The policy context for regional policy in Europe is changing, part of a global trend of greater awareness of social and territorial inequality. Europe faces the triple challenges of ensuring economic growth to sustain its social model, responding to inequality, and managing the sustainability transition. A big question is how disparities in productivity, unemployment and poverty should be addressed within a broader policy framework to respond to the ‘grand challenges’ of sustainable development – demographic change, wellbeing, food security, secure and clean energy, green transport, climate action and inclusive societies.
In this context, the current period is remarkable for the extent of debate and reform of regional development policies across Europe. Nine of the EoRPA countries have reforms underway (Germany, Portugal) or are in the process of defining new strategic objectives or priorities (Finland, Norway, Poland, Sweden), institutional arrangements (France, Norway) or forms of intervention (Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom).
Beyond EoRPA, most countries that depend substantially on Cohesion Policy funding for their regional policies are reviewing their strategic policy frameworks in preparation for the 2021-27 period, but there are also significant policy developments in other countries such as Ireland and Belgium.
In each country, policy reforms are driven by specific national political and institutional factors, but it is possible to identify four broad sets of trends:
a renewed commitment to addressing territorial inequality, following the financial and economic crises where national and sectoral policy objectives were often prioritised over regional policy concerns;
- recognition of the regional dimension to major national or international challenges (economic growth, sustainability, energy transition) requiring a regional policy response;
- a new wave of regionalisation of responsibilities for regional and local development, through de-concentration or devolution; and
- a more place-based approach to regional development intervention, focusing on the specific needs of individual regions, sub-regions or cities