EU Cohesion Policy and the (re)production of centrality and peripherality through soft spaces
With the “Big Bang” of the 2004 enlargement of the European Union (EU), economic disparities between EU member states are now larger than those between U.S. states. In fact, it has been argued that socio-spatial polarization has become a “striking feature” of the settlement system on the subnational scale, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. Thus, with regards to EU Cohesion Policy, the eastern enlargement poses a serious challenge to the objective of “reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions” (TFEU, Art. 174). The paper indicates how the process of European integration under the primacy of interest representation at the EU level, is leading to a transformation of the political process. The emergence of multi-level metagovernance, understood as the management of disparate modes of coordination, is presented as a source for the emergence of inconsistent post-political strategies. Here, interest are framed as commensurable rather than conflicting, which allows the discursive framing of cohesion and competitive objectives as mutually reinforcing. This enables the depiction of EU Cohesion Policy as a delivery mechanism of the growth objectives of the EU 2020 Strategy and, in opposition to its treaty rationale of enhancing social, territorial and economic cohesion, shifts the spatial selectivity of Cohesion Policy toward spaces that may contribute to the competitiveness of the single market – including, but not exclusively, poly-centric metropolitan regions.