Baltic Sea Region Territorial Monitoring System

Territorial Cohesion - Balanced territorial development

As has been the case for the past 20 years or, also recent trends in general territorial development in the BSR point towards increasing spatial polarisation. At a general level this polarisation looks surprisingly similar across all domains of the socioeconomic sphere encompassing among others demography, economic development, economic vulnerability, innovation, entrepreneurship, the knowledge economy, lack of polycentric urban structures, social development, and so forth. The BSR is nowhere unique in this respect and similar developments can be found across virtually entire Europe The general pattern of this ongoing development in the BSR is illustrated for example by net migration rates for various types of BSR territories 2005-2010. On the urban-rural axis, predominantly urban regions are in this respect taking a clear lead whereas predominantly rural regions on the other hand are at the bottom of the scale.

In the BSR as throughout Europe, a predominant group among the migrants constitutes the young. Initially leaving for studies, after which normally locating close to the study site, this trend increases the already precarious territorial balance between core and periphery. Furthermore, as the gender balance of such rural-urban migration is biased via a comparatively large section of migrants being females, such selective migration results in increasingly unbalanced demographic structures.

Despite the general trend of polarisation across the BSR, the concentration of economic value-added during the period 2005-2010 has not showed a clear core-periphery pattern. The main general dividing factor is that of between east and west. The average annual macroeconomic growth rate in the entire BSR was 2.2% during the period. Of this, 1.7% was in the western BSR but as much as 3.7% in eastern ditto. In the western BSR, most of Norway constitutes the exception to the general pattern, whereas parts of the Baltic States as well as Karelia do so in the east. The general east-west gap is hence in this respect being diminished. The reduction in economic output was particularly severe in the western parts of the BSR, where production between 2008 and 2009 fell three times as much than was the case in the east. Beyond this, certain common trends are discernible, however. The economies of predominantly urban areas have on average grown more than 3 percent per year, i.e. considerably exceeding the average rate for the BSR, further expanding the already existing gap.

During the three-year period 2005-2008, some three million new jobs were created in the BSR, two in the east, one in the west. In the subsequent crisis of 2008, the BSR lost approximately half a million jobs, equally distributed between east and west alike. The downturn in the eastern BSR was close to twice as high as that in the western parts of the region. An alarming pattern however emerges when examining the spatial distribution of these jobs in the BSR, and at a macroregional level, a polarising development is apparent. The blue line depicts the development of total BSR employment, which grew continually up till 2008, after which it subsequently decreased. The change in the coefficient of variation of regional employment in the BSR depicts changes in intraregional (NUTS3/SNUTS 2) differences in this respect. This indicator (red line) decreased up till 2008, and only thereafter started to increase fairly rapidly.

When analysing these two indicators jointly, we may conclude that when the number of jobs increased in the BSR, this increase was apparently beneficial to most smaller regions in the area as intraregional differences were reduced.

New job creation is one aspect, but the main focus from an economically sustainable point of view lays on the employment rate, which indicates the share of persons in a region economically supporting all those that do not work. In the BSR during recent years, this development displays very cohesive patterns despite the indicated spatially segregated job creation. In general, regions with the lowest employment rates have seen the (on average) fastest increases. This holds true for east and west BSR alike. The only major exceptions to this general pattern are the vast majority of Polish regions, of which most have seen only modest increases far below those of their corresponding peer regions in the rest of the BSR.

Recognizing territorial diversity has attended increased focus in the latter years and is bearing substantial relevance for the BSR, as the region is in this respect extremely heterogeneous by its character. Particularly since territorial development, where identifying potentials in relation to integrated development strategies in line with geographical specificities, and more generally acknowledging the territorial context as such, carries a promise of better utilization of endogenous assets while at the same time alleviating the vulnerable position in which many of these areas sit in. Above, we already had a brief glance at the population development in specific types of BSR territories. We saw that the movement of population by and large corroborated a general conception of increased spatial polarisation across virtually all axes of the BSR. At the same time we saw that real economic growth rates, i.e. the absolute growth of the regional economy, did only follow such divides to a lesser extent, albeit major urban nodes were clearly in an advantageous position in that respect. Looking at employment change in a comparable manner, by and large similar patterns emerge. During the period 2005-2009, particularly sparse -, border- and rural regions have experience considerably worse development than their thematic counterparts. That coastal regions on average have fared worse than inland ditto, is to a large extent depending on the fast employment growth in Poland (of which a majority of regions are not by the coast).

The outspoken urban-rural dimension of these typologies requires further examination. Regarding different forms of metropolitan regions, one may say that the dividing factor is between non-urban and urban, but regarding the latter not in a strictly hierarchical manner. The heterogeneousness of the BSR implies that the size of the metropolitan area as such appears of lesser importance, and other factors bear greater relevance. However, at the same time interpreting the top notch of the urban-rural typology, we once more see the predominantly urban regions in the lead. What follows then is divided primarily along a remoteness scale rather than along the different “levels” of urbanity. Remote regions, be they intermediate or predominantly rural, have fared worse than their non-remote (i.e. “close to a city”) respective counterparts. Border regions in general still to-day perform worse than the rest of the BSR and they are particularly severely handicapped when examined in their national context. Net migration in external border areas is down to less than half that of their respective countries, employment change some 11% worse, unemployment rate some 5%-units higher, GDP/capita 12% below, and accessibility some 18% below. By applying a spatio-temporal view on recent developments we may highlight the vulnerability of specific types of territories in the situation of external shocks.

(C) ESPON BSR-TeMo, RRG, 2013