A Five Step Methodology

ET2050 methodology is based on the following five steps:

First Step: Analysing the Present State of the European territory
Second Step: Building the 2030 and 2050 Baseline Scenarios
Third Step: Building the 2050 Territorial Scenarios
Fourth Step: Developing a 2050 Territorial Vision
Fifth Step: Elaborating 2030 Midterm Targets and Pathways

First Step: Analysing the Present State of the European territory

A comprehensive and harmonised description of the current state and trends of the European territory will be produced, considering issues of strategic importance for the future of Europe. The territorial state will review thematic aspects (demography, economy, transport and energy, land-use change, environment, and governance) at different geographic scales (local, regional and macro-regional, European, and rest of the World). The Present State will be analysed from a retrospective point of view (specially the 1950-2010 period), to facilitate to all participants a better understanding of the past evolutions leading to the actual situation.

Basic information on the European territory available in various official documents (Fifth Cohesion Report, revised Territorial State and Perspectives and “Territorial Agenda 2020” to be adopted shortly) will be exploited critically. The findings of other ESPON 2013 projects (and other studies) will also be capitalised upon, in particular the thematic or geographically specific information on the European territories in relation with the most relevant challenges for the future. This information will be fundamental for the elaboration of scenarios (see Chapter III for a detailed list of issues to be considered and ESPON related studies).

The project will take place at a strategic time, just before a new programming period (2014-2020) of the EU structural funds and significant reforms of other EU policies (CAP, transport, neighbourhood policy, etc.) with significant territorial impacts. These major policy reforms will be studied in the analysis of the current situation, as they will sizeably contribute to shape the mid-term (2030) or even the long-term (2050) future.

Second Step: Building the 2030 and 2050 Baseline Scenarios

A baseline scenario is not just the extrapolation of existing trends and policies. The point is not necessarily to extend the current state of things on a business-as-usual basis, nor to anticipate the most probable future ahead. A baseline scenario may contain many of these aspects, but it is mostly the image of the future most commonly accepted by mainstream scientific studies and included into policy documents. In a way, it represents a balance between more extremist views, and, therefore, it provides for a useful reference for all. In order to build up the 2030 and 2050 Baselines, the starting activity will be to explore the trends ahead, as presented in thematic and territorial studies. The scenarios will be a structural description of the European territory, as it might function in 2030, and 2050, according to the basic choices to be made. Drawing on the former ESDP categories, the basic structural elements to be studied and discussed may comprise:

  • the urban settlement systems (hierarchy and networks);
  • the semi-urban areas (various categories);
  • the more rural areas (various categories);
  • the areas with a high heritage value (which may be part of the former categories);
  • the system of transport and communication corridors;

as well as the areas protected for their natural values (Nature 2000).

The Baseline Scenarios for 2030 and 2050 will concentrate in particular on changes in the following areas:

  • regional median age and territorial concentration/growth (or dispersal/decline) of the population;
  • territorial concentration/growth (or dispersal/decline) of employment;
  • location and organisation of knowledge-based clusters;
  • organisation of settlement systems (functions, hierarchy and networks);
  • organisation of transport systems, in accessibility and flows;
  • territorial organisation of the tourist, culture and leisure economy.
  • functions of semi-rural and deeply rural areas.

The Baseline Scenarios will highlight territories which:

  • perform significantly better in future than in the present period;
  • are subject to specific problems (congestion, depopulation, insufficient accessibility, negative impacts of climate change etc.);
  • are characterised by insufficiently exploited assets (renewable energy, tourism, residential economy, city networks, heritage, cross-border and transnational territorial synergies – including at the external borders of the EU, non-European accessible markets, bridging functions of outermost regions with other continents etc.).

The Baseline scenarios have to integrate a number of long-term heavy trends, which recent changes and dynamics cannot significantly affect. These are, among others:

  • population ageing in most European countries and probable decline in a growing number of regions;
  • growing number of small-size households;
  • growing number of households with persons with different nationality
  • growing globalisation of the economy at world scale, especially under the influence of emerging countries;
  • growing world demand for energy, raw materials and food products and resulting price increase;
  • progressing socio-economic and territorial integration within Europe;
  • growing importance and generalisation of ICT in society and economy;
  • continuation of the move of the European economy from manufacturing activities to more intangible service and knowledge-based activities;
  • progressing climate change;
  • further development of renewable energy sources.

In contrast with these heavy trends, volatility and uncertainty are relatively high in a number of other fields. Hypotheses and choices have to be made to structure the long-term scenarios with regard to:

  • the long-term impacts of the economic/financial crisis of 2008/2009 and the related currency instability;
  • the flows of FDIs towards central and eastern Europe;
  • the level of international migrations from outside Europe, with particular regard to present changes in countries of the southern Mediterranean region and the Middle East;
  • the possible emergence of oil depletion and the related level of oil price in future.
  • Possible departure from nuclear energy production and accelerated promotion of renewable energy sources
  • technological innovation.

With regard to public policies, the baseline scenarios stick to the principles of the Europe 2020 Strategy and of the revised Territorial Agenda, not only for the coming decade, but also farther ahead in time. Smart growth (fostering knowledge, innovation, education and digital society), sustainable growth (making production more resource-efficient while boosting competitiveness) and inclusive growth (raising participation in the labour market, acquisition of skills and fight against poverty) remain until 2050 the leitmotifs of EU policies. The implementation of public policies is however handicapped by budgetary restrictions imposed by the convergence criteria and the management of sovereign debts. The development of Transeuropean Transport Networks, for instance, does not seem likely to progress at the speed envisaged before the economic crisis. Uncertainty prevails, however, in a number of policy fields, a fact which will make choices necessary in the starting phase of the baseline scenarios.

The 2030 and 2050 Baseline Scenarios should strive to generate consensus. They will largely result from the exhaustive analysis of existing foresight information sources and scenarios produced at different geographical scales and for various sectors, including a number of baseline scenarios elaborated in the context of ESPON. They will update scenarios developed years ago by confronting them with the current perspectives, while introducing new aspects, particularly in relation to territorial issues. Story lines from 2010 to 2030 and 2050 will be developed to illustrate the causes and consequences of the evolutions.

The baseline scenarios for 2030 and 2050 will be supported by a strong quantitative approach. An intensive modelling exercise using complementary state-of-the-art models will support the elaboration of the scenarios. Forecast and foresight models will be used, which will exploit information from all available sources.

Third Step: Building the 2050 Territorial Scenarios

Territorial Scenarios are considered prospective, in the sense that they are consistent futures, theoretically possible, even if not desired, or just desired by specific groups. As any image of a long-term future, they are embedded into prejudices and stereotypes that first need to be made explicit. They are expected to explore the space of possible futures, and in this respect can be considered as extreme possibilities.

The three alternative scenarios indicated in the project specifications will be taken as starting point for discussions. Their main commonality is the focus on territorial elements as central hypotheses, instead of general, socio-economic driving forces. For these scenarios to be consistent and internally coherent, a series of questions will be studied in order to define the scenarios assumptions to be discussed with the ESPON MC and CU. Next, some of these questions are introduced:

a) Exploratory 2050 Scenario “Europe of Cities”

The scenario is presented as resulting from the active concentration of population, economic activities and public investments in cities, considered as engines of European development. In addition to economic development, it promotes the intensified use of urban space, strong preservation of open space and the reduction of long-distance traffic.

The following questions, among others, will be studied and discussed:

  • is it admitted that by 2050, in the context of a mature globalised world, the European economy will rely almost exclusively on urban-based services and knowledge-based activities, including in the countries of central and eastern Europe and in peripheral regions?
  • is it admitted that by 2050 the wealth of cities is well spread throughout Europe or, on the contrary, that the pentagon’s cities and those in adjacent areas may have progressed more rapidly?
  • is it admitted that by 2050 non-urban areas will play a marginal role, except for functions which are directly determined by cities (recreation, leisure, housing, production of renewable energy etc.) and that agriculture is not subsidised anymore?
  • which types of cities are supposed to be most supported by public policies: mainly the large metropolitan areas or a more balanced urban system with a polycentric dimension?
  • in how far is the objective of reducing long-distance traffic compatible with the increasing networking activities of cities, which ensure their prosperity?
  • is the objective of social integration in cities a significant part of public policies in the scenario?
  • is the case of cities with a declining population and economy compatible with the scenario hypotheses?
  • does the prosperity of cities make a significant influx of immigration from outside Europe necessary?
  • is the objective of increasing territorial integration at Europe-wide scale important in the scenario?
  • does the scenario suppose closer ties and exchanges with the countries of the European neighbourhood or not?
  • does the scenario suppose significant changes in the field of territorial governance at the scale of metropolitan regions and urban agglomerations?

“Europe of the Cities” opens various possibilities as to the types of cities likely to concentrate most growth and development opportunities (only the large metropolitan areas or more polycentric systems of cities). A more extreme (but not unrealistic) possibility could be an even stronger concentration of advanced functions in the megalopolitan regions of North-West Europe, which would become a kind of de facto capital region and Europe’s main development engine.

b) Exploratory 2050 Scenario “Europe of flows”

The scenario is presented as resulting from the active concentration of population, economic activities and public investments in the main Eurocorridors, enhancing connections, long-distance networks and global integration.

The following issues, among others, will be studied and discussed:

  • how far is the scenario compatible with trends of growing energy prices, and, possibly, energy scarcity? Is it admitted that by 2050 new transport technologies will be sufficiently mature to make transport costs independent from oil price, and the use of fossil transport fuel irrelevant?
  • are transport corridors supposed to have by 2050 the same strategic importance as nowadays in the context of a strongly progressing intangible economy?
  • is it admitted that areas with a lower accessibility, outside main corridors, will play a marginal role and that the rural economy is not a politically significant priority in the scenario?
  • is the scenario meant to be conducive to stronger city networks?
  • is strengthened economic integration of European peripheral regions with more developed ones a major objective of the scenario?
  • does the strengthening of ties with countries of the European neighbourhood play an important part in the scenario?
  • is the territorial integration along European corridors supposed to benefit to urban nodes of various sizes, forming linear polycentric urban systems?
  • is the case of regions with strongly declining population compatible with the scenario hypotheses?
  • does the scenario suppose significant changes in the field of territorial governance at the scale of major corridors?

c) Exploratory 2050 Scenario “Europe of the Regions”

The scenario is presented as mainly driven by regional endogenous factors, benefiting both to urban and rural regions. Public policies support the diversity of regional potentials. Political focus lies on issues such as regional self-reliance, small-scale development and landscape protection.

The following issues, among others, will be studied and discussed:

  • does the general context considered by the scenario in 2050 look like a mature globalised world or, instead, like a self-reliant Europe facing a problematic global environment prone to periodic severe crises?
  • if regions with strong regional potentials are promoted in the scenario, is it admitted that regional disparities may increase in the European context?
  • considering that regional potentials are in a number of cases directly linked to the privileged position of specific urban nodes in large-scale networks (concentration of business headquarters, of significant research centres, gateway cities), in how far is this compatible with regional self-reliance and small-scale development?
  • considering that the economic profitability of some regional potentials largely depends upon external framework conditions, shall the scenario be based on the assumption that energy prices and the world demand for food products are sufficiently high by 2050 to make the production of renewable energy and agricultural products in rural regions profitable without significant subsidies?
  • is the tourist industry considered to be a major driver by 2050 in the scenario? If so, to what extent is this compatible with small-scale developments?
  • is the residential economy likely to become, by 2050, a significant driver of development in attractive, more rural regions of central and eastern Europe?
  • is significant immigration from outside Europe considered necessary by the scenario, especially for the development of regional potentials in areas subject to declining population and labour force shortage?
  • does the scenario suppose that regions seriously affected by climate change will benefit from substantial public resources to mitigate / prevent the related impacts or to re-structure their economy?
  • does the scenario suppose significant changes in the field of territorial governance at the regional and micro-regional scales?

The answers to these questions may lead to the redefinition of the scenarios. Some alternatives and variations to these scenarios may be envisaged. For example, none of the three outline scenarios highlights enough the concept of “cooperative network of cities. A possible scenario could evolve around the emergence of several powerful networks throughout the European continent, as privileged areas catalysing development and territorial integration. The scenario would also emphasize the importance of corridors linking up the various cities of each network and also these networks themselves. Large metropolitan areas in neighbouring regions of the present EU (for instance St Petersburg or Istanbul) should then be considered in such networks.

Fourth Step: Developing a 2050 Territorial Vision

The territorial vision to be elaborated will be a structural picture of the European territory, as it should function by 2050, according to the basic choices to be made by the MC and CU in the light of the outcome of the three roll-forward scenarios. The commonly accepted long-term vision of Europe is based on a model of smart, sustainable and socially inclusive development. Drawing on the ESDP categories, the basic structural elements of the Vision may comprise:

  • the urban settlement systems (hierarchy, form and networks);
  • the semi-urban areas (various categories);
  • the more rural areas (various categories);
  • the areas with a high heritage value (which may be part of the former categories);
  • the system of transport and communication corridors

The territorial vision will analyse in particular the functional interactions between these structural elements in different parts of the European territory, which can vary substantially. For instance, a small town plays a stronger functional role in sparsely populated areas than in metropolitan ones. The territorial vision will highlight the territorial and functional changes compared with the present situation and especially: 

  • the urban nodes of the settlement system (metropolitan areas or others) which will fulfil new functions in terms of interactions with other urban nodes (centres or parts of networks);
  • the new technology clusters and networks (which may be a specific category of urban nodes);
  • the functional impacts for areas exposed to specific challenges related to climate change;
  • the functional impacts for areas exposed to substantial population change;
  • the functional impacts for areas going through significant economic adjustment strategies to cope with accelerating globalisation;
  • the corridors or areas with strong progress of territorial integration, including those linking Europe to neighbouring areas in the east, the south and the north;
  • the rural areas subject to functional intensification in relation to energy production, food production or "green consumerism";
  • the areas subject to a significant enhancement of specific endogenous potentials (various forms of tourism, cultural and leisure activities, organic farming, exploitation of raw materials and natural resources etc.)

The Territorial Agenda 2020 will not provide national and regional governments with guidelines and policy recommendations for the very long-term (2050). New contributions are therefore needed to provide guidelines to forward-looking territorial development policies. This will entail in particular updating and refining the ESPON 3.2 project material.

Fifth Step: Elaborating 2030 Midterm Targets and Pathways

The issue of targets in European territorial development is relatively new. The Europe 2020 Strategy defined for 2020 specific targets for employment, innovation, climate change and energy, education and poverty. European, international and national policy-documents (e.g. international agreements, European Communications and White Papers…) have also defined policy targets for 2030 and beyond. Concerning 2050, policy targets are mostly related to the decarbonisation of the economy, leading to a paradigm shift in the area of energy and transport technologies, and inducing behavioural changes impacting on territorial patterns. More targets are however necessary and relevant to ensure a harmonious and sustainable territorial development, for instance as thresholds related to population (density, change, immigration), economy, accessibility, services of general interest etc. For the territorial cohesion objective of the new Treaty not to remain wishful thinking, a consistent implementation strategy is needed, going far beyond the first steps already taken, which will also require new targets.

In this step, but also in the previous ones, the robustness of the scenarios and the Vision, as well as the pathways, will be tested with “Wild cards” such as unexpected events which may suddenly counteract heavy trends or inertias and generate strong structural and territorial impacts. Testing the robustness of scenarios against wild cards means assessing their sensitivity to such unexpected evolutions. Wild cards will be used, first, to determine which of the scenarios to be designed are most sensitive to specific wild cards and, second, to gauge more precisely the range of validity of the respective scenarios.

In the current fast changing context and environment, the significance of wild cards is far from negligible. Not every wild card however is relevant for scenarios on territorial development at the European scale. Some wild cards are more important than others for the scenario approach, essentially conceived as a tool for European cooperation. Those included in the following non-exhaustive list will be studied and discussed when assessing the scenarios:

  • Sudden influx of massive immigration into Europe related to the emancipation of oppressed populations (North Africa, Middle East etc.) or caused by natural hazards in other world regions;
  • Sudden and abrupt increase of energy price as a consequence of oil peaking or of large-scale political troubles in oil and gas producing countries (impacts on mobility and economic development; search for self-reliance solutions etc.);
  • Strong decrease of foreign investments into Europe, especially into the countries of central and eastern Europe, to the benefit of the BRIC and of less developed countries in the European neighbourhood;
  • Collapse of the American currency caused by the extremely high level of sovereign debt in the USA (impacts on the world and European economy, impacts on European exporting regions);
  • Intense food scarcity at world scale as a consequence of climate change (increased pressure on European rural area; immigration);
  • Crisis of European governance as a consequence of economic and political crises within and outside Europe (re-nationalisation of various European policies; stop in European integration processes).

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Saskia Sassen:
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Immanuel Wallerstein:
On the end of Capitalism

Slavoj Žižek:
Are we living in the end times?

Ray Kurzweil:
The Singularity Point

Jeremy Rifkin:
The third industrial revolution

James Lovelock:
Apocalysis, soon

Noemi Klein:
Living disaster capitalism

Jane Jacobs:
Dark Age Ahead

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