The right to not catch up: Transitioning European territorial cohesion towards spatial justice for sustainability

Barbara Demeterova, Bryonny Goodwin-Hawkins, Tatjana Fischer

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Nearly a decade ago, ESPON’s communication on climate change warned that environmental challenges and their social consequences could hamper European territorial cohesion. Although debates on sustainability and climate change have since gained widespread public and political attention, territorial sustainability is still not a core focus for EU Cohesion Policy. Meanwhile, territorial cohesion has remained a conceptual ‘black box’, and its apparent inadequacy for notably mitigating territorial disparities has led to renewed questions about territorial policy’s relevance, delivery and structure. In this paper we add to calls for alternative approaches to territorial cohesion by proposing a turn towards spatial justice for sustainability. Recent EU spatial policies strive towards the development paradigm of economic growth and competitiveness. However, operationalizing territorial cohesion through growth-driven GDP logics continues to promote an unequal race towards a narrow view of developmental ‘success’, while failing to address environmental and social inequalities. Pointing out the need to refocus on regional capabilities and alternative development trajectories, we argue that the ‘right to not catch up’ enables a more locally meaningful and globally sustainable development. Drawing from policy analyses and an empirical case study of three European Territorial Cooperation programmes in the heterogeneous Austrian-Czech-Slovak-Hungarian border region, we illustrate why current policy measures fall short for producing sustainable transformations. Through interrogating current policy discourses and their alternatives, we contribute to emerging new perspectives on achieving sustainable territorial development at European and regional level.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 01 Feb 2020
EventRegional Studies Association Annual Conference 2020: Transformations: Relational Spaces, beyond Urban and Rural - Ljubljana, Slovenia
Duration: 17 Jun 202020 Jun 2020!


ConferenceRegional Studies Association Annual Conference 2020
Abbreviated titleRSA20
Period17 Jun 202020 Jun 2020
Internet address


  • Territorial cohesion
  • spatial justice
  • sustainability
  • Central Europe


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