The pursuit of balanced territorial development: The realities and complexities of the cohesion agenda
Understanding the terminology of European spatial planning A number of concepts and terms have taken a central place in the European spatial planning discourse, including cohesion, disparities, polycentrism and territorial capital. The original meaning of the word ‘cohesion’ is far removed from its current use in the EU documents. Webster’s New World Dictionary (1999: 272) suggests that to cohere is to stick together as part of a mass, to be consistent, to become or stay united in action or to be in accord. Cohesion in an EU context clearly has a positive connotation as a desirable objective of EU policies. Several fundamental EU documents mention cohesion including the proposed Constitution and the so-called Lisbon Treaty (Treaty of Lisbon 2007: Article 2), within which economic, social and territorial cohesion is defined as a competence shared between the EU and the member states. The consensual nature of these documents, however, means that although cohesion is frequently mentioned, it is never clearly defined. The European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP: CEC 1999) dealt with cohesion in terms of equal access to public amenities and services as a right for all EU citizens. Polycentric development was presented as a means of achieving this right in physical space. However, as pointed out by Faludi (2000: 249) the ESDP policy process constituted an ‘anarchic field’, with ‘uncertainty regarding content as well as on the positions of the various actors’, leading to the emergence of ‘an ‘epistemic community’, admittedly with its roots in Northwest Europe’. Evers also pointed out that
despite the additional legal and political legitimacy, there is still no consensus about the actual meaning of the term. At present, there seem to be two major competing interpretations: one related to the cohesion-oriented goals of the EU’s regional policy, and another stemming from ideas of efficiency.