Original publication: June 2015
Authors: Kai Böhme, Sabine Zillmer, Maria Toptsidou and Frank Holstein (Spatial Foresight, Luxembourg)
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Territorial Governance and Cohesion Policy

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The Committee on Regional Development (REGI) of the European Parliament has commissioned an in-depth analysis in preparation of a workshop on ‘Territorial Governance and Cohesion Policy’.

Governance is an essential element of Cohesion Policy architecture, due to the fact that the interplay among diverse decision makers at different territorial levels and among a wide range of stakeholders is a key component of policy implementation effectiveness. Multilevel governance has for some time been an important principle of Cohesion Policy. Along with the partnership principle it has been enhanced in the regulations for the 2014-2020 programming period. Territorial governance as a notion is not specifically defined, neither in the general literature nor in the Cohesion Policy legislative framework, but policy actions need to clearly take into account the specific context of each Member State. As stated in Article 4.4 of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council (Common Provisions Regulation (CPR)): ‘Member States, at the appropriate territorial level, in accordance with their institutional, legal and financial framework, and the bodies designated by them for that purpose shall be responsible for preparing and implementing programmes and carrying out their tasks, in partnership with the relevant partners referred to in Article 5, in compliance with this Regulation and the Fund-specific rules.’


A better understanding of challenges that arise during policy implementation requires going beyond the specific multi-level governance  elements embedded in the legislative framework of EU Cohesion Policy. The aim is to provide an analysis of the territorial governance concept and its links to EU Cohesion Policy as well as to shed light on how this concept is applied in EU Member States and regions. The insights in this analysis provide input for current debates on territorial development and governance in European regions.

Key findings

This analysis discusses different understandings of territorial governance and highlights three dimensions that are crucial:

  • stressing the territorial or place-based dimension of policy-making, i.e. reflecting the territorial specificities of the area concerned;
  • bringing together players from different sectors and levels of governance;
  • looking at the situation strategically and considering the long-term ramifications in order to achieve societal objectives.

Taking these as a point of departure, territorial governance is important for the targeted and result-oriented implementation of EU Cohesion Policy, the Europe 2020 strategy, the Territorial Agenda 2020 (TA 2020) and the Urban Agenda. For Cohesion Policy in particular, the shared management system, the partnership principle and territorial instruments such as Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) and Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) are the basis of territorial governance.

Changes in the regulatory framework of Cohesion Policy concerning the three dimensions of territorial governance (see above) lead to the following conclusions:

  • Compared with the previous programming period, the 2014-2020 period offers additional potential to strengthen the place-based approach. This originates mainly from a stronger focus on the partnership principle, the earmarking of 5% of ERDF resources under the Investment for growth and jobs goal for integrate actions for sustainable urban development and to some degree also from the new territorial instruments CLLD and ITI. However, the actual effect of CLLD and ITI will be marginal, since they are not widely used by Member State programmes. At the same time the increasing focus of fund allocation via national programmes is challenging for regionalised territorial governance processes and place-based approaches to regional development.
  • The regulatory changes also offer potential for strengthening the multi-level governance dimension of EU Cohesion Policy. In addition to the points mentioned above, this comes mainly through better coordination between different funds; European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development EAFRD, European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and multi-fund programmes. At the same time, the new thematic concentration challenges a governance approach that tries to bring together a wide range of players, which is important for the development of a territory.
  • Despite a stronger focus on linking ESI Funds to policy agendas and in particular Europe 2020, the regulatory framework does not assist the strategic dimension of decision-making. In particular, indicator-driven result orientation is expected to focus decisions on short-term investments to ensure that targets are reached. Long-term or higher risk-levels investments will probably be avoided to not endanger delivery on key indicators.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for working with territorial governance and strengthen territorial governance in EU Cohesion Policy. Territorial governance is not linked to any specific institutional setting. It encourages players to stretch beyond existing institutional frameworks. Given its flexible approach, territorial governance can work in all institutional systems of EU Member States. However, the way territorial governance is implemented and exercised depends on the institutional context and existing governance legacies and it usually takes time to change governance cultures. Nevertheless, change can be brought about and in many cases depends on individuals. In practice it is often one individual who steps up, identifies the need for doing things in a more innovative manner and facilitates the process of collaboration and coordination. The individual ‘kick-starting’ of territorial governance processes is usually carried out by either a political representative or a civil servant. It may also be an individual from civil society or the private sector with the necessary network of contacts.

Critics argue that territorial governance processes are very complex and therefore decisionmaking can take a lot of time, requiring a lot of administrative capacity and results in compromises which are not necessarily the best possible outcome.

Some general conclusions and recommendations for strengthening territorial governance are:

  • Always start from the needs: EU and national policy frameworks can stimulate the development of territorial governance processes. At the same time ‘bottom-up’ governance processes need to originate from local development needs or ambitions. Starting with the needs or issues to be solved indicates that there are different roles for different players and that the arrangements and division of labour may differ depending on the policy or issue at stake.
  • Foster diversity of territorial governance arrangements: When it comes to territorial governance, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’. There are many approaches to territorial governance, depending on the issue at stake and the stakeholders with influence. Since the development and governance context is decisive in determining who should be involved and when, there will always be a huge variety of approaches.
  • Foster a new culture in the public sector: Strengthening territorial governance ‘requires moving from a compliance-oriented to a more a result-oriented attitude of all the partners and in particular the leading one’. (European Commission 2015a:34, Vol. I) In other words, the public sector needs to shift towards an entrepreneurial attitude to solve new or unexpected problems that require innovative solutions.
  • Empower driving individuals: No single stakeholder is designated to drive territorial governance processes. Consequently, there is no defined ‘right’ to initiate or change territorial governance processes. Change is usually brought about by passionate individuals, who take the initiative and cooperate. Individuals with good networks and a broad understanding of governance in the particular policy field can help start the procedure. They can act as ‘drivers’ and draw on a wide and stable contact networks.
  • Advocate territorial governance: In times of declining support for territorial and strategic approaches in policy making, it is important to advocate the need for, and merits of, territorial governance.
  • Ensure administrative capacity: In many cases applying territorial governance processes successfully requires manpower and the resources to manage or get involved in the collective decision-making process.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/563-382

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