From ESPON 2020 to ESPON 2030

The high-level online conference “From ESPON 2020 to ESPON 2030 – Building on 20 years of innovative support for territorial policy-making” on 29 March 2022 gathered more than 400 participants to discuss achievements of the present and perspectives of the future of ESPON programme.

Organised by the ESPON  Managing Authority, the event informed about the ESPON 2030 Programme the new strategic integrated approach and the first themes of research. Furthermore, during the event feedback on the consultation process on the first Thematic Action Plans (TAPs) themes and their focus was presented and it was discussed how different stakeholders can be involved in the new programme.

Terry Martin, Deutsche Welle journalist and director of SPIA, moderated the event from the studio in Luxembourg.

In his welcoming address Minister of Energy and Spatial Planning of Luxembourg, Claude Turmes referred to the multi crises the world is facing, from COVID to Ukraine and the climate crisis.

“Spatial planning needs to be part of the post-covid analyses, so that we are better prepared and that we have a better answer maybe in future when it comes to this kind of pandemics”, underlined Mr Turmes.

He also noted that we are confronted with broken democracies probably as a result of broken territories. “We need much more research to understand how a territory which was a pleasant place is now a place of discontent”.

Mr Turmes also emphasised the need for ESPON to further follow up the global dimension. “How the global dimension of spatial planning could be organized?”, he challenged the audience. 

The European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Ms Elisa Ferreira congratulated ESPON for its work: “having 20 years of territorial analysis, of excellence and expertise bringing academic knowledge to bear on policy changes is really a landmark” she said and added in the light of the new challenges we permanently have to face that “territorial analysis is needed for Europe and evidence-based policies are needed more than ever”.

The Commissioner also referred to the 8th Cohesion report recently published by the European Commission and highlighted that this report “shows that cohesion works and in fact, it is more necessary than ever as a global principle of European integration”. Furthermore, she noted, the “Union is in fact as strong as its weakest link”, and added, “We need cohesion as an enabler of the functioning of the internal market and of green and digital transition and as a leveller correcting asymmetries and making sure that we all move together”.

“We have not been prepared for such a crisis so it has exposed our weaknesses and cast a light on the heavy costs of non-cohesion,” said the President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) Apostolos Tzitzikostas. “Emergencies made us aware of how valuable our union is, but cohesion has come to our side and it is protecting citizens and supporting local communities, demonstrating its ability to respond to both short and longer term challenges”.

Mr Tzitzikostas stressed the importance of the cooperation between ESPON and the Committee of the Regions as a “strategic asset for every actor at the EU, national, regional and local level” that shows “the vital role of place-based policymaking”.

Referring to the future, the President of the CoR identified some key areas for cooperation with ESPON: to adapt spatial planning to the societal changes of the 21st century to promote territorial assessments in other EU policies and increase their impact and to support the cohesion alliance to promote cohesion as a value.

The President of the Regional Development Committee (REGI) of the European Parliament Younous Omarjee focused on the cooperation between ESPON and the REGI Committee, which contribute decisively to its legislative work. “As legislators, we are confronted with the reality of territories that face challenges that are as multiple as they are complex,” said Mr Omarjee. “And the data you provide us with is essential to assess the current situation, to evaluate the impact of our policies and to build a new strategy”.

The president of the REGI Committee welcomed ESPON’s intention to work on mapping of natural risks and adaptation strategies to climate change in Europe, a work that comes in line with the Committee’s decision to make the new cohesion regulations one of the main investment pillars for the Green New Deal.

“We need more than ever to be informed by solid analysis and this is why ESPON is an absolutely essential partner for the Regional Development Commission”, concluded Mr Omarjee.

All speakers underlined from their perspective that the cruel war in Ukraine will have a crucial long term impact on the division of labour on the territory.

The Chair of the Commission for Territorial Cohesion and EU budget (COTER) of the CoR, Nathalie Sarrabezolles emphasized the support ESPON is providing to the CoR since 2014 in carrying out territorial impact assessments, “this partnership has been one of the most fruitful ones for the CoR in recent years” said Ms Sarrabezolles, “as we managed to put territorial impact assessments on the radar of the European Commission, who has been started carrying out its own territorial impact assessments since 2017”.

The COTER Chair identified also the lack of data at the sub-national level as another field of future cooperation with ESPON. “ESPON’s big potential lies with the focus on gaps in official statistics or showcasing new uses of existing data”, she said.

Finally, she referred to the online tools and published studies that have been “widely used by policymakers, and the Committee of the Regions is precisely one of these users”.

The Director-General of Directorate-General for Regional and Urban policies οf the European Commission (DG REGIO) Mark Lemaitre congratulated ESPON for its approach and the development of the new programme. He said that “resilience is absolutely key for the solidity, stability of our society” and that we need to avoid fractures within societies and territories, and focus on just transition not only for green but also for digital”.

Mr Lemaitre identified two key areas where the new ESPON 2030 Programme can make a difference: In assessing the impact of sectoral policies on territories where “ESPON has already developed a toolbox for that” and with the TAP on the ‘Governance of new geographies’ that could help member states “to think beyond administrative boundaries and to think functional areas”.

Romina Boarini, Director of the OECD Centre for Well-Being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE) presented a recent study of the OECD underlining one very important message that “triggering down economics doesn’t work, what we need is to trigger up economics”. 

Ms Boarini noted the mainstreaming of territorial policies and that place-based policies have now become more important in the entire world. “Policymakers are understanding and appreciating every day more the importance of territories”, she said.

For Ms Boarini the work of ESPON is fully complementary to the works of the OECD. “The very strong element of the ESPON Programme that they put so much emphasis on engaging with stakeholders and local communities”, that’s the only way to make policies acceptable and successful for the citizens”.

The WISE director pointed to the consequences of the Ukrainian invasion, the role of social economies and how businesses are investing in their communities as some potential areas of future cooperation with ESPON.

Andrés Rodriguez-Posé, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics appreciated the fact that a green transition to a climate-neutral economy is one of the main aims of the future ESPON 2030 Programme. “Climate change is a fundamental challenge for humanity and the EU green deal is going to generate factor reallocation that is going to have signification territorial consequences,” he said. “The idea of bringing together green transition with just social economic and transition of opportunities this idea of creating geographies and changing geographies is fundamental because it would provide the necessary foundations for a better and more resilient and more equal Europe”, he added.

For Professor Rodriguez-Posé ESPON has been pioneering in analyzing territorial trends and producing data knowledge, in identifying fundamental environmental, social, economic, technological and governance challenges that affected us for 20 years and in issues like climate change, population ageing, migration, smart specialization, innovation, multi-level governance.

Thiemo Eser, from the ESPON Managing Authority and Wiktor Szydarowski, Director of the ESPON EGTC presented the design and the main elements of the new ESPON 2030 programme.

Mr Eser explained that the ESPON programme focuses on territorial evidence to support stakeholders at all levels. “It is our DNA to do research and evidence production, but we are only successful if this research is used in practice,” said Mr Eser, “and that distinguishes us from other research programs. We have a clear focus on the green transition to climate-neutral economies while ensuring at the same time just living conditions for all people and places”.

Mr Eser pointed at the environmental challenges, social diversities, economic transitions and technological transformations we are facing and that we have to deal with in a multi-level governance policy environment, but “we are fully aware of this rather complex policy context and this actually forces us to be very clear about how we set up our research and how we make the link to the stakeholders”.

ESPON’s Director, Wiktor Szydarowski presented an overview of the consultation process for the preparation of the ESPON 2030 Programme and the first four TAPs on Climate-neutral territories, governance of new geographies, places resilient to crises and perspective for all people and places.

Mr Szydarowski recalled that ESPON organized an “induced consultation” by approaching different European networks directly asking for their advice both as providers of interesting ideas but also as multipliers of the work that ESPON can do together with them. In parallel, “We had meetings with the REGI Committee of the European Parliament, the OECD and several other intergovernmental networks, we also organized a focus group with researchers and members in the ESPON Monitoring Committee”.

The ESPON Director though noted that “we are not living in a static environment, we have new circumstances and new challenges related with geopolitical landscape and emergency support for the current refugee flows of resolve the war in Ukraine and this will heavily impact the spatial planning tools instruments we need to include in our thematic workstreams”.

In the second part of the event, the more discussion offered interesting testimonials on how ESPON results have been used so far and inspiring examples and perspectives on how ESPON stakeholders foresee their future cooperation with ESPON 2030. Duarte Rodrigues, Vice President of Portuguese Cohesion and Development Agency for a national and regional perspective, Nicolas Brookes, from the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) for the perspective of the maritime regions, Peter Austin, from the Urban Development Department Oslo City from and city and city regions perspective.  Luuk Boelens, Leader of Transnational Outreach of the ESPON Contact Point Network informed about the national and transnational outreach experience and lessons learned and Marie-Lorraine Dangeard, Chair of the ESPON Monitoring Committee under the French Presidency referred to the experiences in working with ESPON and the views of their organisations for the future. In the closing statement, Milada Hronkova future chair of the Monitoring Committee under the Czech Presidency provided the perspectives of the programme which is planned to get into full motion by 1 July 2022.


Thiemo ESER Wiktor SZYDAROWSKI -ESPON Programme.pdf

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Luuk BOELENS -ESPON TNO team.pdf

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Peter AUSTIN - eurocities.pdf

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ESPON Communication Event_draft programme web 2021-03-23.pdf

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