Trends affecting territorial development in the Danube, Adriatic & Ionian region

February 2022

A multitude of social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends frame local and regional development perspectives. This ranges from global mega trends, such as climate change, to local micro trends.

Developing scenarios for 2050, the ESPON project TEVI2050 looked into key trends for the Danube and Adriatic Ionian Macro-regions. In a co-creative process including workshops with stakeholders from the area and a large online survey, information on a host of trends, their development over time and territorial impacts has been collected. The work reveals the enormous diversity with which trends affect different parts and types of territories in the Danube and Adriatic Ionian Macro-regions.

The ten trends considered by the stakeholder in the region to affect territorial development most in the coming decades provide a glimpse of the territorial diversity. The selection of trends is interesting as it in parts deviates from mainstream discussions at European level. It shows that which trends we expect to shape our local and regional development is strongly affected by where in Europe we are and what places we have in mind. In other words, places matter to trend discussions.

In the context of the Danube and Adriatic Ionian Macro-regions trends in the fields of digitalisation, social disparities & migration as well as EU integration are perceived as more decisive for framing the medium-term future than e.g. climate change (see the figure below).

Not just the importance to local and regional development, but also the expected evolution of the trends varies. Most of the top ten trends are expected to grow in importance over the next decades. The graphic illustrates the expected changing importance – expressed by the thickness of the individual bars – over time, i.e. between today and 2050.

While e.g. digitalisation of our societies is seen as a g continuously growing trend, robotisation and digitalisation of production process are expected to only pick up as important trends in about five to ten years. The same concerns the increasing pollution of water, land and air.

At the same time, some trends might peak already during the next five to ten years. Among them are EU enlargement and stronger EU integration, sustainable tourism and the shortening increasing consumption of local products and services.

The trends are also expected to play out differently in territorial terms. The graphic shows which of the ten key trends (left side) are expected to affect what types of territories in the region (right side).

In short, the top ten trends are seen to have the strongest impacts on urban and rural areas. Rural development is expected to be heavily affected by outmigration of skilled young people, i.e. an increasing brain drain. Other decisive trends for rural areas include the growing digitalisation of our societies and increasing social inequalities as well as increasing pollution of water, land and air. This points at overall rather challenging perspectives for rural areas.

The key trends affecting future perspectives of urban areas are in the field of increasing digitalisation, stronger EU integration incl. a further enlargement – many countries in the area are currently not EU member states – and also an increasing brain drain from the area. Overall, a mixed picture of potential and challenges ahead.

Other characteristics of territories – besides being rural or urban – play a lesser role for the effects the ten selected trends have on local and regional development. In industrial areas trends in the field of digitalisation and circular economy play a particular role. EU integration plays obviously an important role in border regions (see also our previous blog posts on border obstacles and cross-border public transport ). Mountain areas are to some degree affected by a variety of trends incl. increasing social inequalities, brain drain, increasing pollution of natural resources and a shift towards more sustainable tourism. In the case of tourism regions, digitalisation and sustainable tourism are seen as the most important trends (see also our previous blog tourism trends post COVID-19). Interestingly, trends in the areas of digitalisation are considered to be more decisive than the shift towards sustainable tourism. For coastal areas and islands – many of which are also tourist destination – the trends on sustainable tourism and increasing pollution of natural resources seem to be the most relevant among those ten trends. For river areas, the pollution of natural resources are to be seen most important.

This graphics and overview certainly only provides a teaser on the large number of trends, their drivers and territorial impacts discussed in the study.

The information on trends has been used for the development of territorial baseline scenarios for the region and are the starting point for the discussion of possible alternative extreme scenarios. More details on this are available in the Interim Report of the study.

by Kai Böhme

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