The European Spatial Development Perspective - some ideas for researching it
Paper prepared before and finished after the Nordregio-conference in Stockholm 11-12th December 1997
To the extent that public policy explicitly deals with and/or influence spatial issues and arrangements, the instrument of spatial planning (tentatively defined below) may be described as a "governmental technology" at the disposal of political and economic authorities, that is, part of "the complex of mundane programmes, calculations, techniques, apparatuses, documents and procedures through which authorities seek to embody and give effect to governmental ambitions" (Rose & Miller 1992:175).
It follows that in order to scientifically assess the likely future fate and role of a policy document like the ESDP dealing with spatial development-cum-planning, a multifaceted approach is mandatory and several precautions must be observed. Only a few examples will be given in this paper.
In the first place one has to recognize spatial planning as being a derivation or an instrument of political and economic transactions and power games. Spatial planning is always intimately interwoven with economic and political developments of the social system in which such planning takes place. Its possibilities of influencing territorial development are in an extremely complex manner delimited and dictated by economic and political preconditions. In this connection it is interesting that many planners allegedly identify neither with politics nor economy but rather with a third component of the social system, namely the somewhat evasive phenomenon of "civil society". I shall return to this concept below.
Secondly such a scientific assessment also requires a distinction as clear as possible between the activity of planning and the activity of researching planning activity. I shall surmise that being and understanding oneself as a planner is fundamentally different from being a researcher of planning activity. It is with the latter position that I identify myself in the following remarks. In this connection I understand planning activity as a research object in the widest possible sense of this activity, e.g. including (at least) the genesis, design, accept, and implementation of planning (Flyvbjerg 1998). This underlines once again that such research must extend to relevant areas and aspects of economics and politics.
Researching the ESDP
A scientific analysis of an endeavour like the ESDP thus presupposes a critical stance towards the document in particular and spatial planning in general, granting at the same time that intentions in all circumstances may be all the best. However, if the ESDP or parts of it is somehow accepted and implemented some entities will most likely benefit, others will become worse off. Entities involved can be individuals or groups, firms and corporations, trans- or subnational regions, even countries and nation-states. When interrogating into specific new inventions like the ESDP one is forced to ask: What will in this case be the possible new configurations of 'goods' and 'bads'? To what extent and in which ways can which kinds of improvements and/or deteriorations be predicted or hypothesized? One might say that we are dealing with issues of planning value added or lost. But not only that.
Answers to questions like the above presuppose, of course, criteria. When it comes to issues of spatial planning, researchers must be realistic and inventive in assembling those sets of criteria against which they are going to measure the results of their analyses. Some such criteria quite obviously will have to be found 'in the field', that is, researchers must ask actors involved (politicians, experts, administrators, planners, etc.) about their intentions, objectives, and, importantly, their own criteria for assessing success or failure. Since many, perhaps most, such actors are neither able nor willing to envisage objectives or possible repercussions not directly within their own field of interest or authority, researchers are obliged to widen the perspective in order to bring in such indirect and relevant effects of the activities in question.
Also badly needed is a minimum of conceptual clarity and some (provisional) definitions. For example the still more widespread use of the adjective 'spatial' to a certain extent seems to have had the effect of glossing over differences between national perceptions of territorial development, planning and management. In the same manner the concepts 'development' and 'planning' are used in an indiscriminatory way although the meanings that may be ascribed to them are not at all identical. As mentioned by Faludi (1997), Germany originally wanted to have a document and decisions about European spatial planning, but since this was not acceptable to all member states it was changed to development, a more comprehensive and generic - hence neutral? - concept. Such politically induced vagueness is to be avoided in a scientific research context.
In the same manner as the Single European Act has been said to pose a threat to the varied class, sectoral, and professional arrangements within the member states of the EU (Schmitter 1997:398), so the ESDP could be imagined as a threat to existing or intended planning systems of the same member states. The ESDP could also 'threaten' to introduce or require planning in social and political contexts where such planning, hitherto absent, in some quarters might be deemed less attractive and desirable.
Thus one first conclusion might be, that it will be necessary to carry out a textual analysis of the ESDP and relate this to the planning laws, documents and discourses - as a minimum - of the member states in order to discern and distinguish latent points of conflict between these latter and the ESDP.
Spatial planning - attempts at definitions
If it is accepted that the ESDP is a policy document also for spatial planning - and its contents clearly indicates as much - a first necessity will be an attempt to delimit the meaning of 'spatial planning'. In the recently published first resumé volume of the EU compendium of spatial planning systems and policies it is emphasized that "...spatial planning when used in the 'EU sense' does not mean precisely 'aménagement du territoire', 'town and country planning', Raumordnung, ruimtelijke ordening, or any of a number of other terms used by Member States and regions to describe the particular arrangements for managing spatial development which apply to their territories." (EC/DGXVI 1997:23).
Instead the following definition is suggested: "Spatial planning refers to the methods used largely by the public sector to influence the future distributions of activities in space" (Op.cit:24), a definition pretty much in line with the introductory definition of spatial planning as a governmental technology.
The EU document quoted here goes on to specify that "Spatial planning encompasses elements of national and transnational planning, regional policy, regional planning and detailed land use planning." (loc.cit.)
A slightly differently worded, (and more substantial?), definition has been given by two of the people in charge of the production of the Compendium (Shaw & Nadin 1996): "The main purpose of spatial planning can be said to be the production of a more rational organisation of activities in space, including the linkages between them and to balance development with the need to protect the environment." This definition has the advantage that it opens up a differentiation between 'development' and 'planning'.
It also must be realized what the ESDP is not: it is, quite obviously, not a plan for the development of the European Union territory. Baptized a perspective it is less a strategy than a vision for the future development of the Union. Nevertheless, taking into consideration its rather long gestation period with its very intensive social getting together of European planning ministers, their top civil servants and EU officials, the document has already become much more than an ephemeral enumeration of a number of desirable policies.
Healey (1997a:21), defines strategic spatial plan-making as "a social process rather than a technical exercise, [which] seeks to interrelate the active work of individuals within social processes (the level of agency) with the power of systemic forces - economic organization, political organization, social dynamics and natural forces (the level of structuring of social relations)."
Further and again according to Healey, spatial planning practice may be considered as a field of public policy amenable to analysis with the help of an institutionalist approach. This approach is characterized by its focusing "attention not only on the formal organizations legally charged with policy responsiblilities, but also on the relational webs which connect these to wider arenas and networks and the collective managing processes which occur in these arenas." (Healey 1997b:72).
It is such diverse systems of institutional arrangements of the member states which to a certain extent will have to be syncronized, if European spatial planning along the lines suggested by the ESDP is going to be successful.
As demonstrated by activities under, for example, the Interreg initiatives and similar EU programmes, and also by changed planning behaviour in some member states, it seems beyond doubt that as a result of the preparatory work already invested in the ESDP, the basis has been laid for at least some amount of strategic spatial planning practice in various geographical and sectoral settings throughout the Union. What must still be questioned, however, is whether such planning will add up or lead to something resembling a strategic planning for the Union in general.
Concluding again, research into the possible outcomes and paths of development resulting from the ESDP will have to painstakingly describe and analyze the many institutional systems involved: their popular and political bases, their values and objectives, their mutual dependencies and relations, etc.etc.
State, market and civil society
Considering the definitions of spatial planning referred to here it should be clear that such planning encompasses something more than a simple balancing or calibration of economic and political processes. This something could be the 'civil society' alluded to above as the frame of reference behind much planning ideology and activity.
In social science it has become commonplace to analytically divide a social system into the three spheres of state, market and civil society. In particular Jürgen Habermas, the influential German philosopher-cum-social scientist, has tried to enunciate a total(izing) social theory based on these three categories. "His work on the nature of communicative action is having a 'transformative' impact within the planning field on conceptions of planning processes." (Healey 1997b:49)
According to Habermas, the sector of state (and politics) is steered and steering through the medium of power, to be more precise political power, the power of law. In this system, in order to succeed, one must use power to gain more (accumulate, maximize) power.
In the market (and economy) sphere the corresponding medium is money and in a capitalist economy the accumulation of money-capital is the ultimate goal to which all other, in the final analysis, must give way. These two spheres combine to make up the systemworld. In the third sphere, dubbed the lifeworld by Habermas (more or less civil society), the decisive medium is uninhibited communication and this is where the universal aspects of human life must be debated and decided in a domination-free discourse. It has now been Habermas' thesis that the strategic media of the System-world (power and money) have come to dominate and colonize the lifeworld (civil society) with the result that social and cultural disintegration has risen to levels threatening stability.
The Habermasian remedy (at least until recently) has been advocacy of a strengthening of domination-free public dialogue in all walks of life, an ethics of discourse, with the achievement of mutual understanding as its ontological essence, being considered a universal element in human interaction. Habermas has been severely critizised for this universalism, in particular by post-structuralist and deconstructionist thinkers, but here is not the place and the need to engage this debate.
I will, however, suggest that at least the heuristic value of this analytical scheme could be improved, if we could suggest and accept an alternative to domination-free communication as the medium characteristic of civil society. Cautiously and tentatively my suggestion is that this medium could be 'love'. Other candidates of the same family are: 'virtue', 'solidarity', 'sympathy', 'compassion', 'humanity', 'civility', 'tolerance', etc.
However, in spite of its awkward ring in a social science context (perhaps a problem for social science?), my reason for sticking to 'love' - of course in a very generic sense of this concept - is that it is so well suited for a pairing and comparing with 'power' and 'money' respectively. An important reason is that these three concepts in their purity (essence) are mutually exclusive, at least when the situation in a capitalist society is concerned.
In theory (and perhaps in history) one could think of societies where these three phenomena were inscribed in society in a 'sustainable' way, that is balancing each other out so that threats against human life and humanity were minimized, including safeguarding of nature at large. A truly civilized social system. But this is far from the actual historic conjuncture in which we find ourselves as we approach the new millenium.
Let me elaborate a bit. Any functioning and surviving society must carry out activities having to do with the three media, power, economy, and love.
Because every social system in order to survive requires a minimum of order, sustenance and procreation. It requires a latter day version of what Peter Sloterdijk, another German philosopher, has labelled paläopolitik. The kind of politics which allowed our forefathers to distance themselves from nature, e.g. become humans, during our first millions of years "Für die Paläopolitik...ist es wesentlich, dass sie "den Menschen" nicht voraussetzt, sondern Menschen hervorbringt." (Sloterdijk 1993:16)
I understand this as a politics whose aim it is to produce and uphold humanity, man- and womankind. Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, they all can do without human beings. But if we believe that the appearance and existence of the specific human species is more than a coincidence and something which we shall try to preserve and continue to the best of our capabilities, then a new form of politics will be necessary. To put it in overly simplistic terms: a new constellation between power, economy and love is needed.
If translated into a discourse of spatial planning, such a new politics could have as one of its aim to contribute to spatial welfare. It goes without saying that the precise definition of spatial welfare must rest with the people for whom planning (and development policies) is carried out. Participation and transparency in the planning process is not only instrumental in this respect, but integrated constituents of spatial welfare.
However, planning alone cannot be made responsible for bringing forth spatial welfare: allocative, distributional, redistributional and other economic and political mechanisms and policies may well be more influential. Zonneveld & Faludi (1996) suggest spatial cohesion as the ultimate goal for spatial planning and regional development, apparently understanding hereby optimal relationships between urban agglomorations (the urban pattern) and the countryside.
As opposed to spatial planning as an instrument of regional development policy concerned with the reduction of regional disparities they maintain:
"In other countries, in particular Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, planning is above all concerned with spatial quality, as the Dutch term goes. Since here we are discussing spatial quality in relation to economic and social cohesion, spatial cohesion seems a more appropriate term to use. In this type of planning, the focus is on cities and towns, more generally on localities...what we describe here as spatial cohesion relates to the competitiveness of the cities and metropolitan areas of Europe, and with it the competitiveness of Europe as such." (Zonneveld & Faludi 1996:48, my emphasis).
In this tapping the term spatial cohesion seems highly politicized since the authors employ it in an argument for reducing the present preoccupation of EU policies with peripheral (rural?) Europe to the benefit of its cities and metropolitan areas.
Taking another approach - and also assessing Danish regional policy and planning differently - J. Tonboe and I , in an analysis of the spatial aspects of the Scandinavian welfare states, have tried to describe the characteristics of space and the spatial dimension in relation to what we called spatial welfare. Allow me a rather lengthy quotation:
"By space, or the spatial dimension, we mean the geographic-material dimension: Location and distribution of population, (urban) settlement, physical infrastructure, public and private institutions, units of production, and of 'nature' and natural resources as well. In short: the material surroundings and context for individuals, groups and societies and social action in general. We can then speak about space at various levels: Local space, regional space, national and international space. A particular space is always the product of particular natural and social forces through time, as well as being, at a given point in time, part of the basis of those forces. It has an existence as context, resources, restraints etc.
Spatial policy, that is policy about local, urban and regional structures and resources involves manipulation of and relating of material entities, public and private services and resources, or institutions for such services and resources. Situated in a particular place, a locale, addressing a particular population, its groups and individuals, it attempts to answer questions of more or less 'just' distribution of these phenomena across a mix of social and geographic groups, categories etc.; to shape and distribute these matters irrespective of geography as a parallel to a distribution irrespective of class, age, sex and other social categories. The social levelling, universalism and institutionalism is paralleled, and aided, by a spatial 'levelling', universalism and institutionalism. The spatial levelling has, of course, broader social and political consequences apart from the more direct and manifest distributional ones."
This attempt to circle in the spatial dimension of policies and planning led us to this conclusion with regard to regional policy and spatial welfare (planning):
"Regional policy therefore, in the Scandinavian context, is not just a matter of industrial-economic policy, of stimulation and localization of local business and local jobs. It is embedded in an overall welfare political casting, and it is only through this intimate interplay of the social and the spatial policy dimension that the high level of benefit and homogeneity of employment, income, culture, community and overall way of living could be achieved. General measures towards social, political and economic equality has proved not to be enough to bring about this equality in a mixed economy where structures, resources and conditions varied from one part of the country to the other whether due to lack in industrialization, differences in natural resources, culture and tradition or 'peripheral location'.
To solve the peripheral question by treating certain regions differently from others in order to obtain equality thus became an important integral and institutional part of 'The Scandinavian model' side by side with the more well known economic, social and political/administrative issues even though there was much variation in how this was done from time to time and from country to country and from region to region." (Jørgensen & Tonboe 1992)
Whether such polices can be imagined in relation to the ESDP remains to be seen - and made the object of future research.
Governance in the EU - intergovernmental, supranational and infranational institutional theories
Strategic spatial planning for the territory of the Union as a whole would require some version of a common and binding planning law (Treaty Article?) and a central, authoritative agency with the right and power to subsume under it the national spatial planning systems of Member States, at least for a certain minimum of policies or sectors. Whether such tampering with territorial nation state sovereignty is feasible, or perhaps already a reality, has been the subject of a large and still expanding body of academic research and analysis. In political science the schools of (neo)realism, (neo)functionalism and supra-nationalism (post-nationalism) in particular have engaged in a debate on the future territorial governance of the Union. This, after all, is what the ESDP is all about, albeit perhaps in a less downright and more circumspect manner.
In the debate in political science it has been argued that the EU is characterized by a changing relationship between regions, the Member States and the EU at large, leading to regional development in the Union acquiring a dynamic of its own, more or less autonomous from particular nation states (Anderson & Goodman 1995:603). The transitional political form of the EU is emphasized.
On the one hand it consists of a system of independent states, dealing intergovernmentally with each other. On the other it takes on the form of a supranational, federal entity with regions and regionalism allegedly replacing nations and nationalism (op.cit.:604). Supplementing these views of intergovernmentalism and supra-nationalism respectively, functionalism (or infranationalism) emphasizes in particular the growing functional integration taking place, at first in the still larger Communities, later in the Union (cfr. Weiler et.al. 1996a).
With the advent of the Single European Act and Market of 1992 this latter mechanism of functional integration has been supplemented by an increasing economic ditto and an issue of contention is whether this development will further the trend towards a federal, supra-national EU as opposed to the nation states remaining independent, sovereign political entities. Concluding about the struggle over how to organize and rule Europe, Hooghe and Marks suggest:
"This struggle is neither a random conflict of interests, nor a reflection of functional pressures. It is structured along two dimensions: a left-right dimension ranging from social democracy to market liberalism; and a national-supranational dimension ranging from support for the restoration of national state autonomy to support for further European integration. Broad, multi-level coalitions are oriented to two projects combining orientations along these dimensions: a neoliberal project and a project for regulated capitalism. At stake in this conflict are not only domestic issues of political economy, but the political architecture of Europe. Neither project is hegemonic." (1997:26)
Seen in this perspective, and considering the history of its gestation, the ESDP is clearly a product of the attempts of functional integration and as such not directly involved in the struggle for or against a more or less federal Europe. In effect, however, the way in which the ESDP is realized and further developed will have consequences, even if in the beginning insignificant and perhaps intangible, for this larger problematic.
Since the ESDP explicitly opens up possibilities of spatial planning within and between newly constructed territories, such as the transnational superregions (North Sea, Baltic Sea, Atlantic Arc, etc.), it may contribute to a situation in which "there is no longer one fixed viewpoint or perspective from which to see territorial sovereignty or unambigously differentiate between 'foreign' and 'domestic'." (Anderson & Goodman 1995:608).
One may be able to locate differing positions vis-a-vis such problematics, even between ministries and departments of the same government (for instance ministries of Industry versus Environment, Foreign versus Interior, etc.), and between national, regional and local authorities.
As far as research into the further materialization of the ESDP is concerned, it must be of interest to try and evaluate its preconditions, effects and consequences within this larger context of which it is a part.
Sovereignty and subsidiarity - new constitutionalisms?
Issues as these loom prominently in the debate on the future EU as a polity, a debate one can safely say is characterized by anything but clarity. Particularly concerning subsidiarity, it seems that a free for all situation exists, allowing actors to use (and abuse?) this concept at will. It seems to me that in order to be meaningful the materialization of subsidiarity, as an expansion of the pretty wellknown phenomena of sovereignty and autonomy, would have to take heed of some of the following deliberations (also Jørgensen 1996).
Ideally a political entity responsible for a certain policy and its implementation should also be entitled to procure or dispose of the means - economic, legal, and otherwise - to carry out such obligations. Here we touch, in my opinion, the central nerve of the principle of subsidiarity - and the even more tricky question of political intervention in the capitalistic market economy by way of tax policies, regulations, etc.
The driving force of the market economy is capital accumulation through successful competitive behavior. This principle is safeguarded by the economic policies of the EU, first and foremost the Single Market but also the prospected Economic and Monetary union, the single currency, etc.
Historical experience shows us that left to its own devices the market economy leads to a skewed and uneven development of our territories and their populations. This means that if the EU is serious about its additional policies of creating political integration and social cohesion in Europe, one of the fundamental goals of the ESDP, it will have to further the consolidation of political entities with the power to influence and regulate the market economy accordingly.
Up until now this responsibility has been the exclusive prerogative of the nation state, which has consequently been the sole beneficiary and administrator of the subsidiarity principle. It seems obvious to me that subsidiarity within the European Union - if administered more widely - must be delegated to democratically elected, responsible and judicially autonomous political entities (under EU law) with whom decisions about further downward delegation must exclusively rest. A vertical and hierarchical administration of the subsidiarity principle must be introduced.
Here I may be advocating what Weiler et. al. in a study prepared for the European Parliament and the 1996 IGC Task Force, Certain Rectangular Problems of European Integration (Weiler et.al. 1996b) have identified as the essentialist version of subsidiarity, one of Fundamental Boundaries.
In this interpretation one could imagine individual member states to decide differently as to the territorial levels at which there could be a direct link between the Union and such relatively autonomous territories. In effect this will amount to such entities having at the same time (at least) two "superiors", the EU and the national government.
As opposed to this rather robust interpretation other commentators have argued for a more 'floating' understanding of subsidiarity, in particular not territorially fixated. This version may be identical to the second alternative mentioned by Weiler et.al., namely functional subsidiarity, taking as its means of demarcation and localization of decision-making the substantial character of the problems which must be solved. For instance environmental problems like water and air pollution not respecting physical jurisdictional borders.
To quote Weiler et.al.: "All the non unitary systems with which this team is familiar - the European Union, the USA, Germany and Canada - suffer from split personality, trying to accommodate at one and the same time, with different dosages, the functional and the essentialist. Conflict and Contradiction are inevitable." (p. 48 of Study text).
To solve such problems (along with others) which may arise because of these 'split personality' problems, also alluded to by me above, Weiler et.al. suggest the creation of a new institution within the EU apparatus: "We would propose the creation of a Constitutional Council for the Community, modeled in some ways on its French namesake. The Constitutional Council would have jurisdiction only over issues of competence (including subsidiarity) and would decide cases submitted to it after a law was adopted but before coming into force." (p. 69 of Study text).
It should be obvious that the question of subsidiarity is a minefield of uncertainties and latent conflicts. My main purpose here has been to point out that a cautious application is necessary until some badly needed operational and 'official' interpretation has been made.
"What has love got to do with it?"
A hint must suffice for the time being: When the ESDP as the third of its goals stipulates "balanced competitiveness of the European territory", I would surmise that the word "balanced" is where 'love' slips in.
If it's real 'love' it has to be admitted that in and of itself no such phenomenon as "balanced competiveness" can and will materialize. Granted that capitalistic competitiveness is implied, it is in a certain sense a polar opposite to love - it is a contradictio in adjectio!
And then remains the hard - 'love'-inspired? - political labor of deciding and agreeing upon an operationally applicable definition, for instance in the form of a description or a scenario of a future societal situation characterized by "balanced competitiveness", this in itself unfathomable play with words.
In the same manner as suggested here we can trace 'love' - the proposed principle and medium of civil society - in many other metaphors and disguises throughout the ESDP. One of the foremost tasks for researching the ESDP will be to depict, analyze and criticize the way in which this very basic and necessary ingredient of any social system will fare in the future development of this ambitious project.
To revert to and conclude with Peter Sloterdijk, he has suggested the name "Hyperpolitik" (hyperpolitics) for what is needed today, "die erste Politik für die letzten Menschen". Competition and competitiveness in itself is not excluded:
"Die hyperpolitische Gesellschaft ist eine Wettgemeinschaft, die auch in Zukunft auf Weltverbesserung spielen wird; was sie zu lernen hat, ist ein Verfahren, ihre Gewinne so zu machen, dass es auch nach ihr noch Gewinner geben kann. Dies setzt voraus, dass die Hyperpolitik zur Fortsetzung der Paläopolitik mit anderen Mitteln wird." (Sloterdijk 1993:80).
In my translation:
"Hyperpolitical society is a competitive community which also in the future will bet on improvement of the world; what it will have to learn, is a way of winning which will allow there to be winners also after its time. For this to happen, hyperpolitics will have to become the continuation of palaeopolitics by other means."
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Zonneveld, W. & Faludi, A. 1996 "Cohesion versus Competitive Position: A New Direction for European Spatial Planning?" in W. Buunk et.al (eds) International Planning: A Dutch Perspective - Papers presented at the ACSP-AESOP Joint International Congress, Toronto 24-28 July, Amsterdam Study Centre for the Metropolitan Environment, University of Amsterdam
Weiler, J.H.H., Ballmann, A., Haltern, U., Hormann, H. & Mayer, F. (1996a) Certain Rectangular Problems of European Integration - Volume I - The Four Principal Proposals, The Executive Summary and the Study European Parliament, Directorate General for Research, Political and Institutional Affairs Division, Project IV/95/02, Working Paper W-24 Political Series, Luxembourg, December Also: http://www.iue.it/AEL/EP/LEX/index.html
Weiler, J.H.H, Haltern, U.R. & Mayer, F.C (1996b) "European Democracy and its Critique" Hayward, J, (Ed.) The Crisis of Representation in Europe London:Frank Cass pp. 4-39
Last modified on 06-05-1998