The development of strategic spatial planning in Central and Eastern Europe: between path dependency, European influence, and domestic politics

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    Focusing on regions in three of the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary, the paper investigates the evolution of spatial planning approaches and the introduction of strategic planning practices at the regional and local levels. This paper focuses on the period between the beginning of the post-communist transition in the early 1990s, through the period of preparation to the accession to the EU from mid-1990s to 2004, and the first decade after that event. The paper draws on the concepts borrowed from the historical institutionalism and Europeanisation research to explain this process and shed light on the role of the EU accession in it.
    The accession required the candidate countries to adjust their regional development policies and planning systems to the EU cohesion policy and its peculiar framework, based on multi-level governance and territorially targeted financial support for regional development. This involved reforms of territorial administration, the development of regional policies, and the building of the capacity for administering EU funding (structural funds - SF), and also required introducing elements of strategic spatial planning to adapt to the policy’s programming principle, which requires that the funding is used to support projects that are part of multi-annual strategies and place-tailored operational programmes. This paper investigates the extent to which this requirement stimulated learning and diffusion of strategic planning practices among the regional and local authorities in these countries where the term ‘planning’ itself remained somewhat ‘tainted’ and associated with the rigidities of the planned economy of the communist era.
    This study draws on qualitative data from interviews with regional and local actors in Polish, Czech and Hungarian regions, as well as an analysis of secondary sources. Additionally, spatial planning acts and their development in the EU context are examined. While the EU and its cohesion policy overall promoted strategic spatial planning and the development of place-based strategies in the three regions studied, both at the regional and to a lesser extent at the local level, the degree of institutionalisation of these practices remains differentiated. Strategic planning often remains limited to window-dressing, hiding a lack of actual strategic thinking and lack of consideration for territorial characteristics and place-specific investment needs. This article identifies several factors hampering the institutionalisation of strategic spatial planning in CEECs that stem both from the legacies of the past as well as from instrumental approachs to EU cohesion policy: overemphasis on the ‘absorption’ of EU funds as opposed to actual strategic use of this source of funding, weak participatory traditions, persistence of patronage networks affecting decision-making, and the reluctance of the central governments to let regional authorities set their own development priorities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHistory Urbanism Resilience
    Subtitle of host publicationHistorical Perspectives
    EditorsCarola Hein
    PublisherTU Delft Open
    ISBN (Electronic)978-94-92516-06-0
    Publication statusPublished - 2016
    Event17th IPHS Conference History-Urbanism-Resilience - Delft, Netherlands
    Duration: 17 Jul 201621 Jul 2016

    Publication series

    NameInternational Planning History Society Proceedings
    ISSN (Print)2468-6948
    ISSN (Electronic)2468-6956


    Conference17th IPHS Conference History-Urbanism-Resilience
    Internet address

    Bibliographical note



    • strategic planning
    • place-based approaches
    • EU Cohesion policy
    • Poland
    • Czech Republic
    • Hungary


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