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43rd Congress of the European Regional Science Association: "Peripheries, Centres, and Spatial Development in the New Europe", 27th - 30th August 2003, Jyväskylä, Finland
During the current process of EU enlargement, regions are confronted with a need to revise their relative position within the newly formed socio-economic, spatial and cultural spaces. As existing equilibria are severely affected, the type and direction of developmental trends of member states (and regions) are increasingly questioned. Concerns are being raised about the risks that the annealing process would trigger a number of undesirable processes, i.e. loss of comparative advantages, regions lagging behind, accentuation of socio-economic gaps, social unbalances resulting from migration flows of poor population. These might hamper the path of European integration and eventually result in a reinforcement of the more accessible well developed areas and a loss of more peripheral and relatively underdeveloped ones. In this context, cooperation amongst the member states, and in particular, their local governments, may play a significant role to both overcome those risks and favouring the EU integration process. Information on cooperation (and integration) for the European countries is extensive and provides detailed accounts of the initiatives which have been undertaken since the establishment of EU programs in the early sixties. Although the variety of cooperation (integration) programs which have been launched as the EU unification progressed are well documented, existing studies have rarely questioned the kind of evolution ( i.e. type and extent of the changes underlying the various initiatives) those programs underwent. The aim of this paper is to undertake a preliminary step in this analysis. A claim is made that: a. on the one hand, the widening of the scopes of cooperation programs and increasing number of eligible actors involved are significantly reinforcing the potentials of cooperation in favouring the integration process not only among the member countries but also different kind of areas (i.e. between metropolitan and peripheral cities); b. on the other hand, there is a need to refine the current approaches to cooperation and develop a conceptual framework which serves as a basis for both formulating the various initiatives and defining effective benchmarks for their evaluation. The paper is organized in three main sections. The first addresses some methodological questions about the definition of what should be understood as a cooperation situation. An effort is made to identify a conceptual framework which might be relevant for dealing with cooperative actions in a institutionalised setting. This is then used in the second section to provide an account of the evolution of the EU programs on cooperation. Finally, in the last section attention is turned to the strengths (i.e. greater attention to the spatial dimension of cooperation programs, more equalitarian relationships amongst the participants) and weaknesses (i.e. lack of a shared model of cooperative actions) of the current approaches to cooperation. An effort is made to emphasize a few relevant questions which can be challenging in the current EU policies and thinking.
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