In January 2020, the European Commission presented its proposals on how to put the European Green Deal into practice, including the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan (COM(2020) 21 final) and the Just Transition Fund (COM(2020) 22 final).
The Commission proposals provide steppingstones towards a future for all places, as proposed by the draft Territorial Agenda 2030. Indeed, the European Green Deal, its Sustainable Investment Plan and Just Transition Mechanism offer multiple opportunities to dock on with the draft Territorial Agenda 2030, and ensure that no place is left behind, e.g. by informing territorial transition plans and place-sensitive investment decisions. At the same time, the various funding and governance mechanisms of the Green Deal may offer opportunities to support the application of the Territorial Agenda.
To start with, one of the points of departure of the European Green Deal, its Sustainable Europe Investment Plan and Just Transition Mechanism is territorially unevenly dispersed effects of the energy transition. In other words, they mobilise EUR 1 trillion for the transition to a carbon-neutral Europe also addressing territorial inequalities and different territorial starting positions related to this transition. This suggests that the implementation of the European Green Deal works towards the objectives of the draft Territorial Agenda 2030, i.e. a Just Europe that offers future perspectives for all places and people, and a Green Europe that protects our common livelihoods and shapes societal transition.
The Commission proposal also provides some details which allow to see more concretely how the European Green Deal may support the application of the Territorial Agenda:
- Territorial transition plans: A way to highlight territorial inequalities and development potential. The Just Transition Fund will be an important pillar of the European Green Deal and its Just Transition Mechanism. It will address the economic diversification of the territories most affected by the anticipated economic transition. The financial support from the Just Transition Fund will be based on territorial transition plans which shall be drawn up at regional level (NUTS 3). The Commission proposal (COM(2020) 22 final) provides detailed guidance on what to address in these plans. The territorial transition plans offer the possibility to develop regional perspectives, which paint a future picture of the regions in a wider European context. The elaboration of the territorial transition plans offers multiple possibilities to address place-specific development challenges, not at least linked to the Territorial Agenda priorities under the Green Europe objective:
- Healthy Environment – Better ecological livelihoods and climate-neutral towns, cities and regions. The transition to climate-neutral regions is actually the core aim of the European Green Deal.
- Circular Economy – Strong and sustainable economies in a globalised world. Competitive and thriving circular local and regional economies is what is actually required for a successful transition to a carbon-neutral Europe.
- Sustainable Connections – Sustainable digital and physical connectivity of places. The transition to a climate-neutral economy and digitalisation are seen as twins, as digitalisation is a key enabler for the Green Deal.
- Support to non-transition territories: Functional regions and the interdependency of places matter. The Just Transition Fund will be available only to selected regions – so called transition territories – particularly challenged by the transition to a carbon-neutral economy. However, the Commission proposal acknowledges that regions are not isolated places but develop through a web of mutual relations, flows and interdependencies. Therefore, it envisages to not only support projects in transition territories, but also projects outside these territories if they positively affect the former. The awareness of interdependencies and spill-over effects between places opens possibilities to draw-up integrated transition plans and projects linked to the Territorial Agenda priorities under the Just Europe objective:
- Balanced Europe – Better balanced territorial development utilising Europe’s diversity. Overall the Green Deal holds a potential to contribute to a balanced Europe, acknowledging the importance of interdependencies of places across Europe is an important feature for this.
- Functional regions – Local and regional development, less inequality between places. The geographical delineation of transition plans and projects will be important to ensure that no place is left behind. Working on the level of functional regions instead of single administrative regions will be a key to success.
- Integration beyond borders – Living and working across national borders. Independencies between places and functional regions often stretch beyond national borders. Although the shared management of the Just Transition Mechanism follows the split by Member States, cross-border, transnational and macro-regional dimensions need to be born in mind.
- Just Transition Platform: A tool to improve governance and boost exchange of experience. The EU Just Transition Mechanism acknowledges also the importance of territorial governance for local and regional development and for managing a major economic transition. The Commission takes an integrated and place-sensitive approach to the European Green Deal and Just Transition Mechanism. This ambitious policy aims at bringing together players from various policy fields, from public, private and civil society sector and various territories to address the development challenges and potential of specific places. Furthermore, the proposal envisages setting up a Just Transition Platform to facilitate the exchange of experience across different territories and different sectors. This integrated approach is very much in line with the thinking of the draft Territorial Agenda 2030 and the governance and application structures envisaged: Actions must be based on (i) a common understanding that needs and impacts differ between places and (ii) cooperation between places, policy sectors and groups of society to address complex issues and utilise diverse potential.
Summing-up there are close interlinkages between the two policy processes, which suggests that place-sensitive policy making has finally arrived in Europe. The European Green Deal, its Sustainable Europe Investment Plan and Just Transition Mechanism hold a good potential to combat the geography of discontent and offer a future for all places, the strap-line of the forthcoming Territorial Agenda. Therefore, further efforts should be undertaken to strengthen the practical link and prepare the next stage of implementation and application.