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Marginalized or not - the dilemmas of the macroregion of Western Poland

prof. Zaucha Jacek

In August 2010 marshals from five voivodships: Wielkopolskie, Dolnośląskie, Opolskie, Zachodniopomorskie and Lubuskie, signed an agreement aimed at creating a Western Poland macroregion. One of the reasons for this initiative is the perception, by the decision-making elites of these regions, of Western Poland as marginalised. A press interview mentions [1](eg) the marginalization of Lubuskie Voivodship and the support given only to Polish metropolises. These observations prompted marshals to take steps to create the EU assistance programme for the macroregion. The initiative, which refers to solidarity and the need to support economically weaker regions, once again concentrates the debate on the dilemma of the proper selection of the means and insturuments to support development.

In this case, the World Bank takes a stand of primacy of the market over politics. Development is biased. The concentration of production is inevitable, objective and natural. This also applies to Poland (Fig.1). However, with the increase of country's wealth, a reduction of spatial differences in living standard occurs. As main mechanisms of this process, we regard the migration of labour force (World Bank 2009, p.62) and the process of spreading prosperity in the form of inexpensive, high-quality goods and services available outside the place of manufacture due to good infrastructure. Spatial and regional policy should therefore support the best developing areas and ensure their accessibility to the rest of the country. Economic and spatial integration is the key concept i.e. connecting growth poles with the remainder of the territory. It allows the translation of the increase in polarized growth into growth that makes social inclusion possible (World Bank 2009, p.20). According to the report, depending on the scale and complexity of the problem, the instruments necessary for its implementation include:

· Non-spatial institutions (sectoral policies) affecting entire territories and entire communities (eg, regulations concerning land management, labor force, international trade and social services such as: education, health care, water supply, sewage disposal and waste management)

· Infrastructure as a tool to improve accessibility,

· Spatially differentiated programmes, eg fiscal incentives for certain areas, aimed at reducing social and economic inequalities  - necessary to solve complex problems such as intra-urban disparities in the situation of advanced urbanization.  

An approach based on a similar philosophy motivated an updated National Spatial Development Concept (Gorzelak 2006).

OECD perceives these issues differently. OECD experts (2009a) refer rather to the arguments of efficiency than to axiological ones. They point out, however, that persistent developmental disparities mean the under-utilization of both resources and development potential. Therefore, development support policies, both in terms of efficiency and equality, should focus on the least developed regionsAgglomeration does not always accelerate socio-economic development and should not be taken for granted in assumptions about the linear relationship between concentration and growth(OECD 2009c, p. 8). OECD bases its conclusions on specific facts. In the first decade of the 21st century only 45% out of 78 OECD metropolitan regions registered higher growth in GDP per capita than the national average. Two-thirds of GDP in the OECD is generated outside the metropolitan regions. OECD researchers interpret this phenomenon as growth opportunities in all types of regions and assert that the policy focused on supporting urban agglomerations through investments does not automatically accelerate economic growth (OECD 2009b, p. 3). Moreover, as emphasized by Barca and McCann (2010):

· growth in less developed regions does not strengthen inflationary trends due to the weaker pressure on resources,

· growth opportunities in the most developed regions are often limited by space considerations,

· growth of these regions creates significant disadvantages for urban agglomerations,

· given the high level of development already achieved, these regions use their resources less and less efficiently - econometric studies in the US indicate that a doubling of population in these regions would increase production by 5-7%.

Policy proposed by the OECD assumes, as a starting point, that opportunities and growth potential exist throughout the entire territory of a country. We must therefore promote growth so as to allow different regions to achieve their development potential. Faster growth can be achieved when the regions are able to mobilize local resources and assets rather than remain increasingly dependent on aid at national or European level. Stimulating growth, even of the regions lagging behind, is in the interest of the national government and contributes to the growth of national income without compromising its overall pace (OECD 2009b, p. 5). OECD calls for a concept of integrated growth and emphasizes the synergy between resources, growth factors, stakeholders and regions. Effective policies should (OECD 2009b, p. 5):

· Connect infrastructure investments with the actions for building human capital and improving innovative potential, as infrastructure is an important but not sufficient condition for growth,

· Place strong emphasis on: investments in human capital, stimulating innovation and encouraging research, since the agglomeration of knowledge leads to benefits of spatial diffusion and determines the development of the region in the long term,

· Pay attention to institutional factors such as the stakeholders' ability to communicate in local innovation systems.

The proposals of many Polish researchers follow a similar direction . For example, Parteka (2010. p.78) regards differences in the level of development of Baltic regions as opportunities (for the faster growth and modernization) and not threats.

The concept of place-based policy of F.Barca (2009) refers to both approaches. Barca denies the aspatiality of sectoral policies, and indicates that they have significant, even if unintentional, territorial implications (Barca, McCann 2010). According to many researches, including Nijkampa (2010), even monetary policy is not spatially neutral. Hence the need arises for coordination of sectoral policies with regard to a specific territory. The essence of Barca's proposal is to break the uniformity of these policies - different regions need their own policy configurations. Development requires appropriate institutions, spatial structures and policies. This is not possible without understanding the historical, cultural, political and planning context as well as considering the factors of infrastructure, the system of property ownership and its impact on: administrative structures, institutional fabric and settlement system (Barca , McCann 2010). A place-based policy has two characteristic features. It not only adapts to the specific territorial context and spatial relationships but also aggregates and reveals preferences and knowledge of local actors (Barca 2009, p.4).

This proposal provides a counterpoint to the current EU regional policy, whose "objective is compensating for regional differences in unit capital costs (due to productivity gaps) and rebalancing labour and capital flows." (Barca, 2009, p.4) EU strategy has so far been "centred on subsidies to firms or sectoral interventions, often with an exclusive focus on the creation of jobs or on physical connections between places. It has often been based on the replication of best-practices through a top-down method." (Barca, 2009, p.4).

World Bank analyses have provided a spatially-based policy with: a respect to the space, importance of agglomeration and the need of a critical mass for development. Moreover, the demand for an integrated approach and focus on the activation of the endogenous potentials are both based on the conclusions of the OECD . The expert draft entitled "Koncepcja Przestrzennego zagospodarowania Kraju do 2033 roku"(The Concept of National Spatial Development until 2033)(Korcelli and others 2010) appears consistent with the philosophy of development proposed by the report of F. Barca (2009). Authors of the project perceive the target state of Polish space to be a grid of interconnected functional areas of different spatial scale. These should -provide residents with access to jobs and social services essential for the development and preservation of human and social capital (Szlachta, Zaucha 2010, p.163).

Barca (2009), however, is not tempted to formulate hard priorities. He pointed to the examplary classes of issues that could be supported from the EU level, but did not specify, for example, a sequence of investment in time.

Past experience shows that the margin of uncertainty in shaping regional policy is wide. A large number of useful findings have been published on issues such as: the need of an integrated approach, considering territorial specificities when formulating policies, and the interdependence of the centres for the growth and relationships between them. However, based on these existing proposals and experiences, it cannot be unequivocally stated to what extent development policy should focus on the strongest versus the weakest points in regions of space. The decision depends on the interpretation of preferences of a particular community for a certain development process structure and for the target shape of spatial development. Unfortunately, this is often random and results from the auctions conducted outside the public choice mechanism.

In order to assess the effects of the initiative of marshals from Western Poland, removing any emotional aspect, the following questions should be answered:

1. What are the chances of using the benefits of agglomeration to create critical mass for development in Western Poland and initiating a cumulative feedback with the expected vector and intensity ?

2. What will be the effects of this for the rest of the country's development and to what extent will they correspond with the targets of the Long-term National Development Strategy (in preparation).

3. What are the consequences in terms of economic, social and territorial cohesion at different spatial scales.

4. What, in the broader national context, would constitute an alternative way to disburse the additional external funds intended for the development of Western Poland and if they could be obtained for other purposes ? 

Fig.1 Concentration of economic development in Polish space.

Source: World Bank GIS Laboratory quoted by Gill (2010)

[1] Gazeta Wyborcza 2010-12-27 Biedny zachód prosi zachód Europy ...obtained on 28.12.2010 at,33181,8870887,Polityka__Biedny_zachod_prosi_zachod_Europy____.html


Barca F. (2009), An agenda for a reformed Cohesion Policy. A place-based approach to meeting European Union challenges and expectations Independent Report prepared at the request of Danuta Hübner, Commissioner for Regional Policy.

Barca F., P. McCann (2010), The Place Based Approach: A Response to Mr. Gill available athttpHYPERLINK "":// obtained on 30.12.2010.

Gill I. (2010), Regional development policies: Place-based or people-centred?” available at: on 30.12.2010.

Gorzelak G. (red.) (2006),  Zaktualizowana koncepcja przestrzennego zagospodarowania kraju, „Studia Regionalne i Lokalne”, t.2.

Korcelli P., M. Degórski, D. Drzazga, T. Komornicki, T. Markowski, J. Szlachta., G. Węcławowicz, J. Zalewski, J. Zaucha, (2010) Ekspercki Projekt Koncepcji Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania Kraju do 2033 roku, „Studia”, tom CXXVIII, Komitet Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania Kraju, Warszawa.

OECD (2009a), Regions Matter: Economic Recovery, Innovation and Sustainable Growth. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris.

OECD (2009b), How Regions Grow, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris.

 OECD (2009c), Investing or Growth: Building Innovative Regions Background Report.  Meeting of the Territorial Development Policy Committee (TDPC) at Ministerial Level 31 March 2009 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris.

Parteka T. (2010), Region Morza Bałtyckiego – lokomotywą Europy, w: Parteka T. (red.) „Wymiar europejski Regionu Morza Bałtyckiego” „Studia”, volume CXXIX, Komitet Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania Kraju, Warszawa p. 59-79.

Nijkamp P. (2010), Regional development in an unstable world, „Studies”, vol. 27 part 1, Polska Akademia Nauk, Komitet Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania Kraju, s. 10-18.

Szlachta J., J. Zaucha (2010), A New paradigm of the EU region al development in the context of the Poland’s National Spatial Development Concepts, „Studies”,  vol. 27 part 1, Polska Akademia Nauk, Komitet Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania Kraju, s. 153-171.

World Bank (2009), World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic GeographyWashington DC.

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    polityka regionalna, Polska Zachodnia, region

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