22 Pages

Progress towards sustainable regional development. A review of results from the EU research programme on human dimensions of environmental change.


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Schleicher Tappeser (R), Strati (F). Luxembourg. http://temis.documentation.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/document.xsp?id=Temis-0076003



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Published 01 January 1999
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Language English
Progress towards Sustainable Regional Development: Results form the EU Research Programme on Human Dimensions of Environmental Change
Ruggero Schleicher-Tappeser, EURES Institute for Regional Studies in Europe, Freiburg i.Br. Filippo Strati, SRS Studio Ricerche Sociali, Firenze
1 The Background
The political framework In a recent years the concept of Sustainable Development has rapidly diffused throughout the legislation of the European Union and has meanwhile been formally established as a basic component in all Community policies. In the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the European Economic Community (1957), the goals of development were defined mainly in economic terms. In the Single European Act of 1986, the aim of environmental protection was introduced (article 130r). Five years later, the Maastricht Treaty (1991), in defining the objectives of the European Union (article B), called for promoting “economic and social progress which is balanced and sustainable”. The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997) required not only the promotion of a high level of protection but also improvements in the quality of the environment (Article 2). It requests that “Environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of the community policies and activities ... in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development” (Article 6). After many years of different and often isolated efforts in direction of a stronger respect for the environment in community policies, this general requirement constitutes an important step. On this basis further progress has been made. In 1998 the Commission presented a Communication to the European Council in Cardiff on “Partnership for integration – A strategy for integrating environment into EU policies". Finally the reform of the European funds presently discussed under the label “Agenda 2000” will no doubt draw concrete consequences on a number of points.
This evolution reflects the public and political debate in Europe and at the global level. Within the Commission there have always been different forces and endeavours. The requirement to integrate environmental issues into other community policies is a major achievement of the Environmental policy. Since 1994 in each Directorate General there are officers specifically appointed to address environmental issues. The structural funds were considered to be of special interest in this context. In DG XI (Environment, Nuclear Safety and Civil Protection) a specific sub-unit has been created to examine environmental aspects of all structural fund programmes. Discussions raised by these new requirements and structures have led to changed perceptions and actions by the Commission. Clear evidence is seen in DGXVI pilot project initiatives to promote sustainable regional development1.
                                                  1 Two examples: 1) A network of 12 objective 2 regions for the promotion of sustainable development under Community structural funds programmes; 2) Integrating environmental sustainability into new Structural Fund Programmes: Guidance for those compiling new Regional Development Programmes (based on the experience from 16 regions). To be published in 1999.
The concept of Sustainability emerges as a new quality in this debate. Many still feel uncomfortable with this new term however because it raises a series of new questions. It was the UN Commission on “Environment and Development” under the presidency of Gro Harlem Brundtland (1987) successfully introduced this concept into the international debate in its attempt to reconcile environmental concerns and development endeavours. Since then much progress has been made towards a more precise understanding of this integrative concept, especially after the Rio Summit in 1992. Much remains to be done to fully understand the implications of this approach in all policy fields. And obviously, there are strong interests linked to this debate. Many are still using the term “Sustainable Development” as a synonym for environmentally acceptable development, others fear that it has the function to subordinate environmental concerns to economic growth. But the public debate, policy documents and research results of recent years show that interpretations are converging.
European Policy Documents as the AGENDA 2000 which insist on the necessity of sustainable development still leave a large room for interpretation for this term. However, they do require environmental evaluation, integration of different policies, partnership, participation and subsidiarity mechanisms. The immediate challenge is that of forging a more coherent approach on the basis of these elements.
A widespread sense of profound societal transformation is already apparent. Politically, the concept of sustainability stands for an emerging concept of development that still needs to be better formulated, and its implications need to be understood, interpreted and operationalised for specific situations. In this phase research can be very helpful in clarifying concepts and ideas and in providing useful tools. However, the idea of sustainable development also requires judgements and choices, and in this context, research can help to figure out the alternatives at stake. Research should not, however, try or be urged to do the job of political decision-makers. The main thrust of the new EU RTD programme is to support the implementation of EU policies. In this context, especially concerning structural policies, two directions of research are of key importance:
· to contribute to a better common understanding of the meaning of sustainable development, especially of what might be called Sustainable Regional Development
· develop practical tools for putting into operation effective European policies in this to direction
The research programme and the approach of the review Within the research area “Human dimensions of environmental change” of the EU research programme ENVIRONMENT and CLIMATE, a series of projects, initiated in 1992, have dealt with these issues. The selection mechanisms of this programme have allowed for a variety of projects to approach these questions from different vantage points. There was no specific attempt to frame and steer the research in this area. However a number of research topics of direct relevance to Sustainable Regional Development were included in previous programmes. Indeed, among the more than 150 projects funded within the framework of the Human Dimensions programme, about 22 can be considered to be of relevance concerning Sustainable Regional Development. Out of these, a dozen of most pertinent projects have been selected by the reviewer together with the scientific officers of the programme for a more in-depth analysis.
The major interesting consequence of this review is, that there seems to be a considerable convergence in views, an emergence of shared perspectives which would have been much more controversial at the beginning of this research period. Inevitably, the choice of pertinent projects and their interpretation have been influenced by the personal experience of the reviewer who has also been co-ordinator of the INSURED project (“Instruments for Sustainable Regional Development”) within this framework. However, the conclusions of this review do not