Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Contribution of European Structural Funds to Territorial Cohesion

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The Contribution of European Structural Funds to Territorial Cohesion

Article excerpt

In considering how EU regional policy should evolve in future, there may be useful lessons in the recent experience of implementing the Structural Funds. While it is true that the long-standing objectives of European regional policy have been primarily concerned with reducing economic and social disparities, it can be argued that the Structural Funds are already contributing to increased territorial cohesion within the EU. This paper pursues this proposition. It begins by examining the evolution of Structural Fund programmes over the past 15 years and then discusses the strategic objectives of Objective 1 and Objective 2 programmes, covering both the 1994-99 and 2000-06 programming periods. The paper considers explanations for the shifts identified, before concluding with some reflections about the future importance of territorial cohesion within EU regional policy.

Notwithstanding the importance accorded to balanced development in the Third Cohesion Report (GEG, 2004), the European Union (EU) is uncertain how best to promote the goals of territorial cohesion. This issue is being extensively researched as part of the ESPON programme discussed by van Gestel and Faludi in this issue, with a view to identifying possible priorities and measures that could be incorporated in the 2007-13 Structural and Cohesion Fund programmes.

In considering how EU regional policy should evolve in future, there may be useful lessons in the recent experience of implementing the Structural Funds. While it is true that the long-standing objectives of European regional policy have been primarily concerned with reducing economic and social disparities, it can be argued that the Structural Funds are in fact already contributing to increased territorial cohesion within the EU. This contribution has three parts:

* the adoption and promotion by EU regional policy of a more strategic and integrated, cross-sectoral approach to economic development;

* support for a new model of territorial governance, with a greater role for subnational authorities; and

* advocacy of a new method of policy implementation, involving partnership among a range of economic and social actors.

This paper examines one of these issues - the incorporation of territorial cohesion within the aims and objectives of EU programme strategies. It begins by examining the evolution of Structural Fund programmes over the past 15 years and then discusses the strategic objectives of Objective 1 and Objective 2 programmes in turn, covering both the 1994-99 and 2000-06 programming periods. The paper then considers explanations for the shifts identified, before concluding with some reflections about the future importance of territorial cohesion within EU regional policy.

Territorial cohesion in EU regional policy

Context: the evolution of Structural Funds

It is hard to generalise about the integration of territorial cohesion within EU regional policy - the implementation of the Structural Funds differs not just between countries, but increasingly between regions within countries. A further important point is that, over the past 16 years, since the reform of the Structural Funds in 1988, there has been a process of evolution in the design, governance and delivery of EU regional policy. This applies to the way in which EU regional development planning, and the formulation of objectives and priorities within Community Support Frameworks (CSFs) and Single Programming Documents (SPDs) have been undertaken, as well as the strategic direction of programmes, the management arrangements, the extent of partnership, the sophistication of project delivery and the investment in monitoring and evaluation (Bachtler, 2003).

For example, early EU programmes were drafted by small, exclusive groups, almost always within individual government departments. The initial programmes (1989-93) were often viewed as mechanisms for simply drawing down EU funding. …

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