EU cohesion policy remains one of the most prominent and hotly debated of EU policies, whilst simultaneously being a testbed for new policy approaches and ideas. It is also highly contested and controversial, leading to heated policy debates and thus making it a fascinating topic for scholarly inquiry. It has equally been credited with generating 'added value' in terms of improvement of administrative capacity and triggering modernisation processes within territorial administration; as well heavily criticised for the lack of tangible results which is an issue most relevant within the current context of crisis and austerity.  Subsequently it has been considered important to find some way of delivering a more effective EU cohesion policy; one that could provide European regions with much-needed stimuli, whilst simultaneously adding value and incorporating innovative policy instruments to tackle economic challenges.

Out of this emerged the RSA Research Network on EU Cohesion Policy, a decentralised research network coordinated by Marcin Dąbrowski (Delft University of Technology), John Bachtler with Laura Polverari and Oto Potluka (University of Basel), alongside a group of co-organisers and close collaborators from several other European universities, including Nicola Francesco Dotti (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Ida Musiałkowska (Poznań University of Economics and Business) and Eduarda Costa with Eduardo Medeiros (University of Lisbon).  This group collaborated over three years (between 2015-18) with ambitions to broaden discussion on EU cohesion policy, and nurture understanding between specialist academics, practitioners and policy-makers. 

Bringing together a wide variety of EU Cohesion policy researchers from across Europe, including both leading well-established researchers and aspiring ones, as well as practitioners, both from the EU institutions and national or sub-national governments and other organisations, four workshops were organised (including one in Brussels that was particularly policy-focused and included high-level EU officials and Members of the European Parliament).  These workshops covered a wide range of Cohesion policy debates which were timely for both academia and policy realms. Topics included territorial cohesion, urban dimensions, interfaces between Cohesion policy research and its implementation, appraisal of achievements of Cohesion policy in Southern and Eastern European regions, main beneficiaries of the Structural Funds.  Special sessions were also held at two RSA conferences (with a third session to be held at Lugano next month).

The outcomes so far are manyfold; they include a book ‘Uncovering the territorial dimension of European union Cohesion Policy,’ edited by Eduardo Medeiros and an eBook ‘Learning from Implementation and Evaluation of the EU Cohesion Policy: Lessons from a Research-Policy Dialogue,’ edited by Nicola F. Dotti (with about 2,000 downloads in the first 6 months). 

There is also an imminent special issue of Regional Studies on policy transfer (edited by Marcin Dąbrowski, Ida Musiałkowska and Laura Polverari) to be published in 2018.   A final book on Southern, Central and Eastern Member States edited by Ida Musiałkowska and Piotr Idczak is currently in preparation.

The full final report for the RSA Cohesion Policy Research Network can be read here