Communitarian programs make people perceive the EU as a tangible element of their lives, and not just as a political construct, totally disjointed from their daily experiences. Therefore, the positive effect of these policies on individuals’ wellbeing is the element linking the implementation of EU actions to the creation of a Communitarian identity..
The same reasoning is expected to apply in the case of Cohesion policy. Every year, about one third of the Communitarian budget is devoted to regional policies aimed at fostering territorial development and, more in general, improving EU citizens’ quality of life. Hence, Cohesion policy should represent an extremely powerful tool for promoting EU values.
Two specific characteristics of Cohesion policy, however, make us assume its impact not to be homogeneous across regions. The first peculiarity is that, compared with other EU programs, Cohesion policy actions are specifically tailored on the needs of each EU region. In other words, they can take very different forms (from the provision of a transport infrastructure to the incentive for R&D activities to the training of unemployed people), depending on the necessity of the region where they are implemented. The second point concerns the fact that their implementation is directly managed by regional governments, which makes the policy outcome varying according to the effectiveness of local institutions in reaching their objectives.
In a nutshell, our assumption is that the perception of Cohesion policy is mediated, at the regional level, by the territorial characteristics defining different kinds of policy implementation settings. The scope of this work is therefore to identify these characteristics and to classify EU regions across the possible different kinds of policy implementation settings.
The territorial characteristics assumed to have an impact on the way in which citizens perceive Cohesion policy can be summarised in two dimensions: sensitivity
of the region to a certain policy action (Table 1).
is defined by the need of a region for policies in a certain field (transport, social, etc.). It is represented by two elements, one objective and the other one subjective: the real needs
and the perceived needs
capture the objective need of a certain region for a particular kind of policy. In principle, we assume that the consistency between Cohesion policy actions and real needs will improve citizens’ perception of the Communitarian actions. For instance, if a region needs transport infrastructure and Cohesion policy intervention fulfils this necessity, this action will lead to an improvement of the quality of life of citizens and, as a consequence, in a stronger recognition in the EU values and strategies.
, on the other hand, measure the subjective priorities of the population to different policy themes. In an ideal world, real and perceived needs should coincide, but mismatches may arise. Recalling our example about a policy setting with a real need for transport infrastructures, for instance, citizens might perceive actions in the social or environmental sphere as more urgent.
Table 1. Dimensions of regional policy implementation settings
The dimension of sensitivity characterizes the degree of appropriateness of Cohesion policy actions:
- Appropriate policy: Cohesion policy is undertaken in policy fields (transport, social, etc.) in which the region has a real need. Our assumption is that when EU policy matches a real regional need it triggers a mechanism that, through the positive perception of the Communitarian action, leads to the reinforcement of EU identity.
- Opportunistic policy: Cohesion policy is undertaken in policy fields which are perceived as urgent even if no real need emerges. In this case the mismatch between perceived and real needs could lead to a positive perception of the policy outcome in the short term but, in the long run, to the weakening of EU identity, since the real regional priorities were not addressed by Communitarian actions.
- Unrequested policy Cohesion policy is undertaken in policy fields in which the region in which neither real nor perceived needs emerge. This situation is likely to have a neutral or even negative impact on EU identity, since Communitarian funds are spent on actions that are not necessary for the regional development.
is defined by the effectiveness of regional institutions in implementing Cohesion policy. It is represented by two elements, one objective and the other one subjective: the degree of EU acceptance
and the perceived institutional quality.
captures the closeness of regional institutions to the EU values and strategies. If local governments are not supportive towards EU integration, we assume that they will have an incentive to promote positive policy outcomes as their own responsibility, rather than as a merit of the EU.
Perceived institutional quality
measures the perceived capacity of local institutions to effectively operate (low corruption, strong democratic institutions, etc.). A growing literature pointed out an increasing return of public investments in the presence of efficient institutions.