Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Coordination in European Spatial Development: Whose Responsibility?

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Coordination in European Spatial Development: Whose Responsibility?

Article excerpt

In spite of repeated demands by the European Parliament and the EU Member States, responsibility for European spatial development policy remains unclear. Spatial development is thus the co-incidental outcome of EU sectoral policies. There is no unit in the European Commission coordinating the spatial consequences of Community policies. This situation results in obvious deficiency, regarding both the efficiency and the spatial effects of these policies. In particular after the establishment of territorial cohesion as one of the core Community objectives in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, coordination taking account of the spatial impact of European sectoral policies is more in need than ever. It is a matter of urgency to discuss the organisational structure, as well as the form and content of spatial policy coordination in order to achieve sustainable spatial development.

The spatial effects of Community policies do not automatically complement each other, in line with a more balanced regional development. Nor do they automatically correspond to the development concepts of regions and cities. Without a reciprocal fine-tuning process, they can unintentionally aggravate disparities in regional development if they are exclusively geared towards specific sectoral objectives. (CEC, 1999, paragraph 61)

Spatial development has formed the object of discussion between the European Commission and the Member States only since the beginning of the 19905. Besides the fact that responsibility for it has not been unequivocally clarified, there are further questions in need of resolution - what form should European spatial development policy be, what is expected of it, and what will its tasks be? Opinion differs on all of the above, which reflects each Member State's spatial development 'heritage' such as their understanding of spatial development and the heterogeneity of spatial planning systems.

Based on the German understanding the resulting spatial policy could be characterised as multiclisciplinary and would under no circumstance attach itself to any particular sector. The core task of this policy is to coordinate spatially relevant sectoral policies in order to achieve a balanced and well-regulated spatial development and to align the development of subordinate areas with that of the area as a whole. This must not be confused with spatially relevant policies, such as environmental or transport policies, which have a significant impact on spatial development yet are focused on sectoral objectives. With its multiple focuses, spatial development policy goes beyond individual sector policies.

In the light of the existing institutional and organisational framework at the European level and the German understanding of spatial development policy, one can justifiably claim that there is no such thing as spatial development policy at the European level. On the contrary, spatial development is actually treated as a coincidental effect of EU sectoral policies (Schafer, 2003).

It is obvious that the lack of coordination between Community policies causes complicated problems, both in terms of effective assignment of financial subsidies and the achievement of the Community's sectoral policy goals. There have been numerous attempts to reduce frictional losses during the implementation of these policies and to establish a reliable framework for European spatial development. The European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) adopted by the Ministers for Spatial Planning at the Potsdam Council in 1999 was a milestone. For the first time, this document provides guidelines for the spatial development of the EU. The ESDP takes the new Member States into consideration and its guidelines have been jointly developed by the European Commission and the Member States and were accepted by all parties.

However, in terms of the coordination of European policies, the ESDP has had only minor impact. In Part 3 of the Structural Fund guidelines for the programming period 2000-06, concerning urban and rural development and their contribution to balanced territorial development, the indicative guidelines of the ESDP are indeed mentioned. …

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