Actions putting the Territorial Agenda into practice

A future for lagging regions

Joining forces for rural areas – Impulses for cooperative regional development in Germany and Europes

A future for lagging regions
Between 2020 and 2023, the six model regions in Germany, France, Portugal and Austria developed innovative spatial planning solutions in the areas of mobility, digitalization, local supplies and health. They rely on long-term inter-communal cooperation, promote meeting places and pool skills. A multi-level partnership was established involving multipliers at national and European level.

The pilot action strengthened economic, social and cultural centres in structurally weak regions and contributed to maintaining the quality of life outside the metropolises. It thus supported spatially balanced development (“Balanced Europe”).

The European discourse supported the sensitisation of decision-makers at local, regional, national and European level to the issues of structurally weak areas and to take them better into account in political strategies and concepts.

The pilot action increased the regional effectiveness and visibility of the 2030 Territorial Agenda. It has repeatedly provided an opportunity to introduce the TA 2030 into national and European spatial development policy discourses.

Rationale & link to Territorial Agenda

Europe’s regions are diverse in terms of development conditions and potentials. One of the core priorities of the renewed Territorial Agenda – to strive for more balanced development and more equal living conditions for all regions – was put into practice and translated to the regional and local level through the pilot action on ‘A future for lagging regions’. The pilot action aimed to secure services of general interest and strengthen integrated regional development. It contributed to the Territorial Agenda priority of a ‘Balanced Europe’.


Final Conference “Putting the Territorial Agenda 2030 into Practice“

Pilot action results, stocktaking and outlook on the further implementation

In the end of 2020, the Territorial Agenda 2030 (TA2030) was adopted and the pilot action was launched – in June 2023 it was time for a first stocktaking of implementation results. On 6 June 2023, the German Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building organised the conference “Putting the Territorial Agenda 2030 into practice” together with the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR). More than 200 people from various European countries participated in the online conference including representatives of the pilot actions and of government institutions as well as experts from science, administration and politics.

Together with representatives of municipalities, regions, member states and EU institutions, the conference organisers took stock of the results achieved so far and gave an outlook on the further implementation and evaluation of pilot actions. All in all, the pilot actions were seen as a successful first step towards the practical implementation of the TA2030 on site and the partners and stakeholders involved spoke up for a continuation. Germany has already announced preparations for the launch of a new pilot action on the regional circular economy in rural regions.

Event report here: dl-veranstaltungsdoku-online-konf-230606-en


The partnership consisted of six European regions:

  • Rostock Planning Region, DE
  • Schleswig-Flensburg District, DE
  • Görlitz District, DE
  • Alentejo CCDR, PT
  • Land Vorarlberg / Walgau Region, AT
  • Region Grand Est, FR

National ministries and agencies responsible for spatial development in the four participating Member States are involved. The European Commission, DG REGIO and ESPON are participating in the pilot action.

Thematic priorities by pilot region

Each region worked on their thematic priorities. Find out more about the regional pilot activities here

Lead stakeholder

German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building (BMWSB), Germany
Sina Redlich (

Key results:

A final publication of the Pilot Action is now available under the title “Joining Forces for Rural Areas – Impulses for cooperative regional development in Germany and Europe.”

Rural regions in the pilot action and beyond act as proactive regions that achieve a great deal through expertise, cooperation and commitment despite limited resources. The pilot action “A future for lagging regions” contributed to implementing the Territorial Agenda 2030 and shows the positive leverage effects that cooperative regional development can have locally. The final publication presents the results and lessons learned from the testing of innovative measures to safeguard services of general interest in the partner regions in the areas of digitalisation, mobility, health and local supply and makes recommendations for cooperative regional development:

• Cooperative regional development activates and promotes cooperation and a sense of community among local citizens, offers space for new constellations of actors between public administration, business and civil society and requires close dovetailing of the specialised authorities.
• Structural inter-municipal cooperation helps to utilise capacities more efficiently and develop cross-local solutions. This makes them an important pillar for safeguarding services of general interest.
• With the help of a cross-municipal approach, many public tasks and services for citizens can be fulfilled more effectively.
• Active interdisciplinary and inter-agency coordination in the administrations can significantly facilitate the work of local initiatives, from which new services of general interest can be developed.
• Opening and experimentation clauses or pilot actions and experimental laboratories can create scope for testing innovations at the level of planning systems as well.

The publication is available in territoriale-agenda-en and territoriale-agenda.

Further results:

The partnership selected a number of priority topics and published regional examples for innovative approaches as well as conclusions on each of these topics throughout the lifetime of the pilot action:

Strategy development in rural areas: A dialogue on the experiences made in strategy development (objectives, barriers, experiences) took place between all partners of the pilot action. A publication shows good examples of spatial strategies from the involved partner regions and highlights their success factors to be considered when developing strategies.

Download: Publication: Strategy building processes in lagging regions | Territorial Agenda 2030 | A future for all places

Digital transition of rural regions: A publication shows how digital transformation offers opportunities for inter-municipal cooperation and collaboration with civil society and other regional stakeholders. It also presents examples from the involved partner regions of the Pilot Action “A future for lagging regions” on how they tackle digitalisation.

Download: Publication: Digital transformation in lagging regions

A public kick off conference has launched the implementation phase of the pilot action in May 2021. More than 300 registered participants from all over Europe and all levels showed a great interest in how the Territorial Agenda will be put into practice. Representatives of the pilot action as well as experts from science, administration and politics discussed the steps to be taken to implement the Agenda.

Mobility solutions in rural regions: In order to ensure sustainable mobility in rural areas in future, mobility actors need to provide flexible types of services and solutions adapted to the regional needs. Partner regions are currently testing various approaches. A publication presents practical examples from the participating regions in Europe.

Download: Publication: Mobility solutions in lagging reggions

Resilience in rural development: The partnership found that the resilience approach can offer local actors a basis to act beyond “business as usual”. It provides a basis for changing roles and responsibilities in local communities, establishing new constellations of actors and adapting governance processes.

Download: Publication: Resilience in lagging regions

Lessons learned:

Narrative: When we think about rural areas we often think about lagging regions, places losing inhabitants, and services. It is important to recognize that rural places are very diverse; there are also those that gain inhabitants and are attractive for people and families to move to. Those places struggling more, often have highly committed and hands-on people. They feel closely connected to their village and region. So very often, lagging regions have a huge potential to be very pro-active regions. That is, if they have the means.

Competences: Local and sub-regional actors are the experts of their territory. But especially when we talk about rural areas they often lack resources or capacities or formal competences to be able to bring things forward. Subsidiarity is a key principle that in some places is more and in other places is less evident. We have seen that those places where local actors have the formal competences to take action are more active and more successful in making changes. This requires working on eye-level between all governances levels.

Capacities: In places where the young people leave, the shortage of skills and work force reinforces the challenges. Where we have pro-active local leaders and decision-makers, the limited capacities are used wisely and efficiently. Involving and activating the local population and creating community spots helps to create a sense of belonging that will make it attractive also for others to move there.

Evidence: What we have seen across all our four topics – strategies, digitalisation, mobility and resilience – is that it hugely helps local actors to have small-scale data on the actual given supply situation. When public service suppliers find that there is sufficient supply with for example health or daily services, the actual situation is often worse. Being able to show this in real numbers and maps can make the difference when trying to convince sectoral authorities, suppliers or politicians.

Cooperation: What we have seen in our pilot regions is that cooperation is not a “nice to have” but essential when trying to address rural challenges. Many initiatives just don’t make sense when one municipality tries to solve things on their own. Digital services, mobility services but also infrastructure and culture are just some to mention. We have seen good policy examples on regional and national levels that institutionally support inter-municipal cooperation over a longer period.

Flexibility: Sometimes traditional planning instruments are no longer effective in supporting an active transformation of regions, the legal framework needs to be adapted to the digital reality. Telemedicine or delivery services are not limited to central locations. Digital strategies and technical standards therefore need to be defined at national or regional level and applied locally. This is the only way to prevent isolated solutions that are incompatible.

Funding: What we hear from our pilot regions is that funding is too complex, too short-term and to rigid. What helps rural regions are policy and funding instruments that do not only fund investments but also processes, that encourage inter-municipal cooperation, that are flexible in a sense that innovative measures, for example combining culture and economic aspects, can be funded. Funding-providers can reduce complexity by bundling funds. Next to short-term funding options, also longer-term funding opportunities should be offered.

Policies: Regional, national and EU policies should empower local actors and support bottom-up structures and initiatives. They should support strategic initiatives and inter-municipal partnerships.

Rostock pilot region (Germany)
Copyright: whitemay / iStock by Getty Images

Region Grand Est pilot region
Copyright: Focus_on_Nature / iStock by Getty Images

Schleswig-Flensburg pilot region (Germany)
Copyright: District of Schleswig-Flensburg
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