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Spatial justice, social cohesion and territorial inequalities


The research to address this challenge should focus on one or two dimensions that have to be comprehensively addressed. The research may also cover other issues relevant for addressing the specific challenge.

1) Territorial Cohesion, Spatial Justice and Solidarity in Europe

Research should explore links and tensions between territorial cohesion, sustainable development and spatial justice in Europe at times of crisis. Different concepts of spatiality ought to be considered inter alia in the light of their institutional contexts. In particular, research should assess whether and if so how and why territorial cohesion could or should be understood as a prerequisite for achieving sustainable economic growth, including environmental sustainability, and maintaining democratic capacities for adaptation and change. Research will survey empirically existing and emerging spatial and territorial inequalities and evaluate them normatively from perspectives of justice and fairness. A representative number of divergent spatial entities in Europe (and beyond, where appropriate) have to be studied. Research should in particular explore and appraise the socio-economic and political consequences of the financial strains for territorial cohesion in times of austerity. The links between socio-economic disparities, regional inequalities, the urban/rural divide and identities should also be considered. Conceptual connections between social and economic cohesion, the European Social Model and human rights should be explored. The distribution, size and availability of public services in the fight against spatial inequalities should be thoroughly assessed.

2) Regionalism, a question of political and social equality?

Research should explore whether, and under which circumstances, claims to (more, or partial) regional autonomy or decentralisation are - or are not - justifiable on account of economic, political and social justice. Cross-country comparisons of different concepts of regional development are invited, especially in the context of a growing North-South divide in Europe. In particular, research should explore whether and why a relatively high degree of regional distinctiveness in terms of economic development, social structures and, where appropriate, culture and identity, may require certain degrees of autonomy. Research should consider whether and to what extent the quest for regional autonomy could be seen as an alternative for EU social cohesion policies. The relationship between the use of the potentials of distinctive spatial resources on the one hand and equality, equal opportunities and justice on the other ought to be considered.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the order of EUR 5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Location matters. This could hardly be truer than with regard to the place where people live, including neighbourhood, city, region, and country. Where one is born and raised (still) determines to a considerable extent one's opportunities and constrictions and it also impacts on one's personality. Spatial influences on the quality of life, development and opportunities of children and the elderly are also significant in this regard. Attention should be paid to access and quality of health as well as to the gender dimension. Despite technological developments which are making the notion of 'space' somewhat more relative, social mobility is constrained by many spatial and institutional factors, especially for the young and those living in precarious conditions. Yet, from an equality and spatial justice perspective, the place of birth or living should have as little impact as possible on socio-economic chances and public policies should be in place to lessen such inequalities. At a political level, it seems that regional, and sometimes sectarian, movements and parties appear to be gaining ground in Europe, whereas Member States and the European Union are losing political credit. After a long period of catching-up for most of the disadvantaged regions, inequalities among regions within Member States are now growing again. As 'hollow' States find it hard to develop appropriate answers to increasing inequalities, citizens are seeking locally and socially inclusive innovative solutions within their immediate environment or communities. Territorial patterns are shifting and some cities are taking the lead in global challenges (e.g. with regard to sustainability, transport and climate change) while others are lacking behind.

Research will contribute to conceptually and empirically enhancing the knowledge base on spatial justice and territorial inequalities. It will also contribute to identifying policies promoting spatial justice and socio-economic well-being at various levels of governance (incl. local organisations and stakeholders). Research will reappraise existing cohesion policies and instruments, as well as the essential role of public services and make recommendations for their continuation under conditions of austerity. Research will also make a contribution to conceptualising the European Social Model. Research will improve the knowledge base on the relation between regional policy and political claims to regional autonomy and decentralisation. Solutions for a more cohesive European territory should be proposed.