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Challenges and issues of spatial planning in the European Union: European vision and supraregional co-operation

Valérie Biot et Alain Colard
p. 143-162


L’Union européenne souhaite mener une politique de développement spatial équilibré et durable, et les ministres de l’Aménagement du territoire ont dernièrement adopté un schéma de développement de l’espace communataire, qui propose une certaine vision spatiale pour tout le territoire de l’Union.
Quelle est l’articulation possible avec les autres niveaux de planification, et en particulier le niveau régional fortement mis en avant par les programmes Interreg, l’Union européenne soutenant financièrement de nombreuses collaborations transfrontalières et/ou suprarégionales, concernant à la fois des études et des projets ?
Dans ce cadre, cet article s’interroge sur la pertinence et la réalité de ces collaborations suprarégionales, en étudiant l’une d’elles, l’Eurorégion. Quelles capacités ont les cinq Régions de l’Eurorégion (les trois Régions belges, la région du Nord-Pas de Calais et le Comté de Kent) à articuler leur politique spatiale stratégique et à avoir la vision transfrontalière et suprarégionale qui semble pertinente pour optimiser leurs atouts face à la tendance à la concentration des activités et surtout des pôles de commandement dans les métropoles encadrantes ?
L’observation critique des niveaux de compétence en aménagement du territoire et l’analyse des plans stratégiques de développement territorial de chacune de ces cinq régions nous amène à constater des déséquilibres dans les intervenants, des différences d’objectifs et des carences de coordination dans la réalité, ainsi qu’un manque de vision suprarégionale.
Cette vision, et son insertion dans une vision européenne, sont pourtant nécessaires, et souvent souhaitées, mais si l’on veut éviter qu’elles ne deviennent une simple incantation, certains présupposés devront être rencontrés.
Enfin, tout ce processus semble présager d’une lente modification de l’organisation territoriale.

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Texte intégral

In collaboration with Christian Dessouroux, Bénédicte Heindrichs, Anne-Catherine Klinkenberg, François Meuleman and Véronique Rousseau (Conférence Permanente du Développement Territorial de la Région Wallonne).

A European Vision: the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP)

1The European Union is promoting a policy of balanced and sustainable spatial development planning. Ministers in charge of spatial planning have recently adopted a spatial development perspective for the European Union territory, which is proposing a spatial vision for the entire Union territory.


2On May 11, 1999, the EU Council of Ministers in charge of spatial planning adopted the final text of the European Spatial Development Plan (ESDP). They considered that even if spatial planning does not lie within European Union jurisdiction, it was essential to have general and common plans in order to develop national policies on spatial planning and community-based sector policies (ESDP, p. 7 of French text).

National Policies on Spatial Planning

3The first paragraphs of the ESDP describe the many diverse components of the European Union territory but while this diversity must be preserved a certain level of integration must be advocated. Moreover, the various development projects put forward by Member States should be based on common goals at European level in terms of spatial planning so as to complement one another and to avoid unnecessary competition.

4Faced with considerable disparities in spatial planning in the European Union, the ESDP wants to achieve a more balanced spatial planning in the medium term (ibid., p. 9), in conformity with the Union stated objective of a balanced and sustainable development.

Community-based sector policies

5The European Union has the jurisdiction to legislate in several fields which impact considerably on both spatial and development planning of Member States. The ESDP identifies in particular:

  • Structural funds

  • Transeuropean networks (transportation, telecommunications and energy supply infrastructures)

  • Environmental policy

  • Competition policy

  • Common agricultural policy

  • Fisheries policy

  • Research, technology and development

  • Loans from the European Investment Bank

6It does however place the emphasis on the three first points because they have a direct influence on spatial development in the various european areas (ibid., p. 13).


7The three objectives of spatial development are:

  • Economic and social cohesion

  • Natural and cultural heritage preservation

  • Increased competitiveness of the European territory

  • The three fields of action chosen by the Ministers in charge of spatial planning are:

  • Development of a multiple nuclei model for urban areas and a new city-country relation

  • Equivalent accessibility to infrastructures and knowledge

  • Sustainable development, conservative management and natural and cultural heritage preservation

8In this perspective, the ESDP puts forward some sixty political options:


9The ESDP is a non-binding document, a political framework aiming at improving both the co-operation between community-based sector policies which have a significant impact on spatial hierarchies and the co-operation between Member States, their regions and their cities (ibid., p. 11).

10The ESDP is the result of a long discussion process led by Member States and the European Commission, with the participation of and in consultation with the various institutions and persons in charge of spatial development both at European and national level. EU membership candidates also participated in the dialogue.

11It is meant to be a general reference frame for public and private decision-makers and provides for implementation procedures to be followed on a voluntary basis and based on the subsidiarity principle.

12Consequently, what are the possible links with the other planning levels, and in particular the supraregional level highly promoted by Interreg programmes, to what extent is this supra-regional co-operation suitable and real? In an attempt to answer these questions, we decided to examine one of them, namely the Euroregion and its aim to develop a common ‘strategic objectives scheme’ for its various components.

Creation of the Euroregion


13As part of the diversification of approach levels in terms of spatial planning (European, supranational, supraregional, transregional or local), the impact of the Channel Tunnel and the high-speed rail system in the eighties led to a transborder collaboration between Nord-Pas de Calais and Kent (1987, agreement setting up the Trans-Channel Region).

14It appeared very rapidly that this area should include the three Belgian regions (Brussels-Capital, Flanders and Wallonia) as they were also affected by the high-speed train system (HST stations operating in Brussels or the ones planned in Antwerp, Flanders, as well as in Liège, Wallonia). Moreover, it appeared that one should also include in the process the issue of economic growth within the context of the European Economic Space and of the strengthening of transborder social and cultural links. The Euroregion was created in 1991, as an official Economic Interest Group, with a Members Council, composed of one elected senior representative per region (chaired by the Minister of External Affairs for the Brussels-Capital Region, Mrs. Annemie Neyts in 2000), an Executive Board and a General Secretariat in Brussels.

15Under these bodies, five working groups, composed of professionals and technical experts, are working in the following fields of common interest:

  1. Development of economic activity, technology and tourism

  2. Spatial Planning and infrastructures

  3. Environment

  4. Training and exchanges

  5. Public relations and promotional activity

16Given that the Euroregion is in existence for several years and that the high-speed rail system is completed, one of its current projects is to develop a ‘strategic objectives scheme’, namely a common reference frame for spatial policies in the five regions. This project falls within the scope of the community approach in favour of supraregional co-operation and supported by Interreg programmes in particular. As a result, it allows a confrontation between wishes and real possibilities.

17In order to ascertain the degree of convergence of spatial development strategies for the regions that make up the Euroregion and the possibilities of developing such a common scheme, the following points were analysed:

  • The components of the Euroregion: the Belgian and French regions and the British county- their authority and jurisdiction in terms of spatial planning,

  • The spatial planning practices, the positioning of their strategic document in the national planning structure,

  • The spatial development plan or scheme achieved at their level.

The components of the Euro-region and their jurisdiction in terms of spatial planning

The three Belgian Regions

18As a result of a long process beginning in the 1970s, and following various constitutional (1970, 1980, 1988, 1993) and legislative reforms, Belgium is now a federal State, whose federated entities are three Regions (Brussels Capital, Wallonia and Flanders) which have essentially economic responsibilities, and three Communities (French, Flemish and German speaking communities), with essentially cultural and educational competence. Each of the federated entity has his own government, parliament, administration and budget, their financing deriving mainly, for the Regions, from a partial transfer of the revenue of the federal personal income tax, redistributed on the basis of the taxpayers’ residence (the Flemish Community has merged its institutions with the Flanders Region). These entities have the power to legislate on an equal footing with the Federal State.

19Spatial planning has been fully transferred to the Regions, and in the nineties, each of the three Regions developed his own regional official scheme, which was agreed by his own regional Parliament and adopted by his own regional government. Despite the fact that they are at different stages of implementation, these schemes are all being used in strategies and decisions dealing with public policies. Schemes are also being developed at lower level (provincial and municipal in Flanders, only municipal in Wallonia and Brussels).

20Regional schemes are not mandatory, apart from some binding provisions attached to the Flemish scheme, but they are political documents, with options presented to citizens. So it is very difficult to undertake actions contrary to their objectives. Consequently, one can expect that they will be renewed at each term of office as planned in the legislation (except for Wallonia).

Figure 1. The Euroregion.

Figure 1. The Euroregion.

21The Euroregion is located at the centre of the European Union and has several major ‘gateways’ (international ports and airports) and excellent road, railway and river infrastructures. With a population of 15 million inhabitants, it is nonetheless seen as an interstitial area between the four major conurbations of 5 to 10 million inhabitants, i.e. London, Paris, Randstad Holland and the Ruhr area.

The French Region

22France is a unitary state but the Constitution establishes territorial entities (municipalities, departments et overseas territories) and makes provision for the possibility of creating other by law. This applied to the regions in 1982. The 1982 Act on the rights and freedom of the municipalities, department and regions, in addition to setting up regions as genuine territorial entities also reformed the way in which the territorial entities were organised, by introducing decentralisation.

23French Regions are run freely by regional elected councils (deliberative body) and by a regional executive, the Council Chairman, elected by the Council and its collaborators. The Regions have their own administration, but no initial prescriptive power. However, their regulatory decisions are directly binding by right and are subsequently submitted to a legality control.

24Powers are expressly delegated by the legislature (National Assembly), and the role of the regions was enhanced in planning, spatial structuring, economic action and development, but it is still the Central State who owns the general competence. Their financial ressources are coming mostly from State transfers (overall allocations to be used as the regions see fit).

25End of 1999, jurisdiction in terms of spatial planning was reorganised and distributed among a national framework (eight collective services scheme, sectorial), and a regional planning and development scheme, which should prepare a planning Contract developed and budgeted with the State. For Nord-Pas de Calais, a planning contract came to his end, and a new one is negotiated, but no regional plan has been developed yet, and the most representative document is the Regional Trends and Orientations paper which the planning Contract will have to take into account. Several plans also exist at a more local level, essentially at intermunicipal level, given the small size of French municipalities.

The British County

  • 1 Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had recently their own elected parliament and government, but (...)

26The United Kingdom is a unitary State1 with a long tradition of local government. After a long period of continuity, there has been a major upheaval since the 1970s, under the different Conservative governments. Here we will consider local government in England, the Counties and Districts (smaller).

27As England does not have a written constitution, the constitutional protection for the organisation of local government is not very pronounced and ordinary laws (Acts of Parliament) were sufficient to transfer responsibilities and powers from local governments either to the national level, be it public (since the thirties already) and private, or to local or national agencies, mixing both levels.

28Their level of financing has been reduced and henceforth they cannot exceed prescribed ceilings without facing some penalty.

29Nevertheless, local communities still have numerous responsibilities, an elected Assembly, an Executive, a significant local administration and are run by ‘Councils‘.

30In England, more general structure plans and several sectorial plans are developed at county level and on some sectors at district level too. They all have to fit in the framework given by ‘Planning guidance’ and ‘Regional guidance’ issued by the National State. Planning supervision is the task of the ‘Planning Inspectorate’, which is a national State administration.

Table 1. Comparison of the planning system of the five regions Euroregion

Table 1. Comparison of the planning system of the five regions Euroregion

Spatial planning practices and positioning of the various documents

31This brief overview stresses the imbalances between the various stakeholders, in terms of authority, jurisdiction, financial autonomy and their ability to legislate. It is also worth noting that strategic schemes are at various levels in their respective planning hierarchy and follow different practices, in particular when dealing with implementation means and players.

32The Official Schemes of the three Belgian Regions refer to development philosophies and integrate spatial planning in a global territorial development project. Because of the status of regions in Belgium (federate entities in a federal government) plans developed are likely to address many areas over which they have jurisdiction and include them in a ‘society project’. In the planning hierarchy, even if these plans have no statutory scope, they are nevertheless ‘first in line’ as all other planning instruments must comply with them; additionally, and at various degrees, these plans have a binding force for public authorities.

33The French and English documents are not at the top of the planning hierarchy. They stem from other requirements, primarily established by the national government. They are developed by territorial communities, in this case French regions and English counties, that share jurisdiction with both central State and the other levels of territorial communities (municipalities, districts, supra regional bodies). These territorial communities all have relative authority as well as financial means that heavily depend on central government. The ‘philosophical principles’ must therefore be sought at a higher planning level.

34The current French document is an ‘orientation paper’. At this stage, it consists of statements of political intention as part of the evolving status of regions. In order to find out what the specific short-term applications are, we will need to analyse the planning contract, which determines budget preferences and associate national and regional levels.

35The Kent county plan, on the other hand, is more sector-based, more technical, high detailed and backed up by figures. It is the only one that emerges as a technical paper, and not a political one, yet it also has a coercive force with public authorities.

36An added difficulty to these various contexts is the negotiators involved, particularly in the implementation process. Apart from the fact that public authorities involved have different levels of authority and jurisdiction, one must also take into account negotiators belonging to the private sector, especially in England, even though this is generally a matter that comes within the scope of public policies.

37Finally, some practical difficulties result from differences between statistical and distribution instruments.

Analysis of the contents of the five spatial planning schemes: objectives and main ideas

Diverse interests and complexion, lack of co-ordination, but no fundamental divergence

38The five documents analysed here reflect five different initiatives. National cultures, regional characteristics and economic, social and environmental context are some of the many factors which colour these various visions for development, each of them being confronted to some specific problems.

39In the Brussels-Capital Region, the development plan adopted by authorities reflects a willingness for an harmonious urban lifestyle and a desire to provide this city-region with its own and marked identity, one of the principal objectives being to establish its inhabitants. Indeed, for 30 years now, many people, particularly the wealthier, left the region to live in the Flemish or Walloon suburbs. This leads to a smaller tax base for Brussels and daily commuting with a negative impact on their quality of life. In the Flanders Region, territory is at the centre of the paradox which wants to both designate the area for economic development, but also protect open, unbuilt spaces and the environment. In Flanders, both the high population density and an inherited and permissive policy in terms of areas eligible for development led to a quasi-continuous urbanisation of its territory. The Wallonia Region is committed to a global and open vision for its territory. It is a marked evolution, Wallonia passing from a relatively self-sufficient development for its territory to a development philosophy turned towards the exterior. Having no major cities, large areas of its territory belong to the employment areas of major cities outside the region (Brussels, Lille, Luxemburg, Aachen). Consequently, the Walloon plan wants to promote an opening to its European neighbours. The Nord – Pas de Calais region, through its orientation document, has builded some bridges for its future and towards the state to which it presents its economic, social, environmental, claims in view of the next planning contract. The document proposed by the Nord – Pas de Calais Region is neither a plan nor a project. An Orientation document, it is presented essentially as a reflection platform in view of the future regional development plan. Eventually, the vision of the Kent County Council is essentially sectorial. Each area has its chapter, even its plan. Transportation is the most comprehensive area. This is understandable given the strategic position of this County (ports and the Chunnel to the East and the impact of its proximity to London to the West). The Plan insists particularly on the modernisation of the economic structure. The plan addresses the private sector as much as local government.

40These differences in contexts and priorities do not necessarily lead to fundamental divergences in strategies put forward. Some concerns are common, e.g. options relating to transportation policies all aim at better controlling the volume and impact of traffic movement and at a mobility shared in a better fashion. All these documents are also based on a ‘sustainable development’ philosophy, even if they are given a specific emphasis by each Region. Four of the five documents – the Flemish RSV excepted – go beyond the strict scope of spatial planning to take into consideration other subsidiary aspects (social issues, education, etc.) of spatial development.

41Another common point is the way they are prepared. All these documents were submitted to intergovernmental and parliamentary consultation, a dialogue process with administrations and semi-public associations, and public consultation.

42They do not deal with the same issues, which is partially due to their ‘age’, e.g. regarding new technologies. They do not necessarily have the same interests, but that does not mean that it results in contradictions or incompatibilities. On the other hand, similar interests can lead to conflicts, related amongst others to economic growth, e.g. company and industry setting up.

43Briefly, it is clear that while they are not contradictory, these documents, which reflect strategies developed by public authorities, do not lay the foundations of co-operation between these Regions. This co-operation with adjoining regions is deemed necessary by all, but one must stress the fact that regional schemes are generally developed independently – the Walloon Scheme excepted – without references to issues of neighbouring regions, but to transportation, to some degree. Project authors rarely look beyond their borders because of heterogeneous supraregional statistics and various legislation as well as working languages.

Towards a common ‘strategic objectives scheme’?

44Yet, an increased supraregional co-operation is clearly wished for by all people concerned since the Euroregion wants to develop a common ‘strategic objectives scheme’. Despite the stated differences and imbalances, this area seems to be suited to such a co-operation, even more so that one noted they did not necessarily result in incompatibilities.

45The Euroregion seems to be a sound frame of reference, constituting the interstitial area between four major European conurbations (London, Paris, Ruhr and Randstad Holland). In this area, the awareness that many economic indicators are lower than in neighbouring regions has strongly focused attention on the action required to harness the substantial flows interlinking these conurbations into a strong Euroregion.

  • 2 Concerning for instance the already mentioned policies on transport, the overall reduction of road (...)

46There are many reasons why significant progress should be done on full knowledge of the facts and establishment of multisectorial common strategies: the existence of the Channel Tunnel, the desire for synergy between Lille and its great cross-border sphere of influence (Grootstad project), the problem of converting the franco-belgian mining areas and the old industries of Kent, and the need to establish supraregional sectorial links (textiles, metal industry, agro-industry) to better adapt to the globalisation of the economy. Such strategies can be achieved only through overall studies at Euroregion level or at a level approximating it which may lead to a strategic development plan, whose ‘sustainable’ nature, however, remains to be worked out and substantiated.2

Table 2. Economic indicators for the Euroregion economic weight (retrieved from ULB-IGEAT economic databanks).

Table 2. Economic indicators for the Euroregion economic weight (retrieved from ULB-IGEAT economic databanks).

Regional planning and possible links to the supraregional and European levels

Renewed interest in a certain type of planning, a mere wish?

47As a general trend, we can see a renewed and enhanced focus on spatial planning in the five regions we analysed, with political awareness concerning the need for strategic instruments for development. That new kind of planning is usually not mandatory or statutory, but wants to give a binding framework. New tools were needed because of the increasing pressures and requirements of the land and the legislative framework which is often outdated and poorly adapted to the actual situation. This desire for ‘planning’ is now underpinned by a process of consensus and participation, with reference to indicative recommendations, in which a wide range of actors take part in discussions on the society of the future.

48There are some who regret that these plans are not sufficiently binding: they are indicative, with few quantified objectives and usually without a timetable. The plans are also often open to multiple interpretation.

49Attempts to co-ordinate these plans at supraregional levels are generally come up against major divergences in terms of statistic instruments, culture, political will and conduct, strategies viewed from a regional standpoint, and eventually means of action.

50They often fall into the trap of merely being a vague, indicative document, devoid of quantified objectives and adopting only the greatest common denominator; but is this really a trap or an inevitability, given the ideological context in which they are conceived – which in itself hardly shows any divergences?

51Attempts to articulate them according to a European vision rapidly come up against the confusion resulting from the many general or sectorial plans developed without any co-operation.

  • 3 North West metropolitan area.

52For instance, the plans that are involved as cross-sectorial plans in the Euroregion context are the second Benelux scheme and the Saar-Lor-Lux+ plan and many projects under the NWMA3, starting with the Spatial Scheme currently in progress in this area.

53The ESDP, which is hoped to become the frame of reference for the Union, is not binding either, and does not set out targets in precise figures or translated into maps, be it for information only.

  • 4 Ibid., p. 2.

54Therefore one could be wondering if the ‘new planning’ would not be merely ‘a kind of symbolic ritual of development ambitions’ (as C. Comeliau suggests in respect of the countries of black Africa4, a mere wish and at the same time a way for our societies to feel well with its conscience.

Supraregional co-operation and European vision

55The objective of this article is not to ponder on the validity and the challenges of dividing the European Union in regions, nor on their increasing positioning as representatives of the EU and beneficiaries of European policies.

56This being established, it is necessary to have a supranational vision and to increase co-operation efforts at the appropriate supraregional entities level with all the collaboration, negotiations and strategic vision that it entails. It is especially true within the context of an increased integration of Europe in some fields such as currency issues, lack of harmonisation in many others, major disparities on its territory and on the eve of the EU enlargement to the East.

57A project based on consensus and shared strategies must provide a common framework. The fact that the planning system is less explicitly binding, while implying some disadvantages, has the advantage of making it possible for these strategies to be adopted, officialized, known and used.

58Nevertheless, in order to prevent this ‘new planning’ from being a mere wish and to guarantee a successful co-operation at supra regional level, some solutions will be needed so as to overcome the existing differences and imbalances shown in our case study.

Obstacles to overcome

59By examining in a critical way the various components of the supraregional entity and by analysing their respective spatial development strategic plans, their positioning, their content and their priorities, we notice the following:

Concerning the general framework

  • Major imbalances between stakeholders in terms of their authority, jurisdiction, financial means, ability to legislate, which prove to be a serious disadvantage when negotiating and taking decisions,

  • Different practices due to specific national contexts, which remind us of the significance of the national factor, including in regional co-operation,

  • Imbalances as to the position of strategic schemes in the planning hierarchy of their respective countries,

  • Co-ordination deficiencies with the neighbouring regions,

  • A lack of supraregional vision.

Concerning the objectives

  • Different objectives and priorities, which could be advantageous since it enables strategies to be complementary and not conflictual,

  • Similar objectives that could be in competition (mainly objectives linked to economic growth),

  • Finally, objectives that while designated with the same term are not interpreted the same way and do not have the same purpose.

60One notices very quickly that negotiations between partners come up against numerous obstacles that until now have prevented most occasional co-operation efforts at supraregional level from becoming true co-operation projects. A way to overcome these obstacles would be to adopt a wider reference frame such as the ESDP.

The ESDP, an asset?

61In fact, the ESDP is a lot more than a spatial strategic plan, since it is articulated according to the notion of economic development, respect for the environment and social development. This scheme is not binding, but seems to be in the process of becoming a true reference document for decision-makers and lobby groups, leading to concrete decisions.

62In light of its preparation process, it is supposed to be based on a large consensus and could therefore fulfil its role of reference framework. But by being to general and not binding, there is a danger that people interpret it according to their own specific interests.

63However, since it must also serve as the basis for EU sector policies, it will greatly influence strategies and the co-operation process between regions. It is already obvious with Interreg programmes without which, admittedly, numerous transnational and supranational co-operation programmes would never have seen the light.

64The ESDP meets a real need in terms of coherence and co-ordination, be it only for the implementation of agreements with the European Union. Lets take the example of transportation policies: the European Union promised to reduce CO2 emission levels which of course leads to the appropriate strategies at all levels concerned with the development of transportation policies.

65The ESDP, which virtually encompasses all the sectors that need to be studied under strategic development plans, should be the frame of relevance of all plans at more local level. Accordingly, all plans should be interlinked in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.

66Half way between the ESDP and the regional plans, the supra regional plans have an important role to play, as well as the Interreg programs of the European Union.


67Even though spatial planning does not fall under EU jurisdiction, one needs only to examine the projects in the supraregional co-operation areas defined by Interreg to conclude that the EU is becoming a reference framework, even a support, for a wider vision and that a majority of these programmes refer to the ESDP. Even without explicit jurisdiction in terms of spatial planning, it is obvious that the European Union has the ability to act through its numerous programmes and in numerous fields affected by and related to spatial uses.

68The same goes for other national or regional non-binding schemes which nonetheless have the appropriate means to be implemented.

69Consequently, and despite problems related to framework differences, the most powerful driving force in terms of co-operation remains the will of public players and increasingly of some private players, according to their interests.

  • 5 R. Balme, P. Garraud (1994), Le territoire pour politiques : variations européennes, p. 35.

70The European Union did put some weight in the balance to motivate regional players while spatial entities were generally converging: ‘local or intermediary governments are getting more autonomous where they were mostly dependent and see their relations with the centre develop where they were mostly autonomous’5.

  • 6 Ibid., p. 254.

71On the one hand, regional policies and significant funds allocated to them by the European Union (one-third of the EU budget in 1994, just behind the CAP and far ahead of policies linked to the environment for example) ‘allow a progressive autonomy process of the community policy dealing with Member States spatial policies’.6 On the other hand, these funds allow regions to receive funding from another source than the National State. However, National States still remain the only official representatives for the Union and most funds first go through State administrations before they reach the appropriate regions.

72With this supraregional co-operation as a background, one witnesses in fact changes in the way land is organised. This organisation intrinsically relies on political decisions and in the European vision would aim at more local autonomy and less disparity. Nevertheless, all you have to do is to observe representatives at the EU Regional Committees to notice the existing and persisting imbalance.

73We conclude by reflecting on the very meaning of these plans: beside their existence and their potential co-ordination and integration into a European body, none of them, while claiming to rely on sustainable development principles, does really question the free-market economy and commercial approach of our society even if most of them now include a few social and environmental aspects.

74They often give major weight to the economy: it is not in keeping with the spirit of the times to unduly inhibit free enterprise, and added value always remains the yardstick against which to measure development.

75The plans, even if they claimed themselves to be more than just spatial planning schemes, have no or only a very slight social cultural dimension than one could wish for (except in the regional guidelines for the Nord-Pas de Calais region, but the DOR is not yet a scheme, neither a plan), even though these two dimensions ought to be part and parcel of sustainable development (and ought to be included in development indices).

76Obviously, we are only beginning to be concerned about land and space with paying more attention to the immediate living environment of its inhabitants, be it social or environmental, than the economy. Despite the great advances made in this direction by the ESDP, the economy still plays a major role in this scheme. In conclusion, we are still far away from a Europe which would advocate a life philosophy less focused on huge consumption: would it not be the time to mistake a little less well-being for ‘well-having’....?

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1 Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had recently their own elected parliament and government, but it is still too early to analyse the concrete consequences in terms of State organisation (at the finalisation stage of this article).

2 Concerning for instance the already mentioned policies on transport, the overall reduction of road traffic does not appear as a priority, with the plans rather proposing a different distribution of traffic by calling for support for collective transport and goods transport other than by road. The fact is, however, increasing traffic, both by road and air, shows that Europe is still a long way off from reducing CO2 emissions by 8% by the year 2010 compared with 1990, although it gave this commitment at Kyoto. Extrapolation from current trends lead to a 39% increase of traffic-generated CO2 emission, only very mildly compensated by a reduction of industry-generated emissions. In view of these figures, the solution generally recommended by the plans of a reduction in motorised traffic, with a shift to other modes of transport, clearly appears to be inadequate.

3 North West metropolitan area.

4 Ibid., p. 2.

5 R. Balme, P. Garraud (1994), Le territoire pour politiques : variations européennes, p. 35.

6 Ibid., p. 254.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. The Euroregion.
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Titre Table 1. Comparison of the planning system of the five regions Euroregion
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Titre Table 2. Economic indicators for the Euroregion economic weight (retrieved from ULB-IGEAT economic databanks).
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Pour citer cet article

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Valérie Biot et Alain Colard, « Challenges and issues of spatial planning in the European Union: European vision and supraregional co-operation », Belgeo, 1-2-3-4 | 2000, 143-162.

Référence électronique

Valérie Biot et Alain Colard, « Challenges and issues of spatial planning in the European Union: European vision and supraregional co-operation », Belgeo [En ligne], 1-2-3-4 | 2000, mis en ligne le 12 juillet 2015, consulté le 24 août 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/belgeo.13962

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Valérie Biot

Institut de Gestion de l’Environnement et d’Aménagement du Territoire (IGEAT), Université Libre de Bruxelles,

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Alain Colard

Institut de Gestion de l’Environnement et d’Aménagement du Territoire (IGEAT), Université Libre de Bruxelles,

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