Why territorial thinking?

European policy development is facing major challenges: climate change, new digital technologies, growing social disparities and polarisation within European societies, international migration, new geo-political and economic realities in Europe’s neighbouring states, divisive and anti-cohesive political forces in the EU (Brexit, Visegrád group, 17+1 cooperation mechanism, etc.) and, last but not least, currently the Covid 19 pandemic.


Recent EU policy priorities, such as the green deal and the preparation for the digital age reflect and are conceived to deal with these challenges.


All such challenges and their policy responses have a distinct territorial dimension; they impact different territories, regions and cities differently. So, Europe needs general answers at EU level as well as locally adapted measures that reflect the territorial diversity. It is therefore important that policy processes at European, national, regional and local levels, that have a clear territorial impact, takes this into consideration and operate smoothly together.


The EU has already established a sophisticated procedural system that should guarantee that, in the formulation and implementation of EU policies, national, regional and local views are adequately considered: mechanisms like ex-ante assessment of EU policy proposals (also of territorial impacts), the co-decision of EU Council and EU Parliament and the involvement of bodies such as the Committee of the Regions, as well as the actual implementation of EU policies by national, regional and local authorities.


However, although some basic coordination between European, national, regional and local level does exist in principle, in connecting EU policies with the diversity of local situations, much more could be done to ensure that EU policies foster territorial coordination, cooperation and cohesion in Europe.


Hitherto, policy development at EU level has given little attention to where (in which places, regions, cities) and how policy implementation best adapts to local circumstances. Only a few areas of policy, such as regional policy, trans-European networks (TEN-T) and certain parts of environmental policy have by their very nature been territorial. The majority of other policy areas have only pursued sectoral objectives.


An efficient implementation of policies not only needs (vertical) coordination between policy levels and (horizontal) coordination between sectors, but also territorial coordination between neighbouring administrative policy units, such as cities and their functional hinterlands, transborder regions, urban and rural entities, etc. This is the essence of what is referred to as the ‘territorial dimension’ of EU policies: taking into account regional/local differences and complementarities within a certain territory, looking across sectors and insisting on policy coordination between administrative entities.


On this backdrop, the Territorial Thinkers aim to promote evidence-based and innovative options and recommendations to EU policies, seen from a territorial perspective.


Topics already presented in the Briefings and the Kremer blog include key questions about the EU territory of tomorrow, territorial fragmentation and the territorial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the territorial dimension of smart specialization and Brexit. 


Addressess of territorial thinking?

The Territorial Thinkers’ platform addresses three specific target groups in order to inspire policy makers to present their own rational and solid arguments for a stronger territorial dimension of European policy making.


  • Firstly, we want to reach out with our territorial arguments to those policy makers and experts that focus on policies with a strong and explicit territorial dimension (Structural and regional economic policies, Trans-European Networks, environmental policies, agricultural policies etc.) and would like to invite them to debate and uncover the added value of more integrated territorial thinking.


  • Secondly, we would like to invite policy makers and experts that work in fields without - at least at first glance - an obvious territorial dimension (such as climate change, health care policy, demography and good governance,…) to discuss the territorial relevance and implications of such policies.


  • Thirdly, we want to provide a platform to bring together the ideas within the large group of professionals specialized and engaged in different fields of territorial cooperation and coordination and working in EU programmes like Interreg for transborder, transregional and transnational cooperation, or institutions like the Committee of the Regions, national ministries, the EU Commission, or related think tanks.


All readers interested in the aims of this platform are invited to become actively involved by commenting on the content of the Territorial Thinkers briefings, passing on relevant and interesting papers, and contributing inputs to the KREMER blog.


The ultimate intention of the activities is policy adaptation and influencing political decision-making. The basic idea is to choose and debate actual policy matters where the territorial dimension may benefit from a sharpening up of the argumentation and ultimately lead to a more targeted and cohesive policy implementation. Besides understanding the matter, the focus of the debate is on identifying key messages from a European perspective that can convince relevant decision-makers. The potential impact of the arguments is as important as the arguments themselves, and constructive ideas for the future are more important than just criticism of the present.