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Integrative Mechanisms for Addressing Spatial Justice and Territorial Inequalities in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - IMAJINE (Integrative Mechanisms for Addressing Spatial Justice and Territorial Inequalities in Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2021-06-30

IMAJINE aims to formulate new integrative policy mechanisms to enable European, national and regional government agencies to more effectively address territorial inequalities within the European Union.

It responds to evidence that spatial inequalities within the EU are increasing, contrary to the principle of territorial cohesion embedded as a third dimension of the European Social Model in the Treaty of Lisbon. IMAJINE uniquely addresses the problem of territorial inequalities through an inter-disciplinary and multi-scalar approach that combines quantitative analysis of economic indicators at a range of scales with regionally-focused qualitative empirical case study research in 10 EU member states and the UK. The core objectives of IMAJINE are to enhance understanding of territorial inequalities and the concept of ‘spatial justice’, through the development of theoretical perspectives and the collection and analysis of new empirical evidence; to evaluate the impact of the post-2008 economic crisis and related austerity measures on real and perceived regional inequalities; to interrogate the relationships between structures of territorial governance, economic development and public service delivery; to investigate how perceptions of inequality and spatial injustice influence territorial autonomy movements and their levels of support; to help identify appropriate scales and points for policy interventions to address territorial inequalities; to appraise the effectiveness of current EU territorial cohesion policies; to develop scenarios for future regional development and cohesion policies, with input from government and civil society stakeholders; to make policy recommendations; and to promote public debate and understanding of questions of territorial inequalities and spatial justice.
Research in IMAJINE since January 2017 has involved a series of work packages that have examined the evolution of ideas of territorial cohesion and spatial justice in EU policy and their application by regional stakeholders; critically analysed patterns and trajectories of geographical inequalities and how these are measured with different indicators and at different scales; investigated the drivers of territorial inequalities and the impacts of EU cohesion policies; surveyed the perceptions of citizens of regional disparities and attitudes towards solidarity and territorial inequalites; studied the connections between migration and perceived territorial inequalities; examined the structure and practice of multi-level governance and the role of fiscal transfers in addressing territorial inequalities; and analysed the framing of claims for territorial autonomy. This work has employed mixed methods inclduing econometric anaysis of secondary data, an online panel survey of over 18,000 participants in 8 countries, interviews and focus groups in various case study regions, and qualitative analysis of texts and documents.

Results from the research show: (1) the subjectivity of measurements of territorial inequalities and that the emphasis placed on GDP per captia measured at the NUTS 2 regional scale in EU regional policy is not consistent with how stakeholders view territorial inequalites and spatial justic through issues of access to services and individual opportunities; (2) regional development initiatives have had some effect in reducing inequalities, but that their significance is spatially uneven, with other factors also influencing trajectories of convergence or divergence; (3) perceptions of regional economic performance and quality of services do not always match statistical indicators, and that whilst there is broad support for the principle of inter-regional solidarity, the strength of feeling and attitudes on who should be helped vary between nations and regions; (4) perceived territorial inequalities can be a significant factor in decisions about migration and that both domestic and international migrants can use regional disparities to advance their individual social mobility and relative quality of life, but also indicate that both domestic and international migration can accentuate some elements of inqualities for both sending and receiving regions; (5) income taxes are important instrumets for mitigating regional inequalities, but that policies that are effective at reducing poverty at the local scale are not necessarily the most effective means of narrowing disparities between regionns; and (6) references to perceived political and socio-economic inequalities and 'unfairness' have become increasing prominent in the framing of demands by autonomy movements, but that movements in different regions differ substantially in the outcomes that they aim for.

A final work package involves drawing together the findings from the above work and elaborating scenairos for territorial inequalities and spatial justice in Europe in 2048. The four scenarios represent different balances between solidary and territorial autonomy and differing emphases on economic prosperity and wider social and environmental wellbeing, giving rise to different patterns of geographical inequalities, but also contrasting models of what 'spatial justice' means. As such, the key question for future policy in Europe may not be 'how do we acheive spatial justice?', but 'what form of spatial justice do we want?'.
New empirical knowledge has been generated on the patterns and dynamics of territorial inequalities and on percpetions and applications of spatial justice. New datasets have been produced, including disaggregated data on spatial inequalities at the local scale, survey data on perceptions of inequalities and spatial justice as well as on migration histories and experiences, the FraTerr database of regionalist actors' territorial frames and demands, and comprehensive regional data on COVID-19 cases. Contributions to methodological innovation have included the novel application of statistical methods including Entropy Methods and Foster-Greer-Thorbecke Poverty Measures to general and model data on territorial inequalities at the local scale in Europe for the first time; a new approach to conceptualising and measuring regionalist actors' territorial strategies; and the innovative application of participatory scenario-building in research on spatial inequalities.

IMAJINE is also expected to make contributions to conceptual debates and scientific literature, most notably by elaborating the concept of 'spatial justice' beyond its anchoring in urban contexts to facilitate its broader application at regional scales and emphasising its multi-faceted character, including its capacity to add a qualitative dimension to understanding of geographical inequalities and the processes that shape them.

IMAJINE is intended to produce lessons and recommendations for policy at EU, national, regional and local scales, which will be articulated in the final period of the project. Emerging polcy lessons from the work completed to date include recommendations on the measurement of territorial inequalities, strategies for effective muti-level governance, and the inclusion and integration of inter-regional migrants. The ongoing scenario work will further inform future policy-making and public debate by providing frameworks to work through policy responses to emerging challenges, including within individual regions.
Perceptions of economic opportunities by region (scale 0-10) by respondents in the IMAJINE survey
Scoring of responses to the COVID pandemic by levels of government in the IMAJINE survey
IMAJINE estimates of average household income at local scale for selected European countries, 2011
Drivers of change affecting EU regional policy identified in IMAJINE scenario-building exercise
Interconnected migration flows studied in IMAJINE case studies
Presentation to European Week of Cities and Regions Masterclass on Cohesion Policy, October 2018
IMAJINE project team at consortium meeting, Aberystwyth, July 2018
Work package discussion at IMAJINE consortium meeting, Aberystwyth, July 2018