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Involve me and I learn about the Territorial Agenda 2030 – a sidekick from Austria

2020-09-09 20:54 by Christian Lüer

by Roland Arbter (Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism, Coordination Regional Policy and Spatial Planning; Austria)

Tell me and I forget,
Teach me and I remember,
Involve me and I learn.

The content of the current draft of the Territorial Agenda 2030 is hardly controversial because it is well-grounded in empirical evidence which is acknowledged by most experts and stakeholders in Europe. In contrast to the content side, the more challenging task is to implement the Territorial Agenda 2030 and identify ways to achieve its objectives and priorities.

No implementation without communication and cooperation

While the community of spatial planners shares a general desire for more policy integration and territorial differentiation, the territorial voice remains often unheard in policy making and implementation because of a strict sectoral structure and strong institutional interests. But what could be a door-opener to strengthen the territorial voice?

Measures to raise awareness among decision makers and inform them about the content and context of the Territorial Agenda 2030 are first important steps in this direction. This can best be achieved through effective communication.

Informing decision makers at all levels is necessary, yet not sufficient for successful implementation. Following the quote – involve me and I learn – broad involvement of stakeholders who design and implement territorially relevant policies, policy learning and tailor-made cooperation are crucial to achieve well-balanced decisions and make actual progress. Consequently, the Territorial Agenda 2030 underlines the importance of cooperation across policy sectors and administrative levels.

Access points for implementation at national level in Austria

With a particular focus on implementation at national level, the current draft of the Territorial Agenda 2030 specifies that Member States individually will take steps to promote the Territorial Agenda priorities and engage relevant players in all sectors and at all levels of government. But how can this be translated in a national context that consists, inter alia, of various players, their arenas, settings and shared as well as individual agendas? Let’s have a closer look at the national context in Austria to identify potential access points for synergies between European and national spatial planning.

Over decades, Austria as a federal country has developed a multi-faceted culture of cooperation, not only but also in the field of territorial development and spatial planning. In absence of a national planning law, a specific institution called Austria Conference on Spatial Planning was founded 50 years ago (Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz, ÖROK). ÖROK organises cooperation on territorial issues of Austrian-wide relevance between national ministries, federal regions (Länder), municipalities and social partners. Cooperation within the ÖROK takes place at level playing field. Thus, an inclusive cooperation framework is already in place in Austria. The ÖROK has proven to be an effective platform to promote learning across policy sectors and administrative levels by means of involvement.

Timing is key in policy making and policy implementation. Every new idea needs a window of opportunities to become reality and make a difference. As the renewal process of the Austrian Spatial Development Concept (Österreichisches Raumentwicklungskonzept 2030, ÖREK 2030) runs in parallel to the renewal process of the Territorial Agenda 2030, there obviously is a window of opportunity to align both processes. Both concepts will address similar priorities and, hence, complement each other. The overall thematic focus of the ÖREK 2030 will be on climate change and sustainable territorial development, which is closely related to the objective of a Green Europe. Against the background of recent experience from the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall motto of the Territorial Agenda 2030 – a future for all places – will also play a strong role in the next phase of the ÖREK 2030 development process. The emphasis on all places implies a direct link to the objective of a Just Europe. It becomes clear that both processes are clearly aligned with regard to overall objectives. Hence, many activities implemented under the ÖREK 2030 umbrella can at least implicitly contribute to the implementation of the Territorial Agenda 2030.

Similar to the Territorial Agenda 2030, the elaboration of the content for the ÖREK 2030 seems less controversial while implementation activities and the best governance framework for the implementation process are hot topics. The debate currently focuses on the question how to deliver on the ÖREK 2030, e.g. by means of existing cooperation tools. ÖREK 2030 implementation activities could benefit from past experience with Territorial Implementation Partnerships (ÖREK-Partnerschaften) which have been implemented in the framework of the previous ÖREK version over the last decade. The topic of Territorial Implementation Partnerships was also one of the main priorities of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2018. The six pilot actions to be launched in December 2020 as a first set of implementation activities for the Territorial Agenda 2030 follow a similar rationale as the Territorial Implementation Partnerships. They also bring together various players to collaborate on a specific topic from an integrated perspective, across territorial units, administrative levels and sector policies. Hence, also with regard to their implementation processes, the Territorial Agenda 2030 and the ÖREK process could benefit one another, e.g. by sharing good practices and exchanging on success factors.

Involve me and I learn can be understood as one of the guiding principles of spatial development policies both at national and at European scale. With regard to the ÖREK 2030 and the Territorial Agenda 2030, it can inspire both processes and support them in developing synergies and establishing a strategic framework for spatial development in Austria.

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