KREMER April 2019

Unity on the Development of the EU Territory

Reflections on an EU Territorial Reference Framework


While the world is turning and rapidly growing ever more interdependent, European political leaders are engaged in discussions leading to break-up (Brexit) and less commitment to European unity (in particular Hungary, Poland and Italy). Some leaders, like president Macron in France, try to pull in the opposite direction by advocating a revival of the European cooperation. The size and influence of the EU in the world should in fact in times of globalisation lead everyone to opt for a strong and united EU.

One policy area has hitherto slipped the attention of EU leaders, this despite (nearly) all policies and activities have a territorial impact. They take place somewhere, changes the space and the place specific conditions for people and enterprises.

Current geo-political developments, rapid globalisation, socio-economic processes, un-coordinated sector policy decisions, ongoing territorial fragmentation and concentration trends on the ground are producing regions and cities of winners and losers and less cohesion. This development is desperately calling for EU policy makers intervening and innovating the EU policy portfolio with a stronger territorial dimension.

No overarching aspirations aims or objectives for the long-term development of the EU territory have hitherto been decided politically. Vague aims on a balanced and harmonious EU territory and territorial cohesion exist in the Treaty but is as such little operational and have close to zero influence.

In this EU policy vacuum a myriad of independent, stand-alone decisions taken by global and European private actors as well as public authorities in member states, regions and municipalities are influencing and shaping the EU territory of tomorrow. This has happened for long, unconsciously, without aspirations and attempts to promote an integrated development of the entire EU territory. A European Territorial Reference Framework is now becoming a necessity, not least as the role of the EU level increases with globalisation.

Member states have made courageous efforts to fill the gap by an intergovernmental Territorial Agenda for the EU. It has been processed at ministerial level since 2002 and is supposed to be updated during the German EU Presidency in autumn 2020.

The European Commission has so far not been really interested and supportive towards the Territorial Agenda. Member states attempt has not been considered worth-while by the European Commission to seriously promote in key political processes in Brussels, particularly the European Parliament and the Council.

This situation is hopefully slowly changing as the EC DG Regio/Urban has started pleading for integrated territorial development. Not yet, fully wholeheartedly as this approach is not proposed to mainstream programmes and EU sector policies as it logically should.

What could transparent territorial aspirations, aims and objectives at EU level mean for Europe?

  • A European Territorial Reference Framework brings synergies and coordinated spending of resources. Clarity on the long-term future stimulates coordination of ideas, creates win-win situations, ensures best use of resources and brings transparency to citizens. Potentially conflicting investment could be captured and reconciled before carried into orbit. The EU would through a united view on an integrated territorial development become more attractive for foreign investments and as destination.
  • Clear ambitions on the EU territory for the next generation stimulate support for the EU project. Citizens living in different regions and cities, some in less successful regions, cities or neighbourhoods, would have a better possibility to take decisions on where to live. Protests like the Yellow Vests could benefit from clear, overall aspirations for future living conditions in less-flourishing and deprived areas. Clear ambitions on climate change that does not hit the EU territory evenly, could be positive for students currently wanting policy makers action.
  • Transparent aspirations for the entire European territory promote the EU globally and benefit investments finding their optimal place. Private sector investments would enjoy the augmented security of being able to take reference of long-term EU aspirations concerning settlement structures, infrastructure improvements, future connectivity, work force evolutions, university education facilities, green infrastructure, etc. Foreign direct investors would be happy for having such a reference.

How should consensus on an EU Territorial Reference Framework be ensured?

  • Reaching ownership and commitment is a process of territorial cooperation at highest level. In the current overall political EU landscape, some “massaging” would be needed to convince about the added value for the EU of a common reference framework. In the process, regions and cities as well as all facets of the civic society should be involved and listened to.
  • First step is to cement a cooperation between the European Commission and EU member states. In order to attract attention and embark in a wider communication and dialogue there need to be an outline of an EU Territorial Reference Framework on the table. The Territorial Agenda 2020+ constitutes an important political initiative by EU member states in formulating an overarching territorial reference framework at European level. Likewise, the promotion of integrated territorial development started by the European Commission is important to pursue further. Therefore, in moving forward the EC concept of integrated territorial development and the Territorial Agenda 2020+ should merge and become one process leading to only one policy document – a EU Territorial Reference Framework.