Soft territorial cooperation -
that is spontaneous, outside EU frameworks - helps achieve the
principles of territorial cohesion policy in partnership and
subsidiarity and it may lead to the adoption of strategic
integrated territorial development strategies regarding
Furthermore, it is a form of cooperation that helps to widen the range of actors involved in the planning and implementation of policy, assisting public authorities at all geographical levels in promoting functional integration.
These were the findings of a research project by the ESPON study programme, which specializes in regional analyses, and which analysed 12 soft territorial cooperation initiatives across Europe.
This type of cooperation, the researchers explain, happens in the whole of Europe, at the level of macro-regions (like those of the Baltic Sea, the Danube, the Alps and the Adriatic-Ionian region), in trans-border functional areas (Euregio Tyrol-Alto Adige-Trentino), in metropolitan regions and in rural areas.
The advantage of soft territorial cooperation initiatives is that of having 'open' borders and therefore being able to develop at various geographical levels with the aim of reaching functional integration.
In other words, the territory of cooperation is not a predefined geographical unit, but varies each time according to the areas that are relevant for the issues identified by the stakeholders.
Soft territorial cooperation does not set itself up as an alternative to 'hard' cooperation, but rather is a complement to it.
Structured forms of cooperation are stable over time and can have a greater democratic legitimacy, while soft ones are often useful to involve a wider range of actors in territorial governance.
A fundamental element of soft cooperation forms is the fact that they help plan and implement result-oriented solutions, solutions to which the actors involved have developed a sense of belonging.
The starting point for soft cooperation initiatives is, in the majority of cases, the existence of a community of purpose.
Their experimental nature further enables them to act outside traditional frameworks, for example via joint actions by public and private bodies, at various levels.
The European principle of territorial cohesion, the researchers observe, can be pursued via the systematic promotion of soft territorial cooperation at all geographical levels.
On this basis, the existing solutions to combine financial instruments with structural funds and European investments could be further developed to facilitate the implementation of strategies identified by soft territorial cooperation initiatives.
Indeed, earmarking funds for soft territorial cooperation allows cohesion policy to be less restricted by administrative confines and to be closer to the needs of European citizens and businesses.
(photo: Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio meets his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg)
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