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Urban actions and the making of a European spatial policy

“Urban Actions And The Making Of A European Spatial Policy”, Urban Affairs Association 32nd Annual Meeting, Boston, Massachusetts, March 20-23, 2002

Europe has a geographical necessity, according to the French geographer Lévy (1997), because it has always compelled people and nations to continuously rework its social fabric, integrating differences in “larger” identities. Space is often played as a political ruse, a source of identity and a way to manage symbolic differences (1). Cities are central in the organization of space, but the urban policy and the spatial development framework is conceptualized in a variety of ways (van der Berg 1998, Cec 1998a).

The European Union has always acknowledged a central role to its urban structure, being one of the most urbanized regions of the world (80% of the total population, against 76% in the USA, as accounted by the EU: CEC 1991). In addition, recent data show a convergent trend both in the level of urbanization and in the rate of increase (UNCHS 2001).

A strong impetus towards innovating urban and regional policies has been witnessed in Europe during the last two decades, both at local and national level. This occurred in a distinctive political cycle, when Union members were looking for a transnational equilibrium among states while devolving powers to the regions.

More precisely, three main strands of actions seem to converge in a perspective framework not still defined entirely: the programmes for urban downgraded areas, the local development initiatives, and the spatial development strategy.

Thus, the paper emphasizes the apparent “family resemblance” of such a variety of programmes focusing on a few common features. The main hints for a move towards a convergent profile are the emphasis on partnerships, integration and strategic vision, which have consequently becoming part of an ambitious conceptual framework (CEC 1998d).

However, like in many other policy fields subject to the process of convergence, such policies have consolidated a common understanding of the issues at stakes. The common language draws primarily on a few ideas: community and partnerships, the focus on a broad concept of locality and territory, and the integration of measures.

On these fields, policies of the EU Commission aimed to produce sound results have been established during the last two decades, accompanying and sometimes re-interpreting national frameworks and local experiences (CEC 1998c). The more important is the European wide “Urban” initiative, a model initiative fostered by the CEC Commission for the urban regeneration in distressed neighbourhood (2).

In conclusion, integrated local policies resulted in a vast field of experimentation bringing together previously separate sectors of public actions. Such integration goes well beyond the establishment of functional interdependencies among sector policies. Subsequent generations of programmes and actions in these fields have elaborated upon such assumptions fostering an incremental homogenisation of spatial practices in Europe and the parallel evolution of area-based initiatives for local development and for combating social exclusion.

This conclusion paves the way to a reflection on the governance style and strategies in such areas, evidence suggesting that area based initiatives have produced mixed results so far, and however that they are more effective when framed in a local (yet not too much) strategy. The final hypothesis suggests that different experimental policies are combined in a strategy of establishing direct links between the Commission and localities, such an incremental process being justified more by political reasons than by the material outcomes.

Area based programmes

The European Union is getting involved with urban issues since the 90s, when a strong impetus towards deepening the Union involvement with urban life has been witnessed, even beyond what formally held by the Union treaties.

Such change has brought together severed policy concerns in distant fields such as infrastructure, economic development, environment sustainability and social welfare. The process culminated in 1997-98 with two encouraging policy statements and an important conference in Vienna (CEC 1997, 1998d).

In 1998 in its Framework for action (CEC 1998d), the Commission has taken a step towards increasing the effectiveness of EU policies provided for by the Treaty by making them more “urban sensitive” and ensuring that they facilitate integrated urban development. The Framework aims at a better co-ordinated Community urban action and stresses –beyond “formal” policy aims as development, cohesion and sustainability (Atkinson 2001)- the contribution to good urban governance and local empowerment.

It is somewhat intriguing the coincidence of two decades of construction of common policies and of an enduring urban crisis, even beyond formal competence guaranteed in the Treaties or any evident success. Actually, confusion and ambiguity in the sheer idea of a European urban policy seem somewhat consistent with its popularity, as an actual “geographical necessity” accompanying the transnational construction of a common concern.

Two main consequences are: a) the direct contact of city governments and the European Commission, which steadily brought a growing number of people across Europe to be involved in continent wide programmes; b) the support to actions fostering the mitigation of economic change enhanced by the 1993 liberalisation of the common market.

The economic turn of the Eighties concentrated a large share of underpriviledged people in urban run-down areas. People living in such areas suffer from the overlapping outcomes of the processes of urban decline and of the social exclusion (CEC 1998d): high unemployment, low income, illiteracy, low skill levels, crime, poor housing conditions, a run-down urban fabric, and a lack of social amenities. Although very difficult to estimate in size, international comparisons agree that a substantial rate of western population live in distressed areas in every country, accounting for an average 10% of the population (OECD 1998).

However, such features combine in different ways among the countries of Europe, reflecting the different mixture of the social “reworking” of geography, the outcomes being deeply influenced by the different involvement of the welfare state in the production of space. The distressed areas of Northern Europe are frequently large social housing estates, almost abandoned inner cities areas, and the early industrial and mining areas. In Southern Europe depopulated historic centres are more frequent. It is clear that different problems and opportunities have been addressed.

The sheer idea of distressed areas appears thus as a ‘thick description’ and reflects a combination of cultural and technical beliefs, and of heavily differentiated policy styles in different countries (Stewart 2001). Actually, the EU orientation towards an area-based policy reflects two distinctive policy attitudes: a mainly French concern with spatial units such as ‘quartiers’ or neighbourhoods, and an English elaboration on formalised partnership.

Not only is the geography of urban distress diverse, but also the perception of the gravity of the various problems differs. Usually, different stakes are presented as the result of a temporal sequence (OECD 1998: Wolman and Goldsmith 1992) and of an ‘explicit’ account of the policy treatment of the urban issue (Parkinson 1992).

This approach has been stressed by the policies set up by a number of member states in order to tackle the issue of distressed areas (CEC 1998, DETR 2000, Div 2000).

In France the “politique de la ville” (Chaline 1997; Gaudin 1993); in the UK city actions such those under the Single Regeneration Budget programme (Hambleton and Thomas eds. 1995) or evoked by the “Urban renaissance” report; in Italy national programmes such as “Contratti di quartiere” or “Programmi di riqualificazione urbana” (Lavori Pubblici 2000b).

However, such policies are consistently different in weight. The UK SRB spent 2.5 billions € in the three years 1999-2001 involving 750 areas.

France has been devoting a consistent share of the state budget to its complex of urban initiatives, increased in the last decade by double (approximately 5.3 billions €). The budget for the German Soziale Stadt programme is completely different (about 150 million €), more or less the same amount than in Italy.

This “spatially focused approach” maximises the impact of the interventions and reinforces the mutual benefits of the projects: the overall effects of each programme thus become more visible.

However, distressed areas do not coincide with poverty as such (CEPR 1999). An “interlocking mix” of different circumstances, sometimes “exacerbated by public policies” (OECD 1998), alters the pattern of development, and was soon addressed by a Community initative. The initiatives promoted by the Commission result from such experiences of the member states. Being unitary programmes at the European scale, the initiatives promoted by the European Commission have made it possible to compare expectations and outcomes from various cities in various countries.

The Urban Initiative

Among other initiatives (a presentation of the regional policy of the EU in Williams 1996), the Urban initiative may be regarded as a window to the main innovations of urban policies after years of experience. The programme was preceded by two different initiatives in the field of contrasting poverty and fostering social innovation: a) the Poverty programme was created in the wider content of the market unification of the EU countries, trying to conceptualise the intriguing features of the “new” poverty phenomena in post-industrialised Europe (Atkinson 2000), with the aim of fighting against social exclusion; b) Urban Pilot Projects (UPPs: a second series was adopted in 1996) since 1989 have been directed towards some wider priorities: the economic development of socially run-down areas, environmental measures with economic objectives, the restoration of historic centres and the exploitation of urban technological advantages…

Eventually, in 1994 the European Commission launched the Urban programme with a strong emphasis on the economic regeneration and social rehabilitation of cities and districts in crisis. The Urban programme’s ambition was twofold: on the one hand, to promote exemplary measures, whose effectiveness would stimulate the start-up of an endogenous growth process; on the other hand, to select difficult yet manageable situations that were beyond the scope of ordinary public action. As a consequence, actions had to be limited in size if not in scope: on average, each programme targeted less than 30,000 people.

The first Urban programme selected 118 mostly medium size cities in Europe (the minimum size was fixed at 100,000 inhabitants) targeting approximately 3.2 millions people. In 1994 about 0.9 billion € (0.78 billion $) were earmarked for the first round. The remaining funds were made available, by the State and local agencies (also by private parties, but to an extremely limited extent). On the whole, in Italy for instance, Urban programmes invested 330 million € in four years, that is including the State and local contributions as well as those of the Community, (approximately 20 thousand €, 17,4 thousands $, per city area). To provide a comparison, in 1994 the Clinton administration gave 3,5 billion $ for urban revitalisation in the Empowerment Zone Program, with 6 cities receiving 150 million $ in block plus 150 in tax abatement (Keating et al. 1996).

However the unitary programme is strongly differentiated in each country. In Italy, 50 % of financial resources are devoted to infrastructure, reflecting national policy orientations as far as urban policy is concerned, and only 18% to social services: in most cases, marginal attention has been paid to education, employment and social welfare (Cremaschi 2000a). In other Southern Europe countries similar attention has been paid to the physical improvement (Fundação 2001: Muñoz Sebastián 2000). More interestingly, even in the British regeneration programme Challenge community services count only for the 26% (apart from social housing: Cremaschi 2002).

In contrast, French Urban programmes have devoted 65% of their resources to employment initiatives, long-term learning, and local development (Quaternaire 2000, 15). In Urban, as well as in other more solid policies, two main strands seem to have been brought together: the partnership for local development, and the mixing of different functional actions fostered by programmes for the renewal of urban downgraded areas, yet often expanding to wider aims.

Action programmes were drawn up reflecting the specific problems of the neighbourhood: particular emphasis was on local participation at the project level, and the involvement of citizens in the design and implementation of specific projects, in order to create confidence in the scheme and build consensus.

Empirical research on the effectiveness of such policies has shown mixed results so far.

Even those not dealing with regeneration and urban social matters understand the importance of Urban programmes among the Community initiatives: the last one on the scene, it is the programme that (with Leader devoted to marginal rural areas development) has been first in achieving assessable results. It should cause no surprise, therefore, if attention should shift round to management difficulties, whether it is a case of distributing incentives, discriminating areas or actors, or selecting those to carry out the implementation.

At the start of 2000 the European Commission transmitted to Member States a communication relating to the second round of the Urban Programme, whose endorsement was firmly solicited by a transversal majority in the European Parliament, due to the importance and the visibility of the experiment carried out. This may be looked upon as an indicator of the political success of a programme which was due to be combined together with other initiatives in the initial phase of the reform of the Structural Funds. However, the second Urban initiative was halved in size. Two new features were added: smaller cities have been admitted to the competition, and innovative measures were sought after.

A common feature of urban policies was the targeting of a well-defined area in order to contrast urban deprivation. Such programmes present in fact a twin and unique feature: they assume a) a precise representation of the issues to be addressed, and b) a corresponding model of action.

The representation tells us a story of the fracture in social cohesion that occurred at the end of the 70s, due to the superimposing of the unemployment and immigration issues, social exclusion and spatial unevenness being the more apparent results (Turok 1991; CEC 1997).

The model of action combines structural and contingent features in a multidimensional framework intended to offset situations stemming from a variety of causal factors. It is a participatory model since it was conceived, designed and implemented in participation with the stakeholders. Partnership is chosen not only for reasons of effectiveness, but also to mobilise local resources, to involve users, and to identify collectively the causes of social exclusion.

The local approach to structural issues, the representation and the corresponding model of action, have been often questioned (Donzelot and Estèbe 1994, Beauregard 2000; Tosi in Lavori Pubblici 2000a). The point is rather whether local actions are adequate to confront with structural issues. Even if nobody claims a complete success from the area based initiatives (Stewart 2001), serious doubts have been advanced concerning the effective addressing of the process of “social disintegration” (Donzelot 1999), Urban policies may be defective having been misled by an optimistic diagnosis. Long-term social exclusion appears in this perspective bound to grow into a sub-cultural identity, one that local actions can not aim to redeem.

In conclusion, the effectiveness of local actions is yet to be confirmed, however a long term perspective seem at least pre-requisite, as partially disputed by the evaluations of the Urban Programme in different countries (Cedru 1998; Ekos 2000; Quaternaire 2000a; Toepel et al. 2000).

The Urban Initiative has pursued the integration of the measures at local scale, with some success, numerous uncertainties of method, and some strategic problems. At the same time, the Regions have been striving to promote integrated territorial programmes, here again partly in keeping with the recommendations from European Structural Funds. Thus, one of the differences in the implementation of the second round of Urban -compared with the first programme- is that the Regions have sought and found a role, albeit a modest one. Will area based urban policies continue to be stand on their own, or will the Regions fill the gap with a full regional development strategy?

A confrontation has already started between Urban, the instruments of the “new programming” (Gualini 2001), and the territorial reference frameworks.

Local development

Urban programmes are not the only experimentation of a continental wide policy. Actually, the beginning of the urban programmes largely stem from the involvement of local communities with local development initiatives.

As widely recognised, the local economic intervention is far from a clear concept (Pickvance 1990). Its origins lie in the 19th century social reformers, municipal enterprise as well as the spreading of Keynesianism late in the Thirties. Attention to the local economic policy has constituted a growing concern for local state since the 60s.

The present spread of local programmes has bridged the economic development framework and area methodology. Many researchers have acknowledged the common roots of a variety of actions implemented in Europe during the last twenty years (Le Galès 1993; Cameron and Doling, 1995; Hambleton and Thomas 1995; Cremaschi 2002).

The interplay between urban policy and local development initiatives is particularly clear in a country like Italy, where urban issues are strongly influenced by regional conditions, and in general by the historical dualism of the Italian development process (De Rita and Bonomi 1998).

In contrast, local development policies have been rapidly growing even in more centralised state such as France (Pecqueur 1989; for a comprehensive view, CEC 1995 e 1997). The involvement of European Funds, previously almost entirely focused on agriculture, has been expanding since the mid-Seventies. In the same period consistent experimentations took place, exchanging cross-fertilisation of experiences over the oceans (Enterprises zones, development corporations…), being affected more by the political “culture” and innovativeness of the local young leaderships (Pickvance 1990) rather than by government orientations.

The implementation of EU initiatives is not the only novelty stemming from the reform of the Structural Funds at the end of the ‘80s. Although these represent the specific financial instruments of European structural policy, they can benefit of only a minority share of the resources available for each programming period. In the EU 1994-1999 programming cycle, action was carried out on the basis of priorities regarding both productive investments and infrastructural ones. Within the context of national measures for the new EU 2000-2006 programming cycle, that logic has been completely overturned.

The public intervention outlined mainly regards infrastructure, and is therefore linked more to the constitution of an adequate development context than to direct action substituting private enterprise, which occurred within the framework of non-routine intervention. Public investments play an essential role for the area’s development, no longer as a factor of demand, but as one of supply, able to bring about those discontinuities or threshold effects that make a “development leap forward” possible. The predominant vision is therefore one of a development process comprised of elements of imbalance and integration. Here, a concentration of efforts must be combined with a search for synergies both from the sectoral and financial point of view as well as from the economic programming action of the various government levels.

Recently, a review (CEC 2000, p. 13) stressed the interplay between different integrate territorial actions, and the convergence in methods of urban actions and local development initiatives.

The report enhances the common background: both policies are intentionally area-based, and both share a general concern for the growing gap between better-off and less developed regions. Social inclusion and local development are strictly linked in these areas, which are consistent in Southern Europe.

Convergence in method focuses upon the establishment of social network able to catalyse the “social capital”, a local partnerships for development. Such partnerships have been widely experienced with the “territorial pacts” (Cersosimo 2002) introduced in the context of the Italian “new economic programming” approach, and later promoted as a European experience.

The focus is the rediscovery of territorial elements as hubs of development action. The development model chosen for the southern area could be described as one of “compatible endogenous development.” Here compatibility is understood, on the one hand, within the macroeconomic framework of national convergence, attempting to meet the requisites of the Maastricht Treaty. On the other, it is understood in terms of attention to sustainability of the growth process, especially its environmental aspects.

The growth of virtuous development mechanisms in southern Italy is closely linked to the development of the area’s permanent resources (natural, cultural and human) and of its production potentials, which are beginning to emerge within local systems and in a number of urban areas. Only with the full development of these potentials can external mobile resources (savings, enterprise, and specialised labour) have access to the area with reasonable prospects of lasting success. The margin of the public operator’s intervention is precisely linked to this development work.

The spontaneous economic trends, in and of southern society itself, are not yet able to carry out the transformations necessary to trigger the growth process and therefore to direct the South of Italy along the positive path of growth towards which it seems to be heading.

A family portrait

Local actions in urban regeneration and local development show a few common features: a) all the programmes are locally bounded actions; b) they foster a “vision” of spatial development for the whole area, the idea of “territorio” implying community, environment and the local heritage as well; c) intended initially as a group of detached measures, some have progressed toward compound social and economic features; d) started as physical improvement actions, they have become increasingly concerned with the local development and employment issues; e) dealing with the implementation process seems to trigger an embryo co-operation between local authorities and recently powerful regions.

Such programmes have envisaged a variety of innovating actions so far, yet they are not necessarily new. Indeed, the aim of integrating spatial development policies dates back to post war times, standing out as a landmark in the public policy landscape of the mid-century. Such an evolutionary change has brought together severed traditions in distant fields such as infrastructure, economic development, environment and social welfare. The real questions are thus: how close have they come, what is the “recipe” of such integration, and what is the quality?

It must be admitted that programmes seldom went further than a shallow blend of functional measures, and did not overcome what may be called the functional limit of integration. In Italy, development projects of the ‘50s were mainly a one-sector, one-actor mix of actions. Mainstream economics and international agencies, however, insisted on concentrating on a single activity providing supposedly beneficial one-sided shocks to the entire economy.

However, a more integrated approach did sometimes crop up in the framework of the national economic development programme for the South; for instance, some integrated actions tried out after World War II targeted on housing, health and education, strongly influenced by a peculiar mixture of Italian historicism and US regionalism. As geographical patterns are formed by history, the matching up between society and environment moulded the whole territory. In turn, such ideology maintained that its structural features offered a basis for a comprehensive strategy of spatial development.

A second strand may be traced back to the 70s, to the growing awareness that regional spatial frameworks were affecting the outcome of the economic measures taken for the development of the South. To replace the budgetary style of programming, a complex set of incentives and local agreement procedures were devised, tools to be generalised later in the 90s. However, those first attempts did not overcome the functional limit already shown. Since then, a turn in strategy fostered a more negotiated approach and a strengthened effectiveness.

The chance to be effective is actually spread over the great variety of initiatives encompassed by any single programme: an exceedingly high variety -as it has sometimes been remarked- justified however by a peculiar process of “generating projects”. However, a plurality of projects does not necessarily vie against the single vision behind the programme. On the contrary, dualism is a common feature of such programmes: a rigid envisioning level selects priorities and partnership; a flexible design level allows projects to be nurtured and the shortcomings occurring in the implementation process to be countered.

Such federalist and resilient programmes may well be differentiated by contents and purposes even if quite similar in their financial resources and procedures. Actually, similar schemes are operating for urban renewal, improvement of the infrastructure network, preservation of the environment, local and sustainable development, etc.

The acknowledged mix has a double function: coping with local features as well as dealing with operational weaknesses. Beyond the variety of functions, however, also the spatial effects of the programmes are highly differentiated. As in other public policies, spatial effects depend on a variety of “territorial concepts”, which organise the correspondence of methods and aims.

Integrated programmes such as the Urban Initiative combine several territorial concepts: the zoning of areas by functions, in order to delimit areas eligible for financial support and to determine the application of territorialized policies: the improvement of basic infrastructures, facilities and public services; the development of synergies to establish functional interdependencies among policies; the differentiation of policies, measures and technical assistance on the basis of specific territorial criteria.

A practice of flexible integration, and not a completely different model, is instead emerging from the number and variety of cases (Cremaschi 2001). Initially intended as a group of detached measures, some have progressed toward experimenting a mixed framework of social and economic features. Programmes deal with the unintended consequences of the expected traps in the implementation process. Parternships seem to trigger an embryo co-operation between local authorities, a differentiation of governance styles, and the dialogue among different institutional levels (such as recently empowered regions).

The concern for the “spatial development”

The coming closer of EU member state economies affected the policies addressing local issues; in turn, this has changed the vision of spatial development of member states. The governance of change is more and more the result of co-operative efforts which go beyond institutional boundaries either at the local or at the global level. Tentative experiments of co-operation of a mixed frame of governance have been experienced during the last two decades. Two examples can be provided: a) the establishment of a common spatial development perspective for the whole continent, and b) the establishment of Commission initiative, such as Urban and Interreg, the latter being aimed to develop cooperation among the transborder territories of the Union.

The period around the ‘90s is in fact characterised by events, decisions and initiatives that profoundly modified the relation between Community policies and the European space. And a new dimension of governance has been progressively set up in front of the trans-national co-operation for local and spatial development.

The idea of constructing a vision of the European territory was not born recently nor within the European Community. The long preparation may somehow contrast with the slim conclusions (CEC 1998b). However, it suggests that a long span of time was required in order to allocate contrasting and sensitive policy options, and that the content of the European spatial policy has somehow changed over time.

It matured in the Council of Europe’s work over about 25 years. In 1964, the Council of Europe Assembly decided upon the foundation of the European Conference of Ministers Responsible for Territorial Development (Cemat) with the precise duty of examining a planning policy for European space. The “Draft European Scheme of Territorial Planning,” submitted in Strasbourg at Cemat ’88, supplied numerous materials and guidelines for the subsequent strategic documents of the European Commission.

The first Conference of Community Ministers for Territorial Planning and Regional Development met in Nantes in November 1989. The Conference was a success. The Member Countries declared their interest and readiness to make a common commitment to anticipating spatial transformations and to agreeing on joint policies among themselves and with the Commission.

On the one hand, the Turin Conference in 1990 reintroduced general themes (urban networks, transport and communications, border zones), and on the other proposed an in-depth study of the Mediterranean question as an issue for European planning and extra-Community relations. Turin was an important step in the course of the two proposals. The meeting achieved both the extension of the Interreg program to the regions of extra-Community borders (including the coasts) and the establishment of the observatory on the territorial effects of policies of EU interest.

Also at The Hague Conference in 1991, general issues were influenced by local emphasis. The European network system previously discussed seemed to exclude, or in any case, to ignore the “peripheries” of Europe, to draw attention to the efficiency and sustainability of the development of the central territories – the areas that today count for the future of the Community.

From 1992 on, the Conferences have been more “oriented” by the preparatory work of the Committee which followed the results of the seven trans-regional studies and of the three trans-national studies launched by Europe 2000 towards the new document Europe 2000+. The preparation of the Agenda was strongly affected by French seminal preparatory studies, which outlined some policy options following the French tradition of strong centralised planning. It was the Committee itself that matured the decision made at the Liège Conference in 1993 to construct the Esdp, whose first official version was presented at Noordwick in June 1997.

However, the Committee thought the Perspective had to provide a “guide” for integrated territorial planning strategies of the Member States. At the same time, it was to have been an instrument for the coordination of actions – already adopted or to be adopted – exercising a spatial impact within the framework of the Union’s different sectoral policies. Such ambitious aims were clearly conflictual with member states’ options. In particular, a clear and strong Eu’s Perspective would have had to inform the programming of the Structural Funds and the homogenisation of national planning frameworks, clearly an unlikely results given the level of regional differentiation.

Among the widely differentiated models of territorial planning in Europe, scrutinised by the CEC (CEC 1998b), the perspective assumed eventually a cautious position: to ensure spatial coordination, but from the members states up to the Commission (Faludi et al. 1997), a sort of an “incremental federalism”.

Actually, the perspective document impact is a modest one. Somebody even underlines indirect effects rather than direct outcomes, questioning whether the whole spatial planning has “much ado about nothing” (Kunzmann 1998). A few spatial concepts (the polycentric urban network and the urban-rural transition) are routinely addressed by recent policy statements (the Cohesion Report 2001), but links with sound policy orientations, and expected outcomes are somehow vague.

However, the Esdp establishes a background for the Commission that may bring to more credible policy orientations. This happens through an articulated effort: selecting transnational options, such as a few infrastructure corridors; establishing languages, reference practices, a common awareness and common concerns; indicating a shared time-table and schedule.

Whether the Esdp and the local initiative experiences meet, it is not an easy forecast.

On one hand, urban local policies have consistently innovated the tradition of spatial and economic planning. As planning aims have become more flexible, a number of questions have arisen concerning the integration of policies at all level. Planning and governance are thus not severed, but more and more the two sides of the same coin, one that has started to present a growing resemblance (Newman and Thornley, 1996).

On the other, the rhetoric of governance in the Esdp covers the vagueness of the construction of new spatial policies. It is somehow odd that the urban governance should be an aim, rather than an analytical tool. However, the “politics” of urban governance exemplifies a favourable attitude towards city development and the support to the increase of investment in urban areas.

Conclusions: making room for a European spatial policy

Integrated local policies have sprung up in a vast field of experimentation. Spatial development, local strategies, area based initiatives are bringing together previously separate sectors of public actions. The enactment of such a difficult practice of integration goes well beyond the establishment of functional interdependencies among sector policies (as already anticipated by early development policies in the 50s).

In this way, the CEC Commission is experimenting with a new model of action, which is crucial for local societies. Such actions are supported by the Commission in order to strengthen subsidiarity and enact direct ties with local governments.

The rationale of the Commission’s effort has to be found in the process of establishing a new style of governance, rather than from the direct outcomes of such actions. Such new style has been progressively focused during the Nineties.

In this period, the governance of European cities has been re-defined at the crossroad of two main processes: the devolution of power to localities and partnerships; the decentralisation of functions and activities in the process of globalisation. New styles of local governance are defined in opposition with the central government, and routinely idealised as a tier of power closer to citizens and local issues. Even if this is partly true, it is not an adequate reason to justify the spreading of such actions, even beyond tangible outcomes.

Thus, the making of a European spatial policy appears instrumental to wider aims, such an incremental process being justified more by political reasons than by the material outcomes. Three main reasons may address further reflections on this subject.

On one side, different experimental policies are combined in a strategy of establishing direct links between the Commission and localities. As anticipated by Lévy, the geography (and politics) of local actions is trying to overcome historical backgrounds, mirrored in Europe by different administrative systems. Some countries are more centralised, while others depend upon a federal or a regional system. The general tendency is towards an increased decentralisation of policies it is often acknowledged even beyond legal bindings by the Union treaties. This effort has been increased in the last quarter of the 20th century in almost all the member states of the European Union. As suggested by Padoa-Schioppa (2001), the globalisation process is more advanced in Europe because of the “economic federalism” of the four-tier system of government (community, nations, regions and municipalities). It is worth noting that Italy is privileged having being a ‘multi-governance system’ long before the Union. A convergence process is recognisable even in the field of planning and in the ‘style’ of managing the regeneration of cities and regions (Newmann and Thornley 1996, Faludi and Zonneveld 1997).

On the other side, local agents are well positioned in order to deal with the globalisation effects, and cities appear central actors in the managing of such changes. Even more so when devolution sometimes combines effectively with the “deconcentration” process of functions and activities, which has occurred in the pattern of urbanisation.

Finally, the European policy making is structurally limited by the agreement of member states. The chance of a “positive integration” of markets (Tinbergen’s system of regulation) is strongly affected by the lack of a majority rule. The institutional framework of the Union, however, allows for a dynamic confrontation among states and for bilateral negotiations with the Union. Such a complex web of negotiation seems to lead to a better result when “negative integration” issues are at stake (Scharpf 1997), the latter consisting of the removal of barriers in the Tinbergen scheme. The Commission may reach better results than any single member state being able to compensate gains and losses on other negotiation tables. Spatial policies have been successful until they have addressed negative or experimental integration issues, such as urban solidarity, pilot projects, local developments; and have failed, or have been less effective, when addressing more substantial options such as comprehensive strategy for coordinating transnational infrastructure.

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* Dipsa (Planning and Architecture Department), Third University of Rome, via della Madonna dei Monti 40, 00184 Roma, ph. +39-06488871248, fx. +39-06488871249, m.cremaschi@uniroma3.it.

1 As often reminded, the conclusion of the 16th century religious wars was the geographic option: “cuius regio, eius religio”.

2 The paper is partly based on several case studies of urban policies from different European Countries (as different as Italy, Portugal, Germany, United Kingdom and France). Information has been gathered through interviews with policy makers and through an extensive examination of public documents (current literature and country evaluation reports) in a research carried out with the support of the Italian Department of the Spatial Development: Cremaschi 2001 and 2002.

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