ESPON 2030 Programme

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

(PDF version of the approved ESPON 2030 Programme)

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.

Response to the consultation

When it comes to knowledge development, policy-makers are more interested in interactive ways of acquiring knowledge. This is not surprising, as the JWG had already argued that the complexity of ESPON evidence calls for more interactive presentation of ESPON results.

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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