strategic documents and policies and regional instruments/programs refers to these documents only in countries characterised by federal or highly regionalized administrative structure (as in Germany, Austria and Italy) In few cases, the priorities included in these document had triggered more pervasive changes: in Spain and Luxembourg, for instance, the Lisbon Strategy influenced the reform of the national spatial planning legislation, with the Luxembourg spatial planning system that is explicitly designed to achieve specific objectives defined within the EU Strategies. Impacts are also registered on the definition of EU-oriented national spatial planning strategies suitable to allocate EU funding (as in Hungary, Slovakia and Austria), a phenomenon that is often presented as a drawback, as it led to prioritise national aims and goal at the expenses of regional and local specific needs.

  • 14 Even though it is hard to say if the influence depends more on the persuasion capacity of the disco (...)

24Compared to the other EU discursive arenas, the EU Urban Agenda has mostly triggered changes in local development practices, through the inspiration of integrated plans for urban regeneration, of inter-municipal partnerships, or sustainable urban strategies.14 Whereas it is hard to say if the occurred changes have been triggered by the introduction of a new sustainable and integrated urban development paradigm or by the funding instruments attached to it, most experts agree on the positive reactions generated by the publication of the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment (CEC, 2006b) and of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable Cities in the second half of the 2000s (DE Presidency, 2007c). Importantly, a number of experts report that, whereas cities in their countries are very active in the development of their own strategies for sustainable urban development, the adaptation to climate change, smart development strategies etc. this happens apparently without any explicit reference to any EU documents.

25Finally, the attitude towards EU spatial planning strategies and guidance documents seems to be rather lukewarm, and their ability to inspire changes in national territorial governance and spatial planning systems has been decreasing through time or constant at best since the publication of the ESDP. Despite being the first and oldest spatial document produced at the EU level, the ESDP (CEC, 1999) has without doubt left the higher and more persistent influence in further discussing the European dimension of spatial development in almost all countries. It is considered to have influenced both spatial planning and territorial governance and its policy aims and options are still inspiring planning activities in various countries (e.g. in Finland, Italy, Slovakia and Romania). On the contrary, the Green paper on Territorial Cohesion (CEC, 2008) and the Territorial Agendas are generally less known and assessed as more difficult to be put in practice by planners. They are mostly used rhetorically, being mentioned by strategic documents at all spatial scale without producing any concrete impact.

26When it comes to the inclusion of specific spatial concepts and ideas developed at the EU level within domestic strategies and documents a number of recurrences emerges among the country experts. In particular, the objective of strengthening of ecological structures and cultural resources as an added value for development is reported as a highly influencing aim, having in many cases received practical translation into concrete policy guidelines and regulations in numerous national, regional and local contexts. Another pivotal element of the ESDP and of the following Territorial Agendas, i.e. the institution of new forms of partnership and governance between rural and urban areas, has gained growing prominence during the last decades and in some countries it has been progressively reshaped and adapted to the specific national conditions. Some themes were already present in national debates and policies and were thus strengthened by their consolidation in the European discourse: this is the case of polycentric development that has been implicitly or explicitly at the basis of various wide area plans in numerous countries (e.g. Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland). On the contrary, a number of concepts developed at the EU level are still perceived as ambiguous and of difficult translation in the practice. This is the case of the objectives of fostering territorial cohesion, strengthening regional identities and making better use of territorial diversity.

How Europe hits home? Concluding remarks and future perspectives

27Building on the most comprehensive and systematic comparative study on the evolution of territorial governance and spatial planning in Europe in the last 20 years, the contribution provided a structured overview of how the EU, despite the absence of spatially relevant competences, contributes to trigger territorial governance and spatial planning changes. Whereas the emphasis dedicated to breadth of data as opposed to depth came at the expense of detail on each of the countries at stake, it allowed for a comparative analysis of a large amount of systems from across Europe, providing a basis for drawing a number of general conclusions.

28More in detail, the analysis shows how the territorial governance and spatial planning systems that characterise the European countries have been progressively embedded within a supranational territorial governance framework. In turn, the opportunities and constrains offered by the latter have been selectively interpreted, implemented and instrumentalised by domestic actors, in so doing concurring to change the systems “from within” (Purkarthofer, 2018). This occurred through three different channels of influence, whose actions are in the practice mutually reinforcing and hardly distinguishable, and that have been separate here for analytical reasons (Figure 1):

  • The transposition of EU sectoral legislation in the fields of the environment, energy and competition has influenced territorial governance and spatial planning activities to a high or moderate extent in the majority of national contexts. The reported impacts are rather uniform and similarities among countries are easier to identify because of the compulsory character of the transposition process;

  • Also the main EU spatially relevant policies triggered a high or moderate impact in a good number of countries. However, the receptiveness to specific policies is in this case differential both geographically and by sector: triggered by economic conditionality logics, changes seems to depend on the actual financial support delivered by each policy to each country, as well as on the fit of the various institutional frameworks with the EU policies and programmes’ delivery mechanisms.

  • When it comes to the impact of the EU discourse, the situation is further variegated: actors from the so-called new member states appear more sensible to EU concepts and ideas, together with some of the Mediterranean countries, whereas actors from the Nordic countries remained more focused on domestic debates.

Source : ESPON, 2018a

29Interestingly, all types of influence have been growing through time or remained at least constant in the great majority of the countries under scrutiny, with only United Kingdom showing decreasing trends for obvious reasons. Overall, North-Western and Nordic country report lower influence in comparison to their Eastern and Mediterranean counterparts, though even here it is still indicated as moderately growing or constant. These results are particularly relevant in the wake of the deepening crisis of legitimacy that the EU has been going through in recent years, and that culminated with the withdrawn membership of the United Kingdom. In particular, they suggest that the EU territorial governance framework and related policies could have an important role to play in the post-Brexit redefinition and in the deep economic crisis that we will be facing in the aftermath of the COVID-19 emergency.

30In this light, the negotiations that will define the budget and the operational boundaries for the coming programming period (2021-2027) are of uttermost importance. Whereas additional research efforts in all countries are certainly necessary, in order to verify and further detail the individuated trends and the reasons behind them, the suggested evidence-based understanding of European territorial governance seems to point out that its institutional complexity depends on the high differentiation that characterise the national systems of territorial governance and spatial planning, as described by the ESPON COMPASS project main results (ESPON 2018a). In this light, further efforts should be dedicated to identify how could national/regional spatial and territorial development policy perspectives be better reflected in Cohesion Policy and other policies at the EU scale.

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Notes

1 Following Janin Rivolin (2012), the wording “territorial governance and spatial planning system”, refers to the set of political (i.e. territorial governance) and technical (i.e. spatial planning) processes that allows the public authority to guide and control the transformation of the physical space in respect of property rights, through the concurrence of constitutional and legal devices, administrative provisions and tools, and technical knowledge, as established and evolving over time within a given institutional context.

2 The project ESPON COMPASS (Comparative Analysis of Territorial Governance and Spatial Planning in Europe) has been developed during the period 2016-2018 by a research team coordinated by Delft University of Technology and composed by Nordregio, Politecnico di Torino, University College Dublin, Polish Academy of Science, Hungarian Academy of Science, Spatial Foresight and Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung.

3 A full account of the project’s theoretical and methodological framework is provided in ESPON, 2018c

4 A small group of respondents (from Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom) reported a significant impact generated by the Directive Establishing a Framework for Maritime Spatial Planning (Directive 2014/89/EU), in particular triggering the introduction of marine spatial and protection plans, and further requirements for cross-border coordination. Curiously enough, none of the Mediterranean countries raised this issue.

5 As an example, experts from Bulgaria and Poland stress the importance of the EU Strategy for Sustainable Development which was widely used in the pre-accession period as basis for policy development at national, regional, municipal level.

6 Such trends appear to be much stronger at the national and local levels. Overall, experts point out the weak implementation of energy legislation at sub-national level, although the influence here is growing.

7 In France, the combined effect of environmental and energy regulations increasingly became a structuring framework for spatial policy and planning decisions. Similar, albeit less explicit impacts are reported for other countries.

8 Of particular importance here are the mainstream cohesion policy programming, the European territorial cooperation initiatives and the EU urban policy. Although these policies are often formally interrelated, they have been addressed separately in the questionnaire in the awareness that they constitute quite distinct contexts of implementation.

9 As demonstrated by the introduction, in Italy, of a National Strategies for the development of Inner Areas (Cotella & Vitale Brovarone, 2020).

10 On the other hand, cooperation initiatives are relevant for Switzerland that, despite not being a member of the EU, participates through its own funding.

11 Most experts from ‘old’ member states highlight the importance of the URBAN Community Initiatives and the loss of momentum registered after its cancellation and the introduction of JESSICA in 2007 (see: Cotella et al., 2015b, Tulumello et al., 2020).

12 With knowledge arenas, we refer to those institutional arrangements within which various communities of actors (territorial knowledge communities) contribute to the selective process of testing and validation of knowledge resources and ideas, and to their consolidations into strategic and guidance documents. Examples are the Committee of Spatial Development that gave birth to the ESDP, the Network of Territorial Cohesion Contact Points and the Urban Development Group organized by the European Commission, the various transnational cooperation platform developed as a consequence of the INTERREG community initiative (see: Adams et al., 2011b, Cotella et al. 2012).

13 Among them, Europe 2020 is generally seen as more concrete and, in turn, more applicable for regional development purposes.

14 Even though it is hard to say if the influence depends more on the persuasion capacity of the discourse itself or on the funding instruments for urban intervention put in place by the EU. Overall, most experts agree that the most influential document has been the Leipzig Charter on sustainable cities (DE Presidency, 2007c), followed by the Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment.

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Giancarlo Cotella, « How Europe hits home? The impact of European Union policies on territorial governance and spatial planning », Géocarrefour [En ligne], 94/3 | 2020, mis en ligne le 21 septembre 2020, consulté le 28 octobre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/geocarrefour/15648 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/geocarrefour.15648

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Giancarlo Cotella

Interuniversity Department of Regional and Urban Studies and Planning (DIST), Politecnico di Torino. Viale Mattioli 39, 10125 Torino (Italy). Ph : +39 0110907442 giancarlo.cotella@polito.it

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