Territoriality and European Integration? – A roundtable discussion at the AESOP 2015 Annual Congress

At this year’s conference of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) in Prague our working group initiated a roundtable on ‘Territoriality and its role in contemporary European Integration’ with Andreas Faludi, Phil Allmendinger, Jonathan Metzger and Tobias Chilla, moderated by Franziska Sielker. The roundtable reflected contemporary conceptual debates on territoriality with regard to European integration.

The background of this discussion is a conceptual debate in recent years. The classic understanding of territoriality is that a public authority (in particular the state) has the power and control over a certain space. This understanding has been questioned in many ways – just to mention a few points:

  • Globalization has weakened the public sector and the national level
  • Networks and spaces of flows have questioned territorial logics
  • Functional spaces rarely fit administrative forms

Against this backdrop, the roundtable reflected on what role territoriality still plays in times of European integration. The following sections summerise briefly the discussion we had in Prague.

Analytical findings and normative consequences – Four different views on territoriality, its definition and role for spatial planning in times of European integration

Andreas Faludi presents an understanding of territoriality as a concept, where the state has the control over an area, which then limits the state. He calls for new concepts and alternatives to a statehood-based organization based on territorialism. The claim of statehood is to exercise power over this territory, a responsibility states according to Faludi do not sufficiently lift up to. The dominant focus on state territoriality can be seen as a major obstacle to European integration that aims to take into account functional spaces across borders that states cannot lift up to their responsibility and claim to deal with territory. Faludi does not yet find a solution for an alternative to the production of democratic legitimacy but highlights the importance to search for alternatives. A simple transfer of competences to the EU would not solve the problem, thus the European integration process forces planners to look into these matters. One possible way to think forward could be a reflection about democratic legitimations of functional representations that could be an example in order cope with overlapping territories.

Phil Allmendinger proposes five dimensions with regard to territoriality: Firstly, the spatial dimension reflects on the perimeter of what is considered as an area to employ state power. Closely related is the second dimension, where political contexts offer economic and fiscal regulations and thereby allow for transparency and accountability. The third dimension refers to territorial representations around market relations relying on the stability and certainty provided through the first territorial dimension. The fourth dimension of historic matters presented by Allmendinger builds on questions of identity, collective memories generating feeling of belonging. The fifth dimension on cultural and psychological components of territory making provides an anthropological, social viewpoint towards territoriality coming alongside questions of security, defense or personal perceptions. Allmendinger sees a disruptive challenge through European integration towards territory where centrifugal forces are at work in search for territories that make sense in terms of a market dimension and at the same time coincide with the historical, cultural psychological dimension of territory making.

Tobias Chilla sees two important axes within the discussion, an analytical one and a normative one. Analytically he fully agrees that political-administrative boundaries are less and less an appropriate framework for the understanding of contemporary societies and politics. Still, he is skeptical if this should lead to the normative conclusion that territoriality can be dismissed as a principle for the organization of power and democracy. He illustrates this with the example of border regions: Borders within Europe function less and less as markers of different functional spaces e.g. shown by the indicator of cross-border commuting. At the same time, political cooperation is heavily relying on territorial mandates without really having any alternatives, yet. A misfit of overlapping layers might be accepted to a certain degree, and complementary cooperation space like Euregios, EGTCs, Macroregions etc. can help to ease the misfits. However, these reterritorilisation processes do not question the crucial role of the territorial principle as such.

Jonathan Metzger highlights territory as a geophilosophical order, where an important distinction is how this territory has been produced. Applying an anthropological view, he asks who and what carries territory and accordingly territoriality. Reflecting on e.g. Paasi et. al. he questions how territory enacts with an actor-network and what consequences this might have. In some cases networks have the effect of producing territory. However, there are as well other differentiating ordering principles within society that reckon a stable organization without questioning the production of democratic legitimacy. Further, he challenges the view of appearances and disappearances of soft spaces as temporary constructions, by highlighting possible processes of hardening of different space constructions. In reflecting on this, he combines constructivist and neo-marxist arguments.

The discussion

The audience in accordance with the panelists highlights the notion of territoriality as a very important one bringing up fundamental questions on democratic legitimacy, on the role of planning and the effects European integration.

Summarising the discussion with the audience brought up four axis for further analysis: The first one is the question who is responsible and who depends on territoriality (and its consequences). The second questions raises is whether the role of territoriality differs in times of crisis or within different phases of a policy processes? Another axis is the question on what role territoriality has, e.g. does it offer sovereignty, scales, cultural or functional representations? The fourth axis discussed focused on the application of territoriality: how and through what instruments and processes is territoriality realised?

The four different positions presented above offer on the one hand entries towards analyzing territoriality, its implications and construction and on the other hand two opposite positions on the normative question whether to keep or abolish the principle of territoriality. Concerning the latter fundamental question a number of arguments came up. Examples for arguments in favour of keeping the principle of territoriality related e.g. to matters of security, regulations, territories as opportunities e.g. in migration, and transparency. On the contrary, the shortcomings of the territoriality principle were referred to by the existing of overlapping functional territories and concerns about the exercise of power.

Open questions?

Of course, 90 minutes were not enough for our discussion: Many important questions had to remain open, in particular: What do we learn from all this for the EU crisis of our days? Does territoriality help to overcome the difficulties or does it hinder sustainable solutions? Do we need a European territoriality, a better territoriality understanding or something completely different?

Further reading – publications by the panelists on the topic: