What Role for Regional Policies in an Unequal Europe?
The 40th Anniversary EoRPA Conference took place on 9 October 2019 at Scotland House in Brussels. It celebrated four decades of research and knowledge exchange under the European Regional Policy Research Consortium – undertaken by the European Policies Research Centre and funded by national and regional government authorities from 12 countries. The Conference was a retrospective on 40 years of regional policy analysis, the current state of play, and the potential future directions for regional policy in Europe given current events and trends.
In front of an audience of c.100 participants from national and regional government authorities, EU institutions, academia, think tanks and NGOs, the Conference involved presentations from government ministers and senior officials from across Europe, as well as contributions from EPRC directors Professor John Bachtler and Professor Fiona Wishlade.
Welcome and introduction (Mike Neilson)
On behalf of Derek MacKay MSP Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work (who was unable to attend), Mike Neilson, Director, External & European Relations, Scottish Government, Brussels gave the welcome address at the anniversary conference. He highlighted the strong evidence that inequality negatively affects economic growth, and the priority placed by the Scottish Government on the achievement of inclusive growth at the heart of its economic plans.
Taking Stock of Regional Policy in Europe (John Bachtler)
Professor John Bachtler, Professor of European Policy Studies and a Director of the European Policies Research Centre provided an overview of regional policy in Europe. His presentation, 'Taking Stock of Regional Policy in Europe: Past, Present and Future', reflected on the history of regional policy and its application in Europe, an evaluation of its current climate and a look forward at new developments, trends and reform in Europe. Drawing on recent EoRPA research, he noted a renewed commitment to addressing territorial inequality, more recognition of the regional dimension to major national or international challenges, a new wave of regionalisation of responsibilities for regional and local development, and evidence of a more place-based approach to regional development intervention, focusing on the specific needs of individual regions, sub-regions, functional regions, cities or localities.
Developing new models of regional policy in Poland (Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak)
Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Investment and Development in Poland, was the first of four national speakers reflecting on the lessons of regional policy intervention and future directions. Speaking on Developing new models of regional policy in Poland the Vice-Minister identified three main objectives of new regional policy strategies, namely, (1) sustainable development of the country with the use of individual potentials of territories, (2) strengthening regional competitive advantages and (3) increasing effectiveness and quality of implementation of territorially targeted policies.
Regional policy in Germany: established approaches, lessons learnt and new challenges (Philipp Steinberg)
Dr. Philipp Steinberg spoke as Director General for Economic Policy in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, and former Chief of Staff to German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. His presentation on 'Regional Policy in Germany: Established Approaches, Lessons Learnt and New Challenges', discussed the new developments and challenges for regional policy in the context of globalization, digitization and energy transition to low carbon sources in Europe. He identified increased sensitivity regarding the regional consequences of trade restrictions, migration, climate change and demographic trends contributing to a renewed political commitment to cohesion of society and a renaissance of regional policy, placing a stronger focus on R&D, innovation, human capital development in structurally weak regions
Regional policy in Portugal: achievements and challenges (Duarte Rodrigues)
Duarte Rodrigues, Member of the Board of Cohesion and Development Agency in Portugal, drew on his extensive involvement on regional policy and monitoring and evaluation of public policies co-funded by EU funds and the negotiation of EU Cohesion Policy. He spoke about 'Regional Policy in Portugal: Achievements and Challenges', discussing the recent successes of regional policy in Portugal, the increasing performance of the nation compared to other EU member states, and the challenges which remain for policy in some Portuguese regions. These include the appropriate balance between internal and external convergence, universal regional public service provision, mobilisation of local actors, local ownership of the low carbon agenda and the balance between focus and flexibility in regional industrial policy.
Regional development policy in Finland: past lessons and new thinking (Johanna Osenius)
Johanna Osenius, Director of Regional Development at Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (Finland) spoke about 'Regional Development Policy in Finland: Past Lessons and New Thinking.' She outlined the emerging new framework for regional development in Finland, based on three key principles – exploitation of regional strengths, regional and urban differentiation and a bottom-up policy approach. Key themes are: ensuring accessibility meaning transport infrastructure and services and data connections; regionally balanced distribution of higher education institutions, upper secondary education and R&D activities; the availability of skilled labour; and land-use planning and services to support business.
Following the presentations, a panel debate took place moderated by John Bachtler. Philip Steinberg, Duarte Rodrigues and Johanna Osenius were joined by Hilary Pearce (Deputy Director for State Aid and ETC, Scottish Government) and Piotr Zuber (independent expert and former Director of Regional Development, Ministry of Investment & Economic Development, Poland). Taking questions from the audience, the discussion included the scope of regional policy, its relationship with other (sectoral) policies and physical planning, the scope to mobilise sub-national actors, and the relationships of national regional policies with EU Cohesion Policy and EU Competition Policy control of State aid.
What future role for regional policy in Europe? Reflections on the discussion (Fiona Wishlade)
The Conference was brought to a close with a summary of the debate by Professor Fiona Wishlade, a Director of the European Policies Research Centre. Fiona's presentation, 'What future role for regional policy in Europe? Reflections on the discussion', reviewed the key issues and points of discussion raised throughout the conference, and articulated them as seven key challenges for future European regional policy:
- The conceptualisation of the role of regional policy, which varies widely among country and region types. Questions include whether only weaker regions or all regions benefit from regional policy, and how to achieve horizontal or sectoral objectives alongside regional policy.
- Coordination and flexibility, particularly across and between levels of governance, a frequent and key issue in regional policy.
- Administrative capacity, the ability of government bodies to manage multiple instruments at different levels of governance, which is dependent on the quality of government and therefore its ability to engage in implementation processes.
- Perception versus reality, notably whether it is possible to meet the expectations of citizens in the impacts of regional policy.
- State aid, which is a difficult subject due to the non-competition distorting conditions imposed on incentive based policy. The balance between urgent intervention in policy to meet climate agenda targets and distortion of competition presents a new and difficult challenge.
- Regional policy has become political, in particular the current concern for 'left behind' regions reflected by increases in voting patterns towards populist and isolationist parties in Europe. The ability of institutions to deliver change desired by citizens in an increasingly challenging political environment of low institutional trust is a key issue, as well as whether climate protests and action by younger citizens have implications for future political engagement and policy.
- The future is unknown. Issues which are currently at the forefront of regional policy could not have been predicted even a short time ago, and policy-shaping events such as economic crises and changing political climates are volatile in nature. New and emerging technologies may break through in the next period and change the field of play entirely, and the challenges that a rapidly changing world present to policy analysis and policy makers cannot be underestimated.