News & Articles

The Territorial Agenda 2030 – what role for transnational cooperation?

2020-05-06 10:04 by Christian Lüer

by Jens Kurnol (Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development, BBSR, Germany)

The current generation (2014-2020) of transnational cooperation programmes (Interreg B) with German participation refers to the current key document of European spatial development, the Territorial Agenda 2020 adopted in 2011, in different ways. The Central Europe Programme and the Danube Transnational Programme address functional relations in urban areas and the necessity of polycentric development. The Alpine Space Programme identifies the Territorial Agenda as being of paramount importance for Interreg and concretises the integrated approach in several so-called specific objectives such as activities related to services of general interest, mobility, cultural and natural heritage and multi-level governance. In the programmes for the Baltic Sea Region, North Sea Region and North-West Europe, concrete application is visible mainly on project level, whereas the programmes as such refer to the integrated approach of the Territorial Agenda on a strategic level.

The revision process of the Territorial Agenda takes account of several new challenges as well as the new Multiannual Financial Framework for the funding period 2021-2027. As its successor, the Territorial Agenda 2030 will also offer different access points for the making and implementation of the next generation of transnational cooperation programmes. A concrete element of implementation are so-called ‘pilot actions’ that are to be launched by the responsible ministers in December 2020.

The next generation of transnational cooperation programmes, 2021-2027, can contribute to implementing the Territorial Agenda 2030 by, inter alia, (a) supporting actions that address different challenges for spatial development and are in line with the objectives and priorities of the Territorial Agenda, and (b) promoting multi-level governance, coordination and cooperation.

New challenges for spatial development

A number of changes across Europe affect the role of municipalities and regions and pose new challenges for spatial development. These challenges can be divided into two large groups: On the one hand, spatial imbalances have been increasing for quite a while – a topic that is discussed in Germany under the heading of ‘equivalent living conditions’. Second, the climate crisis requires a courageous and coordinated approach to reduce CO2 emissions, which in turn may have an impact on spatial imbalances – important topics in this context are transition of coal regions or energy poverty. The following examples further specify the two groups of challenges.

The consequences of the financial and economic crises from 2007 have brought to mind that the impact of globalisation differs significantly between individuals as well as between places and has led to increasing inequality in Europe. Hence, also the diversity of future perspectives increases. A keyword in this context is the “geography of discontent” (Dijkstra et al., 2018), which perceives the rise of populism as a result of long-term economic decline.

The economic impact of the major recession and the euro crisis ten years ago also revealed that regions were affected differently. Between 2008 and 2013, the economic output in Spain fell to 85% and in Greece even to 75%. Even in 2017, Greece and Italy had not yet reached the 2008 level again. Spain as a whole was just above that level, but, apart from Madrid and three other regions, most regions were still below the 2008 level. In other countries such as Italy, France and Portugal the different economic recovery processes consolidated interregional disparities at national level.

A very recent challenge is the Corona pandemic. Its long-term consequences as well as its spatial impact cannot yet be foreseen. However, it seems clear that the crisis affects EU member states, its regions and cities very differently. As a consequence, disparities are likely to increase.

Multi-level governance, coordination and cooperation

Spatial development is not an independent policy area of the EU. Key players for the implementation of the Territorial Agenda 2030 come from all administrative levels. Member states, regions and municipalities are required to take the priorities of the Agenda into account not only within their own jurisdictions but at all levels. The latest draft also highlights the importance of territorial cohesion at cross-border, transnational and interregional level. Multi-level governance across administrative levels is therefore an important success factor for the implementation of the Territorial Agenda 2030.

Another important aspect refers to horizontal coordination across policy sectors. Especially at national level, the integration of players from different policies, the civil society and subnational institutions is important. Considering territorial impacts of sector policies and promoting coherence across sector policies are relevant means in this context.

A final element refers to cooperation between regions and municipalities, especially beyond national borders. Places are not affected by the abovementioned challenges as islands or containers. They are embedded in networks of flows and mutual interdependencies. Developments in one place have significant impact on the development perspectives of other places. Hence, cooperation between places is important to reflect and conjointly address these linkages, promote synergies and mitigate negative externalities.


As in the past, transnational cooperation programmes can play an important role for the implementation of the Territorial Agenda in the next funding period 2021-2027. A precondition is that their focus does not become too sectoral and that projects that address different policy sectors and follow the place-based approach get a chance for funding, e.g. in the context of rural-urban partnerships or services of general interest in disadvantaged regions. The objectives and priorities as well as the governance approach of the new Territorial Agenda should, hence, be taken into consideration for the making and implementation of the new generation of transnational cooperation programmes.

Add a comment

All fields are required, but your email address will not be published.
Comments are moderated.

Media Assets Library

By using our website, you are consenting our Privacy Policy, which includes cookies to provide you a better experience. Ok