The fourth EPRC webinar of 2022 was held on May 18th (11:00 – 12:00 UK) over Zoom. Dr Evert Meijers – associate professor at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, and Trustee of the Urban Studies Foundation – presented on the topic “Is regional policy little more than a cloth for the bleeding? Distributive politics in the Netherlands”.
Meijers argued that while some cities and regions grow and prosper, others decline. This leads to increasing regional inequalities and causes social and political instability, reflected in anti-system voting. Regional policies are thus utilised to remedy these regional disparities, but tend to fail, casting doubt over the effectiveness of billions of public spending.
When explaining patterns of growth and decline, researchers generally focus on endogenous factors such as human capital, physical capital and innovation. However, this grossly underestimates the role that politics plays. Political attention and public spending are not distributed evenly across the territory. Often, funds are redistributed to cities and regions whose development is perceived to be key to gaining global competitive advantage, leading to neglect of others.
Referring to the case of the Netherlands, Meijers notes that in the past 30 years the country is characterised by a policy to concentrate investment and development opportunities in the major city-regions in the Randstad and a small number of other larger cities that have a successful lobby. This policy is often implicit; the abolishment of a national department focused on spatial planning means that there is no overview of the aggregate outcome of all kinds of sectoral policies that generally channel funds towards the main cities. This has led to spatial injustices at the national level. Given the dominance of this concentration policy, a new kind of regional policy (‘Regiodeals’), not endowed with much funding, must be seen as little more than a ‘cloth for the bleeding’, and one that does not even stop this ‘bleeding’.
Meijers claims that this holds for regional policy in many countries, and perhaps even for European cohesion policy when a much stronger national concentration policy is simultaneously in place.
The webinar explored distributive politics in the Netherlands, discussing dominant economic development narratives and how they translate into policy doctrines that often make them self-fulfilling prophecies, as well as inequalities in regional political representation and in lobbying power.
Evert Meijers is an associate professor in the Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University and Trustee of the Urban Studies Foundation. His research focuses on explaining urban and regional inequalities in development (broadly defined) through institutional, behavioural and network perspectives, with the aim to develop empirically underpinned territorial development strategies that make cities and regions better able to satisfy human and societal needs.
Future EPRC webinars will delve into topics of sustainability, regional policy and development. Please see the present schedule for this year here.