ESPON seminar "The role of functional areas for territorial cohesion"

The seminar was organised by ESPON EGTC and the Romanian Presidency of the EU in Iasi 19-20 June and focused on the need to design development policies for the needs of the people, beyond the restrictions of administrative borders.

During the seminar, different ESPON projects provided insights from the latest ESPON evidence on topics related to the territorial cohesion debate including financial instruments, green infrastructure, circular economy, refugee flows, youth unemployment, geographical specificities, cultural heritage, territorial impact assessment, land-sea interactions, big data and urban-rural linkages.

Below you can find a short summary of the sessions. All the videos from the event are available on our youtube channel. You can also see how participants commented and interacted on twitter during the session and read the two press releases we published before and after the event. 

[Session A] Functional areas and territorial cohesion

Places in decline, are not left behind, they are kept behind, by decades of neglect, under-development, lack of investment and misguided policies said the first keynote speaker, Professor Simin Davoudi, from the University of Newcastle. 

Professor Davoudi urged policymakers to “re-focus territorial policies away from blanket approaches and formulas that are based on the transfer of money and aim to deliver GDP growth”. “The new focus said Ms Davoudi, “should be towards more tailor-made, locally-led and place sensitive approaches that aim at improving quality of places and peoples’ lives”.

“Designing for borderless areas creates new grounds for cooperation at all levels, bringing people and places closer together to find joint solutions for their well-being,” said Mrs Ilona Raugze, director of ESPON EGTC, describing functional areas.

“This is a revolutionary approach,” said Ms Raugze, “that requires political leadership and a change in the mentality of policymakers, administrators, and citizens to think and act beyond the restrictions of the administrative borders”.

“Policies for functional areas fail due to lack of political commitment” underlined the director of Research at The Business of CitiesTim Moonen, also keynote speaker of the seminar. Other factors might be “the lack of willingness and culture of participation, and limited awareness of the potential for more efficient pooling of financial resources”.

Mr Moonen presented different types of mega-regions, multi-city regions and metropolis from Japan, Australia, China, USA and Germany. “There is not one model and one approach,” he said. “Functional integration is happening at different scales: mega-regions, multi-city regions, metropolis, but also in networks of secondary cities, corridors and rural areas”.

[Session B1] Functional urban areas and links to declining areas

This session introduced a variety of ESPON projects on the relationship between functional areas and migration, economic patterns, housing affordability, migration, land use and rural revival. 

The speakers firstly highlighted the promise of big data and new indicators to measure, estimate and benchmark performance at the functional scale, using web tools and automation. For instance, the ongoing ESPON FUORE project is set to allow policymakers and researchers to fill knowledge gaps by disaggregating NUTS 3 and other data at the FUA scale, as Roger Milego emphasised. The potential was also raised by BDHOUSING project leader Renaud Le Goix to track local nuances and contingencies in functional housing markets and provide new explanatory models. 

Speakers also highlighted a number of possible implications for disadvantaged areas and places losing people. Firstly, as Jason Begley from the URRUC Project explained, rural areas need guidance to optimise the use of existing infrastructure, while e-services can only provide a limited replacement for in-person health and education provision. Secondly, there is potential to adopt innovative strategies to attract, incentivise and leverage diasporic communities in their former regions.

Different barriers to functional co-operation were raised by speakers. For instance, Maria Bystrowska identified the lack of willingness and culture of participation and limited awareness of the potential for more efficient pooling of financial resources. Representatives from the Urban Agenda on sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions stressed that benefits of functional cooperation are still not sufficiently recognized and mainstreamed and it is paramount that ESPON, OECD and others research-oriented institutions highlight the benefits in order to encourage functional cooperation.

[Session B2] Macro-regions

Session B2 focused on the role of macro-regions as functional regions and their contribution to ETC, through the presentation of the latest evidence of 3 ESPON projects.

The following key questions were addressed:

How to monitor territorial development and at which level?

How functional areas, spatial identity and territorial organisation are understood and considered?

How MR can in future support better coordination for policies between line-DGs?

How governance could be made more effective? Do we need to implement some changes?

The discussion moderated by Erik Gløersen allowed for a lively discussion with the audience and provided some interesting reflections and conclusions on the key questions addressed. Efrain Larrea representing the “European and Macro-regional Territorial Monitoring Tool” project [link]  focused on the diverse monitoring needs of the stakeholders and the difficulties in establishing a complete and tailored made monitoring tool.  Both quantitative and qualitative indicators are needed and a flexible approach to adapt to the changing priorities of involved actors.

Tobias Chilla from the finalised ESPON “ALPS 2050” project [link] highlighted that a vision is an ongoing process, not just a plan. Functional regions are based more on common challenges than on similarities and flows.  Institutional thickness does not necessarily mean territorial coordination. Maria Toptsidou and Kjell Nilsson leading the ongoing “BT 2050” project [link] added to this explanation that cooperation is a must and not a luxury. EUSBSR can indeed provide a flexible cooperation framework and the BT2050 scenarios might provide inspiration for adding a more territorial approach to the EU strategy.

Focusing on funding and governance when addressing the EUSAIR, Mathilde Konstantopoulou, ESPON MC representative and deputy NC in the EUSAIR, underlined the need for a potential earmarked budget for macroregional strategies, which should be set aside for the national and regional ESIF programmes in order to further enhance territorial cooperation on functional areas. This will improve collaboration between cohesion and territorial policies and will motivate ESIF implementation authorities to participate more actively in territorial development through the implementation of macroregional strategies. Governance must be also clearly structured, with the establishment of national-level bodies in each member country of the EUSAIR. 

[Session B3] Cross-border regions

Given the fact the Romanian Presidency has made functional urban areas and territorial cohesion their priority, this session provided an opportunity to explore the specific links between FUA and cross-border regions, especially in terms of how Cross-border functional areas could play a role in future European territorial Cooperation. The workshop highlighted the rationale and the benefits of considering cross-border functional areas in the upcoming 2021-2027 CBC programmes.

For Nathalie Verschelde (European Commission, DG Regio) who was moderating this debate, this new approach might have three main benefits for the post-2020 regulations:

Enabling the projects to be more effective as they can build on the experience of a wider range of relevant partners and as they can be located where the impact is bigger

Showing that Interreg is a policy tool supporting projects to improve the situation and not a mere funding tool for the benefit of local authorities sharing a budget

And avoiding that programmes re-create new borders outside the programme geography.

The workshop showed that if there are obvious difficulties in defining functional areas in practice, it is possible to tackle the potential place and role of cross-border functional areas.

Bernd Schuh (OIR, Austria) described the challenges and potentials of TIA tools and indicators developed by ESPON in this context. Helka Kalliomäki, from the University of Turku (FI), emphasised the needs of location-based data to further capture territorial realities in functional cross-border areas such as growth corridors.  

Eventually, Alexandru Rusu presented a model for understanding and comparing the situation of functional areas and regions in Eastern Europe, highlighting the contextual background for Romanian border regions.

The workshop was concluded by the strong intervention of Mátyás Jaschitz about cross-border cooperation in Central Europe and in Hungary, on behalf of Central European Service for Cross-Border Initiatives, and Martin Guillermo on behalf of the Association of European Border Regions. They both clearly voiced the needs and expectations of border regions in Europe regarding the evolution of cross-border cooperation programmes.

[Session B4] Translating territorial evidence for policymakers and citizens

Session B4 focused on how to better communicate scientific results to the citizens and policymakers. Invited speakers were journalists from different European countries and the set up of a round table allowed a very interactive debate with practical examples and advice.

Journalists emphasized that the use of simple language is pivotal to communicate a message to a non-specialized public. It is also important to communicate in national languages as citizens tend to read news and information in their native language.

Speakers also highlighted the need to further engage with the journalists as they act both as multipliers and as links to policymakers. Journalists are interested in the facts, data to back their stories, exclusive findings and human stories. But to address the journalists requires training, long-time efforts in networking and ability to share information in the right timing with them, in line with the political agenda. 

[Side event] Growing local digital empowerment in Iași

Iasi’s emerging innovation and technology community is increasingly generating appetite and awareness from the government. In the absence of a guiding mind for Iasi’s digital strategy and proposition as an innovation hub, local players have been building soft environments such as CodeCamp to build trust and create a collaborative culture among technology enthusiasts that harnesses local networks and knowledge and also links with up with other hubs in cities globally. This has also changed attitudes in government and encouraged it to create more avenues for digital participation and democratic decision-making in Iasi.  At the same time the region’s established companies, domestic and foreign, are increasingly keen to tap into this innovation potential and use the region as a testbed for a wider market.

In the next stage, Iasi needs greater leadership and signalling from the public administration, whether in terms of creating more open and horizontal data platforms, identifying local infrastructure that can be re-purposed for innovation purposes or to make the quality of life investments that create stickiness for talent.

[Session C] Presentation of Selected New ESPON Research

The short incisive introductions to new ESPON Research emphasised the prospect of identifying specific processes and explanatory factors that can help unlock our understanding of functional areas and changing development patterns.

One big contribution of several projects is to provide a new lens on a particular topic. A project on quality of life indicators is training focus on a full mix of well-being factors at a more local level and aims to become more citizen-centric through a mix of objective and subjective factors. Meanwhile, research on the circular and collaborative economy will extend our understanding well beyond the ‘big players’ of Uber and Airbnb. The research and data at disposal may also reveal new ‘islands’ of innovation beyond the established European capitals.

The study of shrinking areas promises to provide a more complete account of non-economic drivers, social and psychological effects of shrinkage, the relationships between cause and effect, and insights into the threshold to achieve critical mass threshold.

Whether the question is one of adaptation to ageing populations or technology change, this phase of research articulated a consistent commitment to identifying and communicating good practices and policies and identifying transferability in different governance and city size contexts, which can affect responsiveness on issues such as port regeneration and elderly care.

Participants noted the need to communicate the future findings to policy in the form of well-packaged handbooks documenting successes and failures, clear guidelines for different levels of government, and leverage of city networks and other partners to maximise reach and readership.

[Session D] Pitching ESPON results from recently finalised ESPON activities

The findings on projects such as digital health indicate that although cities may be ‘early adopters’ of certain services because of their capacity and capability, the assumption of a long term risk of divergence between urban and rural take-up may be premature.

Many of these projects have involved the painstaking task of creating common definitions and ways of measuring previously fragmented concepts - such as Cultural Heritage, or Housing Affordability. In the next phase, the aim will be to develop and encourage others to develop, clear analysis of the trends and correlations within and between functional areas, and to create awareness of the toolkit among different actors. More work is also required in terms of specific indicators needed and time-series data to build this potential.

The combination of conventional and unconventional data is revealing new insights on issues of Housing Affordability, Growth Corridors and Future of Work.

The findings on youth unemployment emphasise the need for a customised regional approach and the scope to respond in a targeted way to local joblessness trends, with regional ‘one-stop shops’ a key opportunity. “Investment in education” is critical, explained Andreea Pop.

The study on the Circular Economy importantly sets out a Policy Guide that helps policymakers assess the local context, set the right policy priorities, and identify the kinds of governance and regional alliances that should be aspired to. Appetite for these kinds of guides is high.

There is great interest in the impact of Airbnb on housing and of Uber/Deliveroo on the gig economy. Researchers highlighted that these impacts are intensified in very specific locations and that wider functioning of the housing and labour markets needed broader explanations.

Building on the research to properly organise functional areas that have similarities into a sustained dialogue is a key piece of advice from Eric Gloersen. The sharing of experience and know-how in a deep and consistent way is observed to be critical to make research insights tangible and to build capacity.


Final Programme

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Welcome Speech - Alin Virgil Chirila_Secretary of State RO.pdf

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Welcome Speech - Romeo Olteanu_Vice-President of the Iasi County Council.pdf

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Session A - Simin Davoudi.pdf

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Session A - Tim Moonen.pdf

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Session B1 - Jason Begley.pdf

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Session B1 - Marta Bystrowska.pdf

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Session B1 - Renaud Le Goix.pdf

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Session B1 - Roger Milego.pdf

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Session B1 - Zintis Hermansons.pdf

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Session B2 - Efrain Larrea.pdf

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Session B2 - Kjell Nilsson and Maria Toptsidou.pdf

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Session B2 - Mathilde Konstantopoulou.pdf

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Session B2 - Tobias Chilla.pdf

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Session B3 - Bernd Schuh-Helka Kalliomaki-Alexandru Rusu-Martin Guillermo Ramirez.pptx

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Session C - ACPA - Piera Petruzzi and Thijs Fikken.pdf

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Session C - ENSURE - Nicolas Rossignol and Xavier Le Den.pdf

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Session C - ESCAPE - Marjan van Herwijnen and Petri Kahila.pdf

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Session C - Quality of Life - Sandra Di Biaggio and Carlo Sessa.pdf

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Session C - SHARING - Nicolas Rossignol and Lison Rabuel.pdf

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Session C - SUPER - Marjan van Herwijnen and David Evers.pdf

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Session C - T4 - Martin Gauk and Roberta Capello.pdf

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Session D - Big Data and Growth Corridors- Helka Kalliomaki.pdf

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Session D - Big Data and Housing - Renaud Le Goix.pdf

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Session D - BRIDGES - Erik Gloersen.pdf

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Session D - CIRCTER - Carlos Tapia.pdf

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Session D - Database Portal - Hy Dao.pdf

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Session D - eHEALTH - Peter Varnai.pdf

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Session D - Financial Instruments - Fiona Wishlade.pdf

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Session D - GRETA - Jaume Fons.pdf

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Session D - HERITAGE - Elissavet Lykogianni.pdf

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Session D - MIGRARE - Laura Todaro.pdf

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Session D - MSP-LSI - Sue Kidd.pdf

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Session D - URRUC - Jason Begley.pdf

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Session D - YTRENDS - Andreea Pop.pdf

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Session E - Diana Tenea and Radu Necsuliu.pdf

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Session E - Hanna-Maria Urjankangas.pdf

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Session E - Ilona Raugze.pdf

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Session E - Thiemo Eser.pdf

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List of attendees.pdf

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Practical Information

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