Large lake regions: hotspots of innovative governance in Europe

Large lake regions are often shared by several municipalities and regions, sometimes even between countries. This fragmentation around large lakes is both a challenge and an opportunity: a challenge because it requires to design of governance structures and processes for tackling lake-related issues, and an opportunity because large lakes can become testbeds for cooperation between places, sector policies and social groups.

-MARCH 10 -ESPON Roundtable: EU meets large lake regions. Register and join online-

ESPON LAKES has reviewed cooperation formats in place in 12 European large lake regions. It has identified a total of 54 initiatives. Some cooperation formats stand out that represent different configurations of actors, with specific potentials for the resolution of lake-related issues e.g. water management, the development of lake-based tourism, or the organisation of public transport on the lake.

  • Lake-centred cooperation bodies distinctly support the elaboration of long-term common visions for a lake region as a whole. Hence, they contribute to an integrated perspective on the lake region.
  • Intermunicipal cooperation initiatives are common around large lakes. They can play a key role with regards to local development initiatives and strategic planning on lake shores
  • Vertical cooperation between local and regional actors is important in many policy fields. Often, national regulatory frameworks oblige them to cooperate or open room for strengthening the integration between regional and local policymaking.
  • Bottom-up cooperation initiatives such as community-led local development groups can bring together local stakeholders and conjointly develop and implement small-scale actions benefitting local communities and businesses (see e.g. for the fishery sector).
  • Other cooperation initiatives can also play a role: Grassroot multi-stakeholder alliances, networks of NGOs, business consortia.

The project also highlighted the possible use of EU funds and instruments and how it could strengthen regional integration. In particular, lake regions would benefit from:

  • Making use of EU funding to promote sustainable development. Sustainable development is an important policy objective in large lake regions. Lake regions should make use of the EU Cohesion policy funding and of the recovery instrument 'Next Generation EU' to support connectivity, SME competitiveness, and environmental protection. It shall be noted that ‘Next generation EU’ will cover activities that were previously funded by the mainstream EU Cohesion policy funds, especially with regards to large infrastructure projects. This may open up new funding opportunities for local and regional stakeholders under the EU Cohesion policy.
  • Increasing the use of integrated tools with EU Cohesion Policy. Specific tools such as Integrated Territorial Investments (ITIs), Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) and other territorial strategies have proved effective in supporting sustainable development in various territorial contexts. Application of these tools around large lakes could meet expectations from stakeholders in lake regions to be involved in implementing EU funds. The European Commission is encouraging Managing Authorities of regional programmes to facilitate recourse to ITIs, CLLD and territorial strategies where and when relevant.
  • Supporting cooperation beyond national borders. European territorial cooperation can support the implementation of projects in cross-border lake regions (Interreg A) as well as provide resources for lake-related transnational or European projects (Interreg B and C). Some lake regions are already well-positioned with regards to ongoing cross-border programmes (Lake Constance, and to a lesser extent Lake Maggiore). Besides, the application of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) instrument could also support the provision of services of General Interest (SGIs) in lake regions.

EU Cohesion policy 2021-2027 offers good opportunities to further support cooperative project-based initiatives in lake regions through policy objective 5 (“fostering the integrated and inclusive social, economic and environmental local development, culture, natural heritage, sustainable tourism and security in areas other than urban areas”) that can be implemented through so-called territorial strategies.

Additionally, policy platforms, thematically focused on lake regions could take stock of these initiatives, describe them and put forward good practices. This capitalisation of existing cooperation would support capacity-building and exchanges across lake regions.

You can find out more about large lakes during our ESPON Roundtable: EU meets large lake regions. Register and join online

More information


ESPON Roundtable: EU meets large lake regions

Author: Clément Corbineau and Erik Gløersen, Spatial Foresight

Edited: Nikos Lampropoulos, ESPON EGTC

Sandra Di Biaggio, ESPON EGTC