To define at Union level policy objectives and general principles of spatial development to ensure the sustainable balanced development of the European territory which respects its diversity.

2) ACT

ESDP - European Spatial Development Perspective. Towards a balanced and sustainable development of the Union territory.


Spatial development policies are intended to ensure the balanced and sustainable development of the Union territory in accordance with the basic objectives of Community policy: economic and social cohesion, knowledge-based economic competitiveness complying with the principles of sustainable development and the conservation of diverse natural and cultural resources.

Although it does not justify further Community responsibilities as regards spatial planning, the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) is a framework for policy guidance to improve cooperation among Community sectoral policies which have a significant impact in spatial terms. It was drawn up because it was found that the work of the Member States complemented each other best if directed towards common objectives for spatial development. It is an intergovernmental document which is for guidance and not binding. In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, it is applied at the most appropriate level and as desired by the various parties engaged in spatial development.

The ESDP is the result of an intensive discussion process. The first proposals on spatial development date from the sixties with the European Parliament's European Regional Planning Scheme. The Commission's documents "Europe 2000" (COM(90) 544, not published in the OJ) and "Europe 2000+" (COM(94) 354, not published in the OJ) gave a decisive boost to the preparation of a concerted policy. The Liège Council in 1993 was the starting point for preparation of the European Spatial Development Perspective as it is now. Since then, successive presidencies, assisted by the Spatial Development Committee comprising representatives of the Commission and national officials, drew up a number of drafts resulting in the final adoption of the ESDP in May 1999 at the Potsdam informal Council of ministers responsible for spatial planning.

The ESDP is in two parts: I) the contribution of the spatial development policy as a new dimension of European policy and II) the trends, opportunities and challenges facing the territory of the EU. This note deals only with the first part; others (Second Report on Economic and Social Cohesion and First interim report) have already provided more recent data on the main changes within the Community.


The underlying idea in the ESDP is that economic growth and the convergence of certain economic indicators are not enough to achieve the goal of economic and social cohesion, so concerted action on spatial development is needed to correct the disparities detected. This must include: constant progress in economic integration (EMU, completion of the internal market), a growing role for local and regional authorities, the forthcoming enlargement of the Union to central and eastern Europe and the development of links between the 15 and their neighbours.

With over 370 million people on 3.2 million and a gross domestic product (GDP) of 6.8 trillion euros in 1996, the European Union is part of one of the largest and strongest economic areas in the world. Nevertheless, serious economic imbalances impede achievement of balanced and sustainable spatial development. The core area of Europe, bounded by the agglomerations of London, Paris, Milan, Munich and Hamburg, accounts for only 20 % of the area and 40 % of the population of the Community but provides 50 % of its GDP. Furthermore, while the differences in economic performance between "prosperous" and "poor" regions are declining slightly, those between regions are increasing in most countries. At the end of 1998 unemployment stood at about 10 % of the working population (half being long-term unemployed and over 20 % young people), with considerable differences between regions and Member States.

The ESDP has selected four major areas which interact and exert considerable pressure on the spatial development of the European Union:


Despite there being a specific title on economic and social cohesion in the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Union's sectoral policies have no clearly defined spatial objectives, although several of them have a substantial influence on the Community territory as a geographical area receiving assistance. Their territorial impact depends on the nature of the assistance, whether financial (common agricultural policy, regional policy through the Structural Funds, specific aid for research and innovation), legislative (policy on competition or the environment) or planning (policy on energy and transport). From a financial perspective, the common agricultural policy (CAP) and the Structural Funds accounted for 83 % of the Community budget in 1997.

The following sectoral policies have a territorial impact:

Financial support from the European Investment Bank (EIB), which does not form part of the Community budget, also plays an important role in promoting the Union's structural measures. Its loans provide implicit incentives and are well-adapted to implementation in less-favoured regions. This facility is highly relevant to the forthcoming enlargement, when it will finance long-term projects such as investment in infrastructure.

Unless they are coordinated, Community policies could unintentionally aggravate disparities in regional development by cancelling each other out as they respond to a sectoral objective with no spatial dimension. The Member States and the Commission therefore consider the ESDP to be an instrument which can help improve the coordination of Community policies. That makes it urgent for the Commission to increase departmental cooperation to ensure spatial coherence and the assessment of the spatial effects of the policies for which they are responsible.


The policy objectives and options of the ESDP are addressed to all those involved in spatial development at the European, national, regional and local levels. They are as follows: A) the establishment of a polycentric and balanced urban system, B) the promotion of integrated transport and communications concepts offering parity of access to infrastructure and knowledge throughout the Union, C) the development and conservation of the natural and cultural heritage.

A) Polycentric spatial development and a new relationship between town and country

At present, the core area of Europe - defined by the cities of London, Paris, Milan, Munich and Hamburg - is the only dynamic area of integration in the world economy. Within the Union, current territorial developments are marked by the continuing concentration of highly performing global functions in this core area and in certain large cities (Barcelona, the Øresund region).

In the light of enlargement and the growing integration of the national economies into the single market and the world economy, the recommended model of polycentric development will allow the excessive concentration of population and economic, political and financial power in a single dynamic area to be avoided. The emergence of a relatively decentralised urban structure will enable the potential of all the regions of Europe to be developed and so also reduce regional disparities.

Rather than, as in the past, encouraging simply links between the periphery and the core area through new infrastructure, the spatial and polycentric development model proposes:

To permit sustainable development, the integrated development strategies for towns and urban regions must cope with several major challenges:

Country-based activity is not in itself a hindrance to competitive economic development and employment growth. In their great diversity, rural areas have completed, or at least begun, their conversion to solve their structural weaknesses and concentrate on the development they can generate themselves. To cope with under-population and mainly agricultural land use, rural areas must diversify their activities by basing their strategies on their own special features and needs. Rediscovering multifunctionality in an agriculture aiming at quality (food safety, local products, country tourism, development of the heritage and landscapes, use of renewable energy), expanding activities relating to the new information technologies and exchanging experiences on selected topics will help rural areas to make the most of their potential.

Furthermore, consideration of a new rural-urban partnership will aim at promoting an integrated approach at regional level and working together to solve insurmountable difficulties one by one. This partnership will help define original options for development. It is sufficient to ensure a basic supply of public services and transport and an effective improvement in land planning. It will encourage the exchange of experiences through cooperation networks bringing together local authorities and urban and rural firms.

B) Parity of access to infrastructure and knowledge

While transport and telecommunications infrastructure alone cannot achieve the objectives of economic and social cohesion, they are nevertheless important instruments which create links between areas, particularly between central and peripheral areas and between urban centres and the surrounding countryside.

The future extension of the trans-European networks should be based on a polycentric development model, giving priority to serving globally important economic areas once these have been identified and paying great attention to regions with geographical barriers to access and to secondary links within regions. Furthermore, all regions should enjoy balanced access to intercontinental centres (ports and airports).

The current increase in passenger and goods traffic poses a growing threat to the environment and the efficiency of transport systems. An appropriate spatial development policy (public transport in towns, intermodal systems, shared infrastructure) will allow an integrated approach to environmental pressures arising from greater mobility, traffic congestion and land use.

Access to knowledge and infrastructure is vital to a knowledge-based society. Job markets and firms require dynamic innovation systems, effective technology transfer and first-class education and training provision. Access to knowledge and the capacity for innovation are still spatially unbalanced in the European Union and are concentrated where economic dynamism is greatest. Raising the level of education and training among the population of the regions in difficulty, principally through the dissemination of the new information technologies (basic service, appropriate tariff policy, training and awareness raising) will help counter these imbalances.

C) Wise management of the natural and cultural heritage

Spatial development can act as an engine for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity at local and regional level. Although strict protection measures are sometimes justified, it is often more sensible to integrate management of the endangered areas into planning strategies for larger areas. When they are respected and developed, nature and culture are an economic factor of some importance for regional development.

The richness of Europe's cultural heritage and landscapes is an expression of its identity and is of general importance. To reverse any process of abandonment and decline and to hand this heritage on to future generations in the best possible conditions requires a creative approach involving the definition of integrated strategies for the preservation and restoration for landscapes and heritage and raising public awareness of the contribution which spatial planning policy can make to defending the heritage of future generations.

The development of natural resources in the European Union also depends on the introduction of integrated strategies for the sustainable management of environmental factors (air, water, soil) and the targeted protection of specific areas:


Although the ESDP is not a binding document, the Member States want it to produce results in the long-term. The desire cooperation among those engaged in spatial planning at various levels will help avoid contradictions or measures cancelling each other out.

The Member States are making a number of relevant recommendations:


Enlargement is a real challenge for the European Union; it will have an unprecedented socio-economic and territorial impact. The forthcoming accession of ten candidate countries from Central and Eastern Europe (CEEC) plus Cyprus and Malta, will increase the population and area of the Union by about a third but its gross domestic product (GDP) by only 5 %.

Enlargement will alter the reference area of the ESDP in the following respects:

In the CEEC, meeting the challenges posed by the process of economic change is still regarded as a national priority. Their regional and spatial planning policies suffer from a lack of tradition as reflected in a shortage of instruments and structures and the frequent absence of an autonomous regional level in the administrative system. Poland, Slovenia and Hungary have made most progress in their reforms towards a regional policy in line with the current Community model (regional strategy, programming, partnership, implementation, monitoring and evaluation). For more information, see the fact sheets entitled " Further indicative guidelines for the future Member States " and " Preparing the future Member States to implement the regional policy in the period 2004-06 ".

Enlargement requires a reform of the current regional and agricultural policies. The Commission made proposals in this regard as part of Agenda 2000 and the debate on the future of regional policy after 2006 has also begun. Previous enlargements demonstrate, however, that an increase in the number of less prosperous countries in the Union tends to reduce the room for manoeuvre as regards regional policy, so calling into question the priorities for the future cohesion policy. Meanwhile, in-depth studies on the territorial impact of enlargement are required. It is also necessary to involve the candidate countries and their local authorities in the management of the Community Funds as rapidly as possible. To that end, the financial instruments of both regional policy (Interreg III) and external relations (Phare, Tacis, Meda and Cards programmes) are supporting training for national and local officials from the candidate countries and the establishment of topic-based networks within areas of transnational cooperation.

For more information on the ESDP, consult the full version of the ESDP on the Inforegio site of the Directorate-General for Regional policy.

4) implementing measures

5) follow-up work

Resolution on regional planning and the European Spatial Development Perspective [Official Journal C 226 of 20.07.1998].

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) - first official draft [Official Journal C 407 of 28.12.1998].

Opinion of the European Parliament on spatial planning and the European Spatial Development Perspective [Official Journal C 93 of 6.4.1999].

Last updated: 05.01.2004