Greening Europe? Environmental Issues in Spatial Planning Policies and Instruments

By Leibenath, Markus; Pallagst, Karina M. | The Town Planning Review, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Greening Europe? Environmental Issues in Spatial Planning Policies and Instruments


Leibenath, Markus, Pallagst, Karina M., The Town Planning Review


Spatial development is evolving as a new, though informal, field of political action of the European Union (EU), conceptualised by a variety of framework documents and instruments. Whereas observing the implementation of environmental principles is firmly established in other political fields, the 'greening' of European spatial development policy is yet to be analysed. The European Spatial Developments Perspective (ESDP) and its application process as well as the 'Framework for Action on Sustainable Urban Development' are key elements of our research work, while the main focus of the study is the process of applying environmental principles. The outcome of the study shows that, at least nominally, environmental factors do play a major role in all of the spatial policy instruments investigated. However, they are not yet given sufficient emphasis, something which is also the case for the ESDP itself and that part of its implementation process related to the Community initiative, INTERREG.

Efforts towards attaining a European spatial development policy represent a new Reld of action on the European level. Relevant actors are European Union (EU) member states and the European Commission (EC). The development comprises the documents Europe 2000 (CEC, 1991), Europe 2000+(CEC, 1994), the Communication from the Commission 'Towards an urban agenda in the European Union' (CEC, 1997), the ESDP European Spatial Development Perspective (CEC, 1999), and Sustainable Urban Development in the European Union: A Framework for Action (CEC, 1998). Although urban issues are addressed in the ESDP as well, it takes on a broad approach focusing on the development of the European territory as a whole including urban-rural relations (Atkinson, 2001).

The variety of instruments shows that spatial and urban development is evolving as a new, though informal, Reld of political action of the EU. Since the beginning of the 1970s, many attempts have been made by different environmental policy actors to foster the provision for environmental aspects within EU policies (Wilkinson, 1990). They achieved popularity under the catchword 'greening'. The Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 (Official Journal of the European Communities, 97/C 340/173) takes these attempts into consideration. In Article 2 'a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment' is declared an express aim of the EU. Furthermore it is stated explicitly in Article 6: 'Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the deRnition and implementation of the Community policies and activities, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development.'

The integration of environmental aspects is Rrmly established in other political Relds like the structural policy of the EU. Under the headline of 'Greening the structural funds' it was agreed in the 'Guidelines for Structural Fund Programmes' that for the programming period 2000-2006 environmental aspects have to be taken into account in implementing measures in the framework of the structural funds. Accordingly, Shutt et al. (2002) point out the growing importance of sustainable development in the framework of the structural funds. Or more accurately, they claim in parentheses that this might be no more than a nominal commitment.

Spatial and urban policy as well as environmental policy aim at improving environmental and living conditions. However, both policy Relds are following different paths to achieve this (van der Gun and de Roo, 1994). On the European level, coordination in both Relds turns out to be different and complex. This is due to the varied and interrelated groups of participants in the structure of a multi-level system. Such a system is characterised by a multitude of heterogeneous actors, whose relations are based more on the exchange of information than on mechanisms of control, and shared decision making processes (Benz, 1998). It might be concluded that in a system as complex as the one mentioned above, single topical issues like, for example, environmental aspects might lose their relevance during the process of implementation. …

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