The ESPON 2020 Programme (2014-2020)

General objective

The main objective of the ESPON 2020 Programme (see the brochure/leaflet of the Programme) is to support the reinforcement of the effectiveness of the EU Cohesion Policy and other sectoral policies and programmes co-funded by the European Structural Investment (ESI) funds as well as national and regional territorial development policies, through the production, dissemination and promotion of territorial evidence covering the entire territory of the EU Members States, as well as the 4 Partner States Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.


The ESPON 2020 Programme is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) with a contribution of 41 377 019 € (85% of the total budget) for the period 2014-2020.

Priority Axes

ERDF contribution (85 %)

National contribution (15%)


Priority Axis 1: Territorial Evidence, Transfer, Observation, Tools and Outreach

39 276 145 €

6 931 089 €

46 207 234 €

Priority Axis 2: Technical Assistance (TA)

2 100 874 €

370 743 €

2 471 617€


41 377 019 €

7 301 832 €

48 678 851 €

In addition, the ESPON 2020 Programme receives a support of 1 850 000 € from its 4 Partner States Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Target Groups

Fulfilling its overall mission and objectives, the primary target groups for receiving and using the ESPON 2020 Programme territorial evidence are policymakers at all levels:

  • European policymakers, in particular in the field of Cohesion Policy as well as other relevant sectoral and thematic policies and programmes, particularly those currently not fully articulating their territorial approach.
  • National policymakers and practitioners responsible for territorial cohesion, ETC programmes, macro-regional strategies and Cohesion Policy preparation and implementation at national level, as well as other relevant policy fields.
  • Authorities implementing ESI Funding programmes and preparing periodical reporting.
  • Regional and local policymakers and practitioners responsible for territorial development and planning and/or involved in cross-border, transnational and macro-regional cooperation.

As secondary target groups, the following stakeholders are important as receivers and users of territorial evidence:

  • Organisations promoting different regional/urban interests at EU level.
  • University academics, both researchers and students as future decision makers.
  • The private sector and wider European audiences.

Geographical coverage

With reference to the Article 3 (5) of the Regulation (EU) No 1299/2013 interregional cooperation programmes shall cover the entire EU territory. For the period 2014-2020 the ESPON 2020 Programme will cover the territory of all 28 EU Member States.

Moreover, as per the previous ESPON 2013 Programme, the geographical coverage of the 4 Partner States of Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland is maintained.

Priority Axis

In order to fulfil the strategy, mission and objectives of the ESPON 2020 Programme, two Priority Axes govern the programme implementation:

  • Priority Axis 1: Territorial Evidence, Transfer, Observation, Tools and Outreach: Priority Axis 1 is implemented through a Single Operation. The ESPON Managing Authority has commissioned the Single Beneficiary, the ESPON EGTC, established as part of the renewal of ESPON as a bespoke vehicle to undertake this implementation.
  • Priority Axis 2: Technical Assistance (TA): The ESPON Managing Authority, the Ministry for Energy and Spatial Planning in Luxembourg, will implement this Priority Axis.

Specific Objectives

The Cooperation Programme is built around the following five specific objectives:

  • Specific Objective 1: Enhanced European territorial evidence production through applied research and analyses.

  • Specific Objective 2: Upgraded knowledge transfer and use of analytical support.

  • Specific Objective 3: Improved territorial observation and tools for territorial analyses.

  • Specific Objective 4: Wider outreach and uptake of territorial evidence.

  • Specific Objective 5: Leaner, more effective and efficient implementation provisions and more proficient programme assistance.

Single Beneficiary

Under the ESPON 2020 Programme, a European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) has been selected to implement the Single Operation. The ESPON EGTC is the Single Beneficiary of the ESPON 2020 Programme.

How to benefit from and participate in the ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme?

The ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme is implemented through a Single Operation approved by the Monitoring Committee on 20 November 2015 which will deliver the activities and outputs foreseen under the Priority Axis 1 of the Programme and that is implemented by the ESPON EGTC.

The knowledge base on territorial development developed via the implementation of the Single Operation will be made freely available to all stakeholders and target groups of the ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme through the ESPON website.

The ESPON EGTC will consult regularly policymakers and practitioners to identify their particular policy demands and evidence needs and, for instance, launch calls for proposals to gather ideas for targeted analysis and thematic articles. In addition the ESPON EGTC will propose tailor-made policy papers, seminars and workshops and give online access to an extensive number of web-based tools for territorial development.

For a more direct participation in the activities implemented by the ESPON EGTC, please check regularly the ESPON website.

The scientific community within Europe in the field of territorial research can be part of the knowledge production by participating in the public procurement procedures launched by the ESPON EGTC. Procurement procedures are published on both the Luxembourg Public Procurement Portal and TED (Tenders Electronic Daily), which is the 'Supplement to the Official Journal of the EU ("OJ S"), dedicated to European public procurement. As soon as call for tenders are publicly notified, they will also be announced on the ESPON website.

Programme Approval

The revised ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme was adopted by the European Commission on 26 May 2016.

The ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme was adopted by the European Commission on 12 February 2015.

"Please find out more information on the evaluation and on the open consultation of the ESPON 2020 Cooperation Programme under the 'sous-rubriques' (sub-sections) below."

NEWS! The ESPON 2030 Programme has been adopted by the European Commission

Elisa Ferreira Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms tweeted on 6 July 2022:

The ESPON 2030 Programme has been adopted today@ESPON_Programme  builds on 20 years of innovative support for territorial policymaking. We need more than ever excellent evidence, data & advice to strengthen EU territories’ resilience & recovery from crises

Thematic Action Plans Consultation on the future ESPON 2030 Programme

ESPON is looking ahead: preparation of the next programming period (2021-2027)

ESPON has formally started the process aimed at designing the new ESPON 2030 Programme, which will run in the next seven years. The Joint Working Group (JWG) made of delegations from the countries participating in the ESPON programme was established in 2018 to be involved in the discussion on the future ESPON 2030 Programme.

Programming process and timeline

The representatives of the Joint Working Group have their own meeting together with the Managing Authority (The Ministry of Energy and Spatial Planning in Luxembourg) of the ESPON Programme four times per year since 2018.

Inputs for the programme documents (Cooperation Programme, Operation Specification and the Operation Implementation Guideline) were discussed at the November 2020 Joint Working Group meeting. Following the discussions and the proposals of the Joint Working Group the next step will be the completion of the documents for March 2021 and the Cooperation Programme should be ready for submission in the summer 2021.

This timing is certainly depending on the finalization of the relevant ESIF Regulation for the periods 2021-2027 and the definition of the budget for the Programme.

Public consultation

A public consultation was launched, inviting all policy-makers and practitioners at all administrative levels, researchers, academics, students and citizens, especially those who think that ‘territory matters’, to provide input, in particular on the emerging territorial challenges ahead of us and the specific needs for territorial evidence and knowledge that ESPON should meet in future.

By the deadline set, a large number of responses had been received from participants, including policy-makers and researchers, representing all the European countries (and beyond).

Emerging challenges ahead of us

ESPON is embedded in Cohesion Policy and should contribute to its main goals while also supporting the EU Territorial Agenda 2030 and its implementation, with a particular focus on territorial cohesion.

ESPON should support policy-makers at all levels by providing territorial evidence and knowledge for policy responses. The focus should be on strengthening EU territories’ resilience to and recovery from crises by achieving a green transition to climate-neutral economies while ensuring at the same time just living conditions for all people in all places.

Territories are exposed to diverse territorial trends, competing policy goals and contradictory sectoral policies, which may lead to self-reinforcing negative but also positive consequences those territories. Therefore, territorial policy responses have to offer integrated approaches to steering development in an effective way. The territorial and functional perspective is the cornerstone of ESPON’s evidence and knowledge work, which supports public stakeholders to find appropriate and coordinated policy responses across sectors and governmental levels to the advantage of European citizens.

This complexity is reflected in a number of core challenges that have to be addressed by ESPON in the future with regards to their territorial dimension.

The results of the public consultation have confirmed the relevance of the set of territorial challenges to be addressed by the programme, as shown below.

In their responses, participants gave a particular emphasis to disparities, in the larger sense:

  • social – between generations and age groups, in terms of access to (quality) employment, education, housing, healthcare, etc.;
  • territorial – core developed areas versus marginal and less developed areas, urban areas versus rural areas, small cities versus metropolitan and functional areas, etc.;
  • Economic: development potential, disparities in wealth ; accessibilities; etc.

These disparities are perceived as having an impact on governance, as territories, people and economies are competing with each other, thus impacting the willingness to cooperate (between territories and between administrative levels in the same territory).

Economic transition and environmental and technological change are perceived as important tools to be considered for use in achieving cohesion and, subsequently, better governance.

Specific needs for territorial evidence

When participants were asked about specific evidence needs, their responses were in line with the views expressed on the challenges to be faced. Many topics were proposed and the JWG tried to cluster them in a way that would ensure that cross-sectorial relations would be considered and that the territorial and functional dimensions would be properly addressed.

Evidence production – clustering topics

Emphasise the link between environmental transition, social inequalities and economic transformation, in the sense that economic actors should be encouraged and incentivised to take into account all the other elements when thinking about their strategy, and not only their profit maximisation.

(Response to the consultation)

Specific needs for knowledge activities

The consultation also asked about the types of analysis that are most in demand, and it was interesting to see the different preferences of scientists and policy-makers. While scientists prefer cartography and in-depth studies, policy-makers are more interested case studies, scenarios and short, focused analyses.

Visual data such as maps are good tools when trying to understand “the big picture”. Different scenarios help to consider optional paths for development.

Peer-to-peer workshops should be a strong tool to help collaborations between countries (or communities) to overcome differences and share place-based problems and solutions to reach territorial cohesion. Countries have to face together cross-border problems and solutions in any territorial situation (countryside, mountains, sea, etc.).
(Response to the consultation)

Combining evidence production and knowledge development in thematic action plans

The consultation produced much feedback for the work of the JWG, which helped in developing clearer ideas about the thematic action plans (TAPs) that will set the framework and set out specific activities. The TAPs have to ensure a direct link between evidence production and knowledge development so that the best use is made of the evidence produced.


The consultation provided much valuable input to the JWG, which is now further evaluating the results and using them to formulate a first draft of the new programme, which should be ready in the first semester of 2021, depending on the timing of the publication of the regulatory framework for the 2021-2027 programming period.

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