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A call for change: the potential of transnational cooperation for a more integrated central Europe

What does the future hold for central Europe? Will this functional area further integrate or will the process slow down because of the COVID-19 pandemic? The newly published ESPON CE-FLOWS Target ed Analysis presents three development scenarios for future cooperation and integration in the area by the year 2030, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the role of transnational cooperation.

The international team of researchers identified key areas for potential development, and drivers of and barriers to future integration in central Europe. On this basis, the study provides in-depth insights into the spatial dynamics and existing flows across regions in central Europe in four thematic areas: economic interactions and networks, flow of people, environmental hazards, and accessibility and connectivity. In addition, it looks at how transnational cooperation structures, governance mechanisms and solutions could be tailored to reduce economic and social disparities and foster integrated territorial development in central Europe.

The researchers found that -despite decades of interactions and active cooperation between central European regions- the East-West divide, rooted in the historical, political and economic development of these areas, is still visible. Significant discrepancies between regions are particularly evident in terms of research and development patterns, accessibility and labour commuting, pollution, and energy production and consumption. Statistical analysis allowed the forecasting of different trends and scenarios for future integration in central Europe by 2030, highlighting the potential territorial impacts of the expected development trends. The analysis resulted in three development scenarios characterised by different levels of economic, social and environmental integration: a New Normality scenario, an integration scenario and a partial integration scenario.

The outcome expected for 2030 in the New Normality scenario is significant economic growth in central European regions hit hardest by the health crisis (e.g. Italian regions). In these regions, the rebound would be more significant and offset the losses accumulated in the first wave of the pandemic. Despite slightly lower GDP growth rates, the overall economic performance of central European regions would remain stronger in the long run owing to the lower losses registered during 2020. What distinguishes the New Normality scenario from the Integration and Partial Integration scenarios is the expected long-term impact of the pandemic on economic and non-economic indicators other than GDP. Notably, particulate matter emissions would decrease in the integration scenario, as by further integrating central Europe, manufacturing activities could further concentrate in fewer production plants, resulting in a decrease in transport-induced emissions. The researchers found that this effect is particularly strong for regions in which manufacturing plants still employ a significant share of the labour force, because a more integrated approach to production would have the greatest benefit there. However, the pandemic might also have long-term negative effects on trust among people and mobility for different purposes, and this is reflected in the Partial Integration scenario. As a result, the growth in foreign direct investments would be weaker, and in 2030 there would be negative border effects in high-tech manufacturing activities, a lower level of trust, and reduced social capital and tourist flows.

" despite decades of interactions and active cooperation between central European regions the East-West divide is still visible "

Last but not least, the researchers looked at how transnational cooperation could influence the realisation of the most positive integration scenario. They will present their recommendations for the first time in the European Week of Regions and Cities online session. A call for change: How transnational cooperation realises ESPON policy recommendations on Wednesday 13 October from 17:30 to 18:30. The expert presentation will be complemented by an introduction to the first call for project proposals of the transnational Interreg Central Europe Programme, which aims to put key recommendations into practice. It is still possible to register for the event.

This article appears in the EURegionsWeek 2021 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the EURegionsWeek 2021 Issue of TerritoriALL
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