The benefits of economic growth and growing employment have been unequally spread not only throughout society, but also geographically. Many European countries display distinct regional disparities. In many cases, economic growth and employment is limited to certain areas – mostly dynamic urban centres. Meanwhile, rural areas and those that have experienced industrial decline are falling behind. Democratic actors and institutions have failed to solve the underlying socioeconomic issues. As a result, the failure to address these social and spatial inequalities has fueled dissatisfaction with the political and democratic systems in many European countries, contributing in many cases to the rise of rightwing populism.
National disparity reports
But what are the answers to these challenges? How should policies in EU-member states and in the EU tackle regional socio-economic disparities? With the project “Unequal Europe - Tackling Regional Disparities in Europe”, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, together with the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), has investigated the extent of regional disparities in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Italy and Romania.
Not just growth, but equal opportunities
The recommendations outlined in the country reports form a basis for reform of the EU’s regional and cohesion policies. Policymakers need to take a broader approach when it comes to economic and social well-being. The EU should address social and economic inequalities in all their dimensions. Fostering local development and well-being in all areas of a country is not only a goal for economic policy. Rather, it is a matter of strengthening democracy and ensuring opportunities and participation for all.
Dr. Philipp Fink