Trends in regional governance in Western Europe

In most countries of Western Europe, unlike Great Britain, the foundations of state regional policy were laid much later, after the Second World War. The most active phase of development in this area of activity lasted from the late 1950s to the early 60s and until the mid-60s.

The growing attention to the regulation of regional development was caused by several reasons. Firstly, the overall economic growth in most Western European countries made it possible to painlessly allocate funds for the implementation of an active regional policy. And secondly, the economic recovery in these countries turned out to be very differentiated by region. Thus, in territorial units with a traditional economic structure (agriculture, coal, textile industry, ferrous metallurgy, etc.), the economic situation remained very difficult, while in Individual regions (capitals, large regional centers, etc.) experienced rapid, often rapid growth. This aggravation of regional disproportions served as another impetus for the intensification of regional policy in many western European countries in the 50-70s of the last century.

Experts identify the following common features that were characteristic during this period for state regulation of regional development in most Western European countries, namely:

emphasis on the development of infrastructure (transport, energy, communications, etc.), its “pulling up” to national standards; active use of the production potential of state-owned or state-controlled enterprises (investment in the construction of new state-owned industrial enterprises in depressed regions); limiting the growth of the concentration of production and population in the “overheated” regions by tightly controlling the distribution of productive forces (bans on issuing construction licenses, etc.); the use as a key element of regional policy of numerous regional incentives (means to “sweeten the pill”), encouraging private business to locate new modern production in backward regions and move existing capacities from “overheated” areas and large cities; periodic reforms of regional policy, when periods of relative weakening of its influence alternated with years of increased activity in this area of state regulation.

The dynamics of real costs associated with state regulation of productive investments in most Western European countries (with the exception of germany) also shows “ups” and “downs”, although an analysis of this process over a long period allows us to state the presence of a downward trend. Thus, according to EU experts, in 1980 all the member countries of the Community in total sent about 5.1 billion ECU to stimulate production investments, and in 1983 this figure increased to 7.2 billion ECU. However, taking into account inflation in 1987, real expenditures for these purposes were 14% lower than in 1983 and 8.5% less than in 1980 .

Along with some reductions in spending on state regional policy, qualitative changes took place, taking the form of the following closely related trends:

a shift from the use of automatic instruments to regulate regional development to the use of discretionary measures (as in Germany); reorientation of policies to stimulate small firms, services and scientific and innovative activities; shifting priorities from the practice of redistributing income and labor resources between regions to stimulating structural transformations in the regions themselves in order to achieve in them the formation of potential for economic growth as a whole; and the growing influence of the European Commission on the regional policies of individual EU member states.

The most important trend of changes in the regional policy of Western European countries – the transition from general, automatic incentives to selective, selective, discretionary – is due to the following reasons:

an overall decline in public spending in market economies; the need to improve the effective use of resources allocated to regional policy; emphasis on the stimulation of the service sector, since the automatically allocated types of regional assistance mainly contributed to the redistribution between regions of industrial production.

Western European Governments are also now devoting considerable attention to addressing regional challenges. According to the classification of the well-known Scottish regionalist D. Ehuill, all EU member states are divided into four groups by the nature and complexity of internal regional problems, as well as by the importance of regional policy (Table 1).

Table 1 Resource requirements by component

Objectives of national public policy in the EU Member States

Groups of countries

Composition of the group of countries

A bet on creating a level playing field

Focus on addressing the effectiveness of regional policies

The role of regional policy

“Countries of Cohesion”

Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain




“Countries of high differentiation”

Germany, Italy

enshrined in the Constitution


very high

“Northern Europe”

Austria, Denmark, France, Benelux countries, United Kingdom




“Scandinavian countries”

Finland, Sweden




A brief description and specificity of each of these groups.

1. “Cohesive countries” or “integrated states” shall enjoy special support from the EU in order to bring them closer in terms of their main socio-economic characteristics to the rest of the EU member states. Between 1994 and 1999, the grid of different types of problem regions assisted by national governments covered the territory inhabited by virtually all the populations of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. In the regions of Spain, which enjoyed state support, about 76% of the population lived during this period, and in the regions of Italy – almost half of its citizens, and in the period 2000-2006 in all these countries this figure will not change much, and in Spain it will even increase.

2. “Countries of high differentiation” demonstrate the largest possible disproportions in the development of regions (for example, between the old and new lands of Germany, as well as between the north and south of Italy).

3. The “Scandinavian countries” have a very low population density, which is due to their peripheral position, harsh climatic conditions and the large geographical remoteness of settlements within such regions.

4. The Nordic countries have generally less pronounced regional differences, with the regional problems of these countries usually associated with employment issues and the need for structural changes in the urban-rural aspect.