The European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion - ESPON

Since its start in 2002, ESPON has undergone significant development. In the beginning the ambition was to establish a sound database for spatial planners. The first programme, ESPON 2006, mainly consisted of projects that laid the basis for such a database by collecting and producing large amounts of quantitative data. Most of the results were also presented in the form of maps, the so-called ESPON Atlas. Over the years, the ESPON programme has developed towards broader territorial issues, including subjects such as economy, sociology and governance, and also including more and more qualitative elements. Today, the motto is to inspire policy making through territorial evidence. Now preparations for the coming programme, ESPON 2020, are taking place. This is why we in this issue of Nordregio News take a closer look at the past, present and future of ESPON.

The Structural Funds are the second largest budget post within the whole EU budget, surpassed only by the funds supporting the Common Agricultural Policy. Today, only 0.01% of that money goes to research and development. At the same time, the EU's new research programme, Horizon 2020, only deals to a very limited extent with topics relevant for the Union's second largest budget area, i.e. its territorial cohesion policy. Although ESPON projects are not carrying out direct evaluations, they produce important evidence-based knowledge that supports the ambition to get most value for the money spent on the Structural Funds. Therefore, ESPON has an important strategic role to play within EU policy implementation.

With the objective to support the EU Cohesion Policy development with European-wide comparable information, evidence, analyses and scenarios on framework conditions for the development of regions, cities and larger territories, The ESPON programme is very much in line with Nordregio's profile. In the 2013 Programme Nordregio has been involved in 16 out of 65 projects, and in five of them as a lead partner.

Nordregio is thus an important node in the ESPON territorial network. The first reason for this is the coherence between Nordregio's competences and the topics that are covered by ESPON. Another reason is the competitiveness of the Nordic countries when it comes to data accessibility. The Nordregio database, with data on the municipal and regional levels from all of the Nordic countries, regarding certain socio-economic indicators, is an important asset in projects that have the ambition of establishing similar data sets on a pan-European level. As a reward, Nordregio's active involvement in ESPON presents the opportunity for benchmarking, good practices and lessons learned from a European perspective for the benefit of the regional sector in the Nordic countries.

Nordregio is looking forward to the new ESPON 2020. We welcome the plans for a renewed and simpler administration, and the ambitions to put more effort into communication and knowledge service to the political system. Finally, we hope that the time-out between the two programme periods will be as short as possible.

In the first article of this issue of Nordregio News, Transnational Co-Production of Territorial Knowledge: The ESPON Experience, Peter Schmitt and Lukas Smas, both Senior Research Fellows at Nordregio, review the previous ESPON programmes. In light of that, they also reflect upon wishes for the coming programme.

Sverker Lindblad, member of the ESPON Monitoring Committee, takes a look at how Sweden has made use of ESPON knowledge during this past period in his article The Use of ESPON in a Swedish National and Regional Context.

The third article, Towards an ESPON Programme for 2014-2020, by Peter Mehlbye, Director of ESPON Coordination Unit, gives insight on the process and progress towards the third and coming ESPON 2020 programme.

Kjell Nilsson


and the Editorial Board

Back to Nordregio News Issue 4, 2013