Direct and Indirect Land Use Impacts of the EU Cohesion Policy. Assessment with the Land Use Modelling Platform

Ustaoğlu E., Batista E Silva F., Lavalle C., Jacobs Crisioni C., Barranco R., Zulian G., ...More

Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2014

  • Publication Type: Book / Research Book
  • Publication Date: 2014
  • Publisher: Publications Office of the European Union
  • City: Luxembourg
  • Abdullah Gül University Affiliated: Yes


The Cohesion policy is one of the most important policy instruments of the European Union (EU), implicating a substantial share of the EU budget and involving every region from each Member State. Also known as Regional policy, it is essentially a regional investment program, expected to “kick-start growth, employment, competitiveness, and development on a sustainable basis” (Brandsma et al. 2013: 3).

The Cohesion policy for the programming period 2014-2020 represents approximately 1/3 of the EU budget, totalling circa 322 billion eurosof Cohesion and Structural funds. Like in previous programming periods, Cohesion policy investments will be channelled to EU’s regions in order to promote competitiveness, economic growth and job creation, while reducing economic, social and territorial disparities between regions2, thus contributing to the ‘Europe 2020’ growth strategy. The main investment compartments are research and development (12%), aid to the private sector (12%), environment (17%), infrastructure (32%), human resources (22%) and technical assistance (5%).

As the manager of the Cohesion policy, the mission of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission (DG REGIO) is, first, to ensure that the available financial instruments contribute to a sustainable economic, social and territorial cohesion by reducing disparities between the levels of development of regions and countries of the European Union, and furthermore to ensure that these objectives are not met at high environmental cost, and that potential negative impacts are foreseen and minimized.

Ex-ante economic impacts of the new Cohesion policy on EU’s regions were evaluated by the European Commission’s services using the Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) model ‘RHOMOLO’ (Brandsma et al. 2013). Along with the desired economic impacts, the investment induced by the Cohesion policy is, as well, likely to produce impacts on local environmental conditions and land use. Despite the appreciable investment in actual physical capital across the EU, their potential aggregate impacts on local land use and environment have never been analysed in a systematic fashion. This report is the result of a first ‘pilot’ assessment of such potential impacts. It was conducted by the Joint Research Centre (JRC)3, as requested by the DG REGIO, in the context of the collaboration between the two European Commission bodies. The following questions and concerns motivated this study:

  •   Could the Cohesion policy amplify unexpected and unwanted detrimental land use and environmental impacts?

  •   Could those impacts be avoided or mitigated with the correct set of land use/spatial planning policies?

  •   Can environmental friendly options contribute to Cohesion objectives like the reduction of social and territorial disparities between regions?

    While it would be pretentious to provide definite answers to these very broad and fundamental questions, with this study we do intend to explore the trade-offs between EU’s investments and land use, and provide insights on specific land use impacts, and how negative impacts can be minimized. The inclusion of ecosystem services in this study comes as a way to address environmental impacts of land use changes in a broader and integrated manner. The ecosystem service framework of analysis takes into account the goods and services delivered by nature and their benefits to the society as a whole. The maintenance of sustainable provision levels of ecosystem services is becoming a major concern in Europe (Maes et al. 2012; Maes et al. 2013).