Publication » Opinion

Wyślij Send | Wyślij Print

Territorial Cohesion of the EU: an opportunity or a threat?

Profesor Jacek Szlachta

Since the Delors Reform of 1988, the European Community's structural policy has become the organisation’s second most important item of budget expenditures, concentrating about 30% of the funds. It is believed that the structural policy is a key instrument for deepening European integration due to its regional character and reasons for intervention. This policy has been programmed across a long time horizon. Its various editions included the periods: 1989-1993, 1994-1999, 2000-2006 and 2007-2013. Its aim is to increase cohesion on a national and regional level, in both - economic and social dimensions, since excessive differentiation leads to negative consequences for the whole European Community. The main measures are:  in the case of economic cohesion - differentiation of gross domestic product per capita adjusted by purchasing power parity and in the case of social cohesion - differentiation of the unemployment rate according to LFS (Labour Force Survey) as well as the employment rate.

During the European Council Summit held in Lisbon, in 2005, the European Union Reform Treaty was Approved. The process of its ratification by all the member states of the Community lasted until 2009, therefore the treaty comes into force on 1 December 2009. This treaty is essential for the organization of decision-making in the European Union, which now consists of 27 states.
A treat supplemented by the issue of territorial cohesion is crucial for the European structural policy

In accordance with the provisions of the Article 3 of the new Treaty on the European Union, the EU "includes the objective of promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity between Member States”. Articles 174-178 of the Treaty are related to issues of economic, social and territorial cohesion of the EU. Significant additions and changes made in Article 174 lead to the emergence of the following notation: "In order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Union shall develop and pursue its action leading to the strengthening of its economic, social and territorial cohesion". In particular, "the Community shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least privileged regions". Among the regions concerned, particular attention is given to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, Cross-border and mountain regions.

The discussion on territorial cohesion will be critical for the modification of the European structural policy after 2013. The basic problems which have emerged are as follows:

A. What will be the time horizon of the next programming period of the Community budget and policies.

According to the European Union Reform Treaty, the European Union is programming the budget and policies across a long time horizon, not less than 5 years. Therefore, the next programming period will have to concern at least the years 2014-2018, or perhaps just as the current period, even up to seven years, that is the period 2014-2020. In general, countries that are net contributors to the budget of the Community aim to reduce the financial perspective, while countries that are net beneficiaries of financial transfers - to its elongation. Spatial structures at different territorial scales are characterized by the so-called  "slow changeability" hence a long time horizon seems to be particularly beneficial for the increase of the level of territorial cohesion, which requires a consistent national policy.

B. What will be the measure of territorial cohesion.

The experience of the European Union's structural policy indicate that the clearest situation is when we are dealing with one or at most two specific instruments. Any attempts to construct a synthetic indicator concerning cohesion failed, as they are not clear and legible, and the process of choosing, and then weighing the partial indicators is a subject of controversy. In the case of economic and social cohesion, respectively one and two measures have been developed. In the case of territorial cohesion, measures of accessibility seem to be the most diagnostic. These measures are characterized by the travel time by road, rail and air, and integrated, taking into account these three means of communication. The works of the ESPON programme that identified travel times in NUTS 2 and NUTS 3 regions of the EU appear particularly helpful. Searching for an individual measure for each of the four dimensions of territorial cohesion (concentration, accessibility, collaboration, specific territorial characteristics) may be another solution. The selection of measures must be accompanied by definitions of benchmarks. They are described as the minimum levels necessary to be achieved in the conditions of the Community, or as the minimum levels for mobilization of financial flows. It is certainly possible that the discussion of the member states on this issue will last for many years, due to the complexity of the subject, divergent interests and the way the territorial cohesion is perceived.

C What will be the method of financing the activities related to territorial cohesion.

The possible modification of the instruments of European cohesion policy is of key importance. The question arises whether the policy will be continued after 2013 through a set of previously used instruments, or whether new solutions will appear. European cohesion policy is currently using grants from the two Structural Funds as well as the Cohesion Fund, and soft loans financed by the European Investment Bank. The demarcation line between various funds (the three above-mentioned and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development) and the principle of "one fund for one programme” adopted in the 2007 (an operational program cannot be simultaneously financed by the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund) is very vague and it's criticism leads to the proposal of one fund. The current, eclectic model would become even more complicated by introducing the activities essential for territorial cohesion. A special fund, dedicated to territorial cohesion would probably be the least efficient solution. In the current structure of the European Cohesion Policy Objectives, Objective 1 (Convergence) and Objective 3 (Territorial Cooperation) cover a significant part of territorial issues, though the topic is not exhausted. Therefore, a fundamental modification of the Objectives of the European Structural Policy after 2013 will be necessary. New generation initiatives of the Community seem to be a very good method of undertaking effective activities of the different dimensions of territorial cohesion.

D. What will be the basic level of territorial intervention of the European Policy.

In the case of European Structural Policy, the Cohesion Fund is addressed to the Member States, but the intervention of the Structural Funds takes place at national and regional level of NUTS 2 regions (only cross-border cooperation focuses on NUTS 3 level regions). Treaties and operational records do not indicate the level of spatial interventions, however territoriality is undoubtedly belongs to the scale below the national level of Member States. Thus its future localization can be imagined at least on three levels: NUTS 1 or NUTS 2 or NUTS 3 Deliberations carried out against the background of European Structural Policy reforms demonstrate the possibility of taking up the problems of territorial cohesion in a variety of very specific spatial layouts, not necessarily consistent with the classification of NUTS regions. Some EU Member States are not interested in strengthening the classical regional level of the European Structural Policy, which are a NUTS 2 regions, as in these Community countries there are very strong centrifugal tendencies at the regional level.

E. What will be the structure and scale of activities undertaken in the system of four key dimensions of the territorial cohesion.

The dimensions of territorial cohesion were defined as: concentration, connection, cooperation and specific geographic features. Each of the Member States is characterized by a different structure of problems in view of these four elements. In the most developed countries the problem of concentration is a priority and in peripheral countries with a low level of development, forming links is at the centre of attention. Collaboration is a dimension of universal significance for the whole Community. The fourth dimension - regions with specific geographical features - may be a particularly difficult problem. It should be expected that the pressure to identify various types of specific problem areas will be increasing and special financial envelopes for those areas will be created. In 2007-2013, Objective 3 of the European Territorial Cooperation corresponds to this definition of territorial cohesion, focusing, however, only 2.5% of the European Structural Policy funds. Therefore a substantial increase in the share of these expenses, even to double-digit numbers, is expected. The lines of intervention will probably be expanded as well.

F. How will territorial cohesion be impacted by the new generation of challenges facing the European Union.

Various desk studies highlight, above all, climate change, and in the second order: demographic processes (aging population), the consequences of economic globalization and rising energy costs. So far, the EU Cohesion Policy has been characterized by its unique ability to accommodate emerging challenges by modifying rules, aims of intervention and regulations. Climate change resulting from the process of global warming will have a very diversified impact on the situation the European Union's regions. Nevertheless, extended analyses on territorial consequences have not yet been carried out. Significant outflow of population and processes of deformation of demographic structures will affect mostly less developed regions. A very important challenge for the Structural Policy has become the deep socio-economic crisis that began in 2008. For the first time regulations of the European Structural Policy were revised during their implementation, by introducing a correction in an already functioning programming system. The changes involved, amongst others, simplifying and accelerating the implementation of the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund. The most important change for territorial cohesion will be increasing the flexibility of the European Structural Policy through the creation of various types of reserves and striving to provide high quality links between socio-economic structures.

Recent publications by this author:


  • Tagi:

    fundusze strukturalne Unii Europejskiej, rozwój regionalny, europejska polityka spójności, zagospodarowanie przestrzenne

Sort by