Project: Similar Ideas, Contrasting Practices: Regional Development in Central and Eastern Europe
ESR 8: Alexandru Brad (Host: IfL)
Description: This project aimed to investigate the use of policy ideas in dealing with persisting and rising spatial disparities within regions. The accepted policy dogma these days draws on neoliberal though in emphasising the primacy of globally-oriented growth. Infrastructure investments, innovation strategies, and concentrated investments in metropolitan cores for instance are all rightly justified as necessary regional interventions. However, years of economic stagnation point towards the fact that growth cannot be brought about promptly in peripheralising places. What is there to do here then? In some cases, policy strategists believe that development will spillover ‘naturally’ from agglomerations. Forms of cooperation are also tried out to maximise the use of development potentials. In other cases, interventions target a specific area, usually aiming for a swift betterment of living conditions.
In Central and Eastern Europe, the bulk of ‘regional thinking’ is inspired by the European Union Cohesion Policy. Nonetheless, in spite of its ‘one size fits one’ approach, the policy delivery mechanism becomes overwhelmingly centralised, acts in a predominant top-down manner, and is burdened by convoluted procedures for the uninitiated. This state of affairs typically puts peripheral places on the receiving end of interventions designed elsewhere. A paucity of administrative/institutional capacities is oftentimes cited as a barrier for development. Yet could it be that the issue goes much deeper? My starting argument is that in-vogue principles which shape understandings of cohesive development generate policies that have a hard time addressing the issues of peripheralising places.
To investigate this claim, I’ve designed my research around an interpretivist methodology centred on principles of grounded theory. I reviewed relevant policy documents, and conducted interviews with decision makers, policy professionals, and experts. I’ve conducted most of my research in Romania, with the German comparison to follow soon. The ongoing analysis focuses on two core policy principles that are consistent across jurisdictions: global-oriented competitiveness in the context of cohesion, and governance.
The interim findings indicate that although goals of cohesion are constantly stated in policy designs across scales, the practice of regional development in Central and Eastern Europe has an inherent potential to further persisting territorial development disparities. These practices are rooted in context-specific national political conventions and are reinforced by an overemphasis of substantive policy components in regional policy designs. By means of financial incentives, a great deal of effort is spent on shaping the behaviour of actors involved in the production, and distribution of goods and services. Doing so assumes that actors will act rationally and seek to act towards fulfilling policy indicators, which are typically very clearly quantified. Seen in this light, most aspects of regional programmes are usually successfully implemented.
However, an over-reliance on these types of mechanisms cannot capture the multidimensional aspects of peripheralisation. Even in cases where aspects of peripheralising places are specifically targeted through redistributive instruments, the impact is oftentimes confined – think of all the initiatives that dwindle after funding concludes. This is where procedural instruments become relevant. Put shortly, procedural policy components are deployed to secure some level of agreement among those charged with formulating, deciding upon, and administering policy alternatives (Howlett, 2011: 4). Research conducted in this project has shown that in a learning policy system that is overwhelmingly top-down and veiled in expertise, such instruments are scarce. Policy design and delivery is rather performed through situational consensus (agreements accepted out of expediency as a best way to get about), and through an imposition of viewpoints by the powerful.
As a consequence of policy decisions, intra-regional peripherialisation is fuelled by prevailing understandings of spatial (and in some cases sectorial concentration) as a prerequisite for global competitiveness. This leads to processes of economic restructuring centred on attracting foreign direct investments and firm relocations. Further, in post-socialist contexts, national-level orientations towards this approach considerably skew understandings of governance towards a policy and polity of state intervention (see Trieb, 2006: 6). As a result, forums for discussing ideas about what regional development might be are hard to come by. Potential actors that might engage in such talks are either caught up in the administrative maze, or have come to realise the negligible impact that this might have.
The forthcoming analysis of the (East) German case intends to explore these interim findings in a more governance-sensitive policy system, a different economic setting, yet a context that faces similar processes of intra-regional peripherialisation.
This project has been disseminated in the following conferences and workshops:
10th International Conference on Interpretive Policy Analysis. July 2015, Lille, France
Panel P56: The politics of meaning: power-sensitive approaches to framing research
Akademie für Raumforschung und Landesplanung International Summer School. August 2015,
Prague, The Czech Republic.
Session 2: Governing the Periphery
Regional Studies Association Student and Early Career Conference. October 2016, Newcastle, UK
Panel: New Economic Geography
Fachforum im Rahmen der Europawoche 2017: Innovative Ansätze zur Regionalentwicklung. May
2017, Sächsisches Staatsministerium des Innern, Dresden, Germany
Discussion forum: “Arbeiten gegen den Trend in Zeiten des Metropolenfiebers”.
Regional Studies Association Central and Eastern Europe Conference. September 2017, Cluj-
Panel: Regional Policy in CEE: Old Legacies and New Challenges
Coping with Uneven Development in Europe. September 2017, Leipzig, Germany
Roundtable discussion: “The whereabouts of Cohesion”
15th European Week of Regions and Cities, University Masterclass Programme. October 2017,
Session: Governance of regional and local development
European Peripheries, Transdisciplinary Perspectives. November 2017, Frankfurt(Oder). Workshop
hosted by the Reconfigurations project at European University Viadrina
Panel: EU policies and periphery construction
Thilo Lang (Project coordinator):
Franziska Görmar (Project manager): F_Goermar@ifl-leipzig.de
Franziska Weyrich (Financial manager): F_Weyrich@ifl-leipzig.de
WP leader for Dissemination and Outreach activities: MEPCO