KREMER January 2020

The European Green Deal and Just Transition Mechanism and their territorial dimension

Reflections on an incoming major policy shift in Europe

by Kai Böhme


In January 2020, the European Commission presented its proposal for the European Green Deal Investment Plan and the Just Transition Mechanism. Many details of which will be further developed and polished in the near future. Still, the proposal is remarkable from a territorial point of view as it includes:

  • A major European investment policy with an outspoken territorial dimension. The very starting point of the Green Deal and Just Transition Mechanism are territorially unevenly dispersed effects of the energy transition. In other words, spatial inequalities are a key concern for Europe and need to be addressed not just by regional policies, but as proposed by an overarching policy mobilising EUR 1 trillion. This is fully in line with the forthcoming Territorial Agenda for Europe and its overarching objectives on a Just and Green Europe and offers a vehicle for implementing the priorities on
    • Balanced Europe: Better balanced territorial development utilising Europe’s diversity, and
    • Functional regions: Local and regional development, less inequality between places.
  • A policy addressing territorial imbalances before they turn into challenges. Another important point of the Green Deal and Just Transition is the aim to prepare for a major economic transition in Europe. While in the past, policies mainly targeted ex-post those regions which did not manage the economic transition smoothly, this time the EU tries to anticipate which regions might suffer from the envisaged economic transition and see what can be done to prevent that they become losers of the transition. This way, the European Green Deal and Just Transition Mechanism hold a promising potential to combat the geography of discontent and offer a future for all places and communities, the strapline of the forthcoming Territorial Agenda.
  • Territorial transition plans become a major tool for investments. One of the three pillars of the implementation of the EU Just Transition Mechanism will be the Just Transition Fund implemented under a shared management system. The focus of the Just Transition Fund will be on the economic diversification of the territories most affected by the anticipated economic transition. The financial support from the Just Transition Fund will be based on territorial transition plans which shall be drawn up at regional level (NUTS 3). The Commission proposal (COM(2020) 22 final) provides detailed guidance as to what to address in these plans. The territorial transition plans offer the possibility to develop regional perspectives for functional – rather than administrative – regions, which paint a future picture the regions in a wider European context.
  • An integrated place-sensitive policy offering more than just money. Besides financial support the EU Just Transition Mechanism implicitly acknowledges also that territorial governance is an important factor for local and regional development and for managing a major economic transition. The Commission takes an integrated and place-sensitive approach to the European Green Deal and Just Transition Mechanism. This ambitious policy aims at bringing together players from various policy fields, from public, private and civil society sector and various territories to address the development challenges and potential of specific places. Furthermore, the proposal envisages setting up a Just Transition Platform to facilitate the exchange of experience across different territories and different sectors. This new and integrated approach put forward by the new Commission is very welcome!
  • A policy acknowledging that what happens in one place affects the development in another place. The EU Just Transition Mechanism acknowledges that territories are not isolated places but develop through a web of mutual relations, flows and interdependencies. Therefore, it envisages to not only support projects in transition territories, but also projects outside these territories if they help the transition of the transition territories. This awareness on possible spill-over effects is positive as Europe needs to maximise the effects of its development resources in today’s world economy.

Taken together, the European Green Deal and Just Transition Mechanism fuel some optimism that the need for territorial thinking finally has hit home in European policies. The current proposal gives hope, that we will have an overarching policy, that is highly place-sensitive, rather anticipatory to local and regional development challenges, supports an integrated governance and acknowledges the importance of territorial development plans and the interdependencies between places. If all this territorial thinking is followed through, the transition of Europe to a thriving carbon-neutral society and prosperous economy might actually work out.

The European Green Deal Investment Plan and the Just Transition Mechanism concern only some European regions. It would help the economic transition and integration of Europe, if the same approach to integrated, place-sensitive and anticipatory policy-making could be applied in all EU policies, to ensure they address all European municipalities and regions. Taking EU economic and industrial policies as an example, the EU Commission’s slogan of an “economy that works for people” should actually read “economy that works for people in all places” and guide the development of future industrial policies. Many other EU policies could benefit from a similar approach.


About the author:

Kai Böhme, is member of the Territorial Thinkers and founder and director of Spatial Foresight.