EU cohesion policy and catching-up regions

Posted by Andy Pike, 7th October, 2013

EU cohesion policy and catching-up regions

Against a backdrop of budgetary wrangling, difficult economic conditions  and the aspirations of the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy, reinforcing and sharpening the potential and effectiveness of regional policy in the EU has become a critical issue. While the tensions between people- or place-based approaches to policy endure vox article, fresh thinking about what the new framework means for the ‘less favoured’ or ‘lagging’ regions has begun to emerge.

Under the auspices of the first Polish presidency of the EU Council, CURDS contributed to a conference focused upon drawing out the key issues for policy learning in the renamed ‘catching-up’ regions. Building on existing research in this area, the main messages included: 

• Growth beyond the cores – Regions outside the main growth centres within their national economies were recognised as contributing significantly to national growth and development. Mobilising their potential through policy instruments was interpreted as critical rather than somehow compensating them for their lower than average economic performance.

• Recognising and mobilising potential in every region – While different, each region has assets and resources capable of development and the challenge is to identify, stimulate and find appropriate kinds of development for particular regions to enhance their contribution to aggregate growth. The new regional innovation strategies focused upon the ideas of ‘Smart Specialisation’ are attempting to achieve exactly this task.
• Integrated, sustainable and long-term development strategies – The experiences of catching-up regions across Europe emphasised the critical importance of designing, developing and pursuing development strategies that were co-ordinated, sustainable and focused on the long term.


• Anticipation and preparedness – Successful adaptation and evolution within regions was underpinned by the development of a strong regional research and knowledge base capable of monitoring, scanning and interpreting the relevance of macro-trends for example in demographics, organisations and technologies. Exploitation of emergent currents and ability to withstand and react positively to disruptive change – increasingly seen in terms of regional resilience SERC Discussion Paper No53 – were enhanced by well-connected and well informed regions.

• Common responsibilities for regional actors – Development strategies were seen as most effective in their design, development and implementation when their governance arrangements bound the relevant actors in the public, private and civic spheres into shared commitments, co-operation and mutually agreed goals.

• Focused, co-ordinated and complementary interventions – Regional experiences highlighted the importance of avoiding isolated, fragmented and disconnected measures which prove ineffective in delivering development outcomes and are capable of generating unforeseen negative effects. 

• Tailoring support mechanisms to regional contexts – Regions across the EU underlined the vital importance of customising interventions to address the particular context in which they sought to generate positive outcomes. 

• Balancing top-down and bottom-up approaches – Reconciling the complexities of the multi-level and multi-actor character of EU policy was acknowledged as a challenge for regions across Europe. While co-operation was seen as a pre-condition, getting the top-down and bottom-up aspects of development policy was seen as important to its effective integration and co-ordination. 

The full report is now available EU 2012 Cohesion Policy and Catching Up Regions – Lublin