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REGionalism And INstututional dynamics in the EU

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - REGAIN (REGionalism And INstututional dynamics in the EU)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

In recent years, the European Union has increasingly supported the formation of non-standard regions that go beyond the traditional administratively-bound areas, with various degree of formality and competences. EU-led instruments have favoured the activation of different multi-level governance processes for functional territories through specific schemes of allocation of resources and by enabling new power and governance relationships mostly under the flag of European territorial cooperation. These instruments are characterised by new policy spaces whose construction is inspired by (a mix of) ideological perceptions of economic space, functional identification of socio-ecological features, and/or cultural construction of spatially-bounded identities and relationships. They generate newly emerging polities who have regional development, territorial cohesiveness and spatial justice as a policy aim. These re-territorialized polities host a wide variety of actors and policy communities pursuing thematic or political objectives. Their spatial metabolism consists of social, political, and economic channels through which development strategies and policies are implemented.
The scientific state of the art about these types of instruments is usually limited to a mono-dimensional analytical approach dedicated to the policy analysis, while a reflection on the overarching institutional complexity is less obvious. If the relationships between the instruments and the socio-institutional dynamics in the (new) regions appeared under-investigated, it is convincement of this project that the understanding of the complexity of territorial instruments application in different contexts is crucial to evaluate the variety of results.
To fill this gap, the research project REGAIN (REGionalism and INstututional dynamics in the EU) sets up an interdisciplinary research program to investigate a variety of territorialised processes that better match the socio-ambitions of existent territories. In particular, the research project is interested at investigating the characteristics of the EU instrument named Community-Led Local Development (CLLD), because of its innovative characters and the specific features that make it almost the unique instrument that addresses urban and sub-regional areas in an integrated fashion with a large involvement of local actors.
The project is located at the crossing of two main debates: the role of the EU and its territorial approach to local and territorial development; and the compelling discussion about the impoverishment of the territories that are characterised by small and medium-sized towns and rural areas, which have been outside the main political attention in the last decades, with severe consequences across the EU.
The CLLD instrument is built on the former LEADER-instrument experience, and in the current EU programming period, it has generated more than 3000 Local Action Groups (LAG) in charge of a local development strategy across Europe. Addressing the remarkable extension of this approach, the REGAIN project aimed on the one hand at investigating the multi-level governance and institutional process that frame the local implementation in various contexts, and on the other hand at better understanding the effectiveness of these initiatives and the capacity to support bottom-up approaches in local development strategy in the involved places. It looked at the definition of the area of intervention, the territorial strategy, the bottom-up dynamics and the establishment of a partnership with local enterprises and community representatives in the ad-hoc governing body.
The project has investigated theoretically and operatively the characteristics of the Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) instrument. The research activities were framed by an interdisciplinary approach that combined the studies about multi-level governance and the role of the EU, a post-functionalist approach to the region, the state-theory and the strategic-relational approach, the post-politics and the soft-space debate in planning. It provided an innovative interpretative framework that encompasses the complexity of the multi-dimensional characteristics. At the same time, it investigated the effective implementation of the instruments across the EU, providing a stoke-take of the various financial combinations and operative agendas.
In particular, the REGAIN research agenda has focused on:
• the implementation of the CLLD instrument across the EU Member States;
• the theoretical implication of the multilevel governance process in the institutional formation of a tailored territory for the purpose of a local development agenda;
• the capacity of this instrument to support ‘fragile’ territories contributing to the emerging debate about ‘territories that do not matters’ and the dedicated policy actions;
• the investigation of the next EU programming period and the potential shift in the EU territorial agenda.

The main outcomes of the project in terms of knowledge production can be listed as follow:
• Overview of the implementation of the CLLD instrument about 3.319 LAGs across the EU, and more detailed overview of 772 LAGs financed by ERDF and ESF, which represent the novelty of the current programming period;
• A theoretical contribution to the multi-level governance debate, discussing the role of the CLLD in tailoring temporary polities for local development strategies;
• Insights on local development case studies and specific implementation of the instrument in different contexts.

The results were presented in two international publications in peer review journals (gold open access) and other academic productions are in the pipeline.
Additionally, both the Regional Studies Association (RSA) Conference 2019 and the Association of the European School of Planning (AESOP) Conference 2019 hosted a special session dedicated to the REGAIN theme, in order to raise attention to the specific research agenda, and at the same time to activate a community of experts on the same topic.
The project results are having an impact on the political debate about the role of CLLD and other EU-led instruments in supporting local development strategies and the critical evaluation of their effectiveness. Academically, it contributed to the debate on multi-level governance and clarified the architectural construction that is behind these initiatives.
However, the long-term impact of REGAIN goes beyond the investigation of the technical dimensions of the CLLD instrument and its operative capacity. It is about the definition of a conceptual and analytical frame that can be used for an international research agenda on local and regional development and can be applied in further investigations of the existing (not only EU) strategic initiatives.
REGAIN provided the conceptual instruments to develop further a long-term research agenda on:
(a) the territories characterised by a low degree of urbanisation that have been left aside due to the hegemonic discourses associated with the so-called ‘urban age’ and the contextual dominant policy focus on large metropolitan areas.
(b) the institutional arrangements and the policy agendas that can be mobilised to foster innovative approaches in tailoring territories.
In a nutshell, the project has posed the basis for an extensive agenda on fragile territories and potential instruments to support local development and spatial justice.
REGAIN Interpretative scheme