Since 1989, the creation of a single European market, the diminishing role of national borders, and the successive enlargements of the European Union (EU) have been sparking reflections on spatial development policies in the continent. The main objective has been to coordinate national spatial planning policies along common interests as well as ensuring that the territorial impact of EU policies is taken into account.
Since 1989, the European Ministers in charge of spatial planning are holding regular meetings. They have agreed upon a common document for European spatial planning (“European spatial development perspective,” ESDP), along with a territorial agenda. To develop the required technical tools, the European Commission has been funding the European Spatial Policy Observatory Network (ESPON). After a first program of study (2007-2013), initiated to build a sound statistical and cartographic basis, ESPON has launched a prospective analysis of Europe in 2050, at the same time as the European Commission developed its own work on Global Europe 2050.
The objective of this study is to set targets for spatial planning policies undertaken at different levels of government, from local to European, and adapting to targets that could emerge at the global level if worldwide policies against climate change are to materialize. In this regard, the authors consider a number of problems to be already solved, which explains the firmly optimistic tone of the exercise: it starts with defining a “desired future” before exploring ways to achieve it. The focus, although not utopian, is on the necessarily positive description of a vision of Europe in 2050. This vision indicates to policy-makers what would be desirable to achieve. The authors do not assume its probability, which is by nature impossible to assess, given the distance between now and 2050.
One important point was made more explicit than in the previous studies led by the European Commission. It is the impact of population aging in emerging countries, as shown in the United Nations’ demographic outlooks as well as in several forecasts of social spending in developing countries. It seems to us that these trends have a significant and lasting impact over the competitiveness deficit that European countries are currently facing compared to emerging countries, which is likely to affect the European economy.
The ambition of this document is not to predict what Europe will be, or even could be, in 2050. This “Vision” has been elaborated by taking into account the trends described in the various scenarios (not reproduced here as they were included in the second Interim Report) and contributions from various stakeholders, assuming that the actors involved will have demonstrated a significant ability to implement the objectives already defined at the European Union (EU) level.
From this point of view, this document might be considered as too optimistic or pessimistic, if not unrealistic: its main aim is to fuel the debate and further reflection about territorial policies and the future of EU cohesion, while informing the subsequent drafting of mid-term targets, derived from a consensus which remains to be established.