The EU Territorial Agenda 2020 and Territorial Cohesion - a Swedish Policy Viewpoint

By Sverker Lindblad

The second generation of the EU Territorial Agenda has arrived with high expectations on policy impacts at all levels and in different territorial contexts. Closer linkages with the EU Cohesion Policy could occur through the integration of Territorial Cohesion in the Lisbon Treaty and ambitious efforts from the Polish EU Presidency, but the concrete way forward remains unclear.

In May 2011, during the Hungarian Presidency, the ministers responsible for Spatial Planning and Territorial Development in the EU adopted the revised Territorial Agenda 2020 (TA 2020) to extend and reinforce the Territorial Agenda of 2007. There was a broad consensus about the content and priorities of the TA 2020 document at the informal ministerial meeting held in Gödöllő. However, as with its 2007 predecessor, the document did not provide clear guidance on how to implement the agenda, despite having been highlighted as a weakness in the follow-up and assessment during the Swedish EU Presidency in the second half of 2009.

The Swedish assessment report (Böhme, 2009) concluded that the Territorial Agenda and its Action Programme had successfully engaged 'believers' among spatial planners and regional development experts of what to do, but it remains necessary to re-establish the political momentum and evaluate the work carried out thus far. The question 'What do we want to do with the Territorial Agenda?' still requires an answer. The assessment also pointed out a demand for strengthened leadership and coordination of the work to get better continuity and to increase the awareness among 'non-believers' of the Territorial Agenda and the aim for Territorial Cohesion. The core need remains to maintain dialogue with other sectors and to strengthen the territorial dimension in various policy fields (e.g. transport, sustainability, labour market, innovation).

Territorial Cohesion a new dimension of Cohesion Policy

However, new circumstances and developments have since then arisen. First, Territorial Cohesion has been added to the Economic and Social dimension of Cohesion Policy in the Treaty of Lisbon. This addition gives the EU Commission and the Member States a stronger mandate to place regions and territories at the heart of policy development. Expected outcomes include strengthening of the territorial perspective in policy design, improvements in the coordination of different sector policies and a clearer mandate to develop multilevel governance.

Second, the Presidency troika of Spain, Belgium and Hungary has further developed and implemented proposals from the Swedish Presidency. These include linking the Territorial Agenda and the Europe 2020 Strategy in a joint contribution entitled 'Territory matters to make Europe 2020 a success'. Belgium arranged the first 'Territorial Agenda Annual Conference' with a special focus on the connection between Territorial Cohesion and EU transport policy. Hungary has coordinated and finalised impressive work with TA 2020 and the underlying analysis in the Territorial State and Perspectives report. In the course of this process, they have disseminated and discussed the content of these documents at frequent working group meetings and at more than ten international conferences during the last year.

Third, the Commission has been active in its efforts to concretise the implications of the incorporation of Territorial Cohesion in the EU Treaty. DG Regio seminars with Member States and stakeholders and an inter-service group with other DGs have been important in that respect. In addition, ESPON has prioritised and contributed to the development of analytical concepts, knowledge and indicators in the area of Territorial Cohesion.

High ambitions from the Polish EU Presidency

Despite all these efforts to implement the Territorial Agenda more efficiently, there is still a demand for more direct involvement in policy development, especially at the EU level, but also at national and regional levels. With Territorial Cohesion in the EU Treaty as a base, the present Polish EU Presidency aims to translate TA 2020 into operational principles for implementing the Europe 2020 and Cohesion Policy in particular. The first step in this process was to set up an expert group to write the report 'How to strengthen the territorial dimension of Europe 2020 and EU Cohesion Policy – based on the Territorial Agenda 2020'.

The report builds on an analysis of priorities in the Europe 2020 Strategy and the TA 2020 in adding value of a territorial dimension in development policy. On this basis, so-called 'territorial keys' have been identified: accessibility, services of general economic interest, territorial capacities, city networking and functional regions. The report concludes with proposals for programming and monitoring actions within the framework of Cohesion Policy, while its principles and suggestions could also be valid for sector policies that need to take better account of territorial specificities. Based on the report and reflections by Member States, the EU Commission and stakeholders, Poland will produce an issue paper for the informal ministerial meeting in November 2011.

The argument by the expert group, for more formalised ways to incorporate Territorial Cohesion principles in the design of the future Cohesion Policy, opens the possibility for more direct influence on how to allocate money within this EU Policy. The coming negotiations on the future Cohesion Policy could mean a window of opportunity in this respect. At the same time, it will be much more complex and sensitive to get all actors on board. In many countries, Territorial Cohesion and Cohesion Policy are managed by separate ministries. Moving from a purely methodological approach to influencing expenditures in the Cohesion Policy also means that ministries of finance or economy will be involved.

To put such a process into operation implies protracted consultation at national and EU levels to convince all these actors of the added value of Territorial Cohesion and the need for a more formal incorporation in Cohesion Policy. In many cases, these actors are barely familiar with Territorial Cohesion and the Territorial Agenda before it. The 'true believers' of Territorial Cohesion may not be sufficiently persuasive. An obviously necessary step in achieving more 'territorialisation' of Cohesion Policy will be clear statements from the ministers and the EU Commission at the informal ministerial meeting in November. However, since statements made at these types of meetings are not formally binding, even with such support, the task may be difficult to complete.

Many ways to Territorial Cohesion

Complementary to the high ambitions of the Polish Presidency, we should not forget the alternative means of implementing the TA 2020 principles at EU level. The Commission has an important task in developing and carrying through territorial impact assessments of different EU policies with methodologies that could also be adjusted and applied at Member State level.

Sweden has suggested a closer link between Territorial Agenda implementation and the work on macro-regional strategies such as the EU Baltic Sea Strategy. A first step could be to present work related to the Territorial Agenda at macro-regional events. A future aim could be to strategically represent macro-regional strategies as frameworks for implementation of the TA 2020.

There is also a need to improve information exchange among the Member States on what they actually do to strengthen cross-sectoral dialogue and multilevel governance. A simple synthesis of actions and results could be made and disseminated from a central website.

Implementation of the TA 2020 at national and regional levels requires flexible approaches in respect of subsidiarity. The Member States and their regions need to determine strategies and relevant measures depending on their geographical circumstances, political culture, and legal and administrative systems. The TA 2020 will have an important role in that respect as the guiding tool for developing place-based strategies and policies.

There are many Swedish examples of how strategies and policy development at both national and regional levels have been influenced by ideas and methodologies stemming from the Territorial Agenda and the work for Territorial Cohesion. One such example is the National Forum on regional competitiveness, entrepreneurship and employment, which has both a multilevel governance and a cross-sectoral approach. It serves as a platform for ongoing political dialogue among national and regional representatives. Another cross-sectoral example is the national strategy to strengthen development in rural areas by directing each ministry to utilise the resources in rural areas in their own policy area.

Awareness is growing that the aim for regional development and sustainable growth is most efficiently met by integrated strategies and policies, even though methodologies could be further developed. The work should be done across sectoral borders, in functional geographical areas regardless of administrative boundaries and between different levels of governance. Furthermore, policies for spatial planning and regional economic development must be more closely linked.

The TA 2020 has the capacity to be a guiding tool for such work. The task is to handle the challenges in territories with special needs whilst also unleashing potential in all territories. Every region can perform better if the policy mix and the governance can be adjusted to territorial specificities and regional assets, which is even more urgent in the present times of economic turbulence.

Back to Nordregio News Issue 1, 2011

Read more:

Böhme Kai (2009), The EU Territorial Agenda & its Action Programme: How to reinforce the performance, SWECO Eurofutures