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FOR Report: "Regional development, regional politics"

The latest FOR "Regional Development, Regional Policy" report aims to refer to Poland's currently declared (and to a lesser extent implemented) regional policy against the background of theoretical concepts of regional development, the evolution of Polish regional and spatial policy and an analysis of regional differentiation processes after 1990.

The authors of the report are Prof. Grzegorz Gorzelak and Maciej Smętkowski, PhD (EUROREG, University of Warsaw).

Concentration takes place independently of the will of decision-makers or politicians, because these are the modern global development forces that a medium-sized and medium-developed country can only oppose to a very limited extent.

Contrary to the emerging opinions, there is no "collapse" of small and medium-sized cities; the loss of the province function is not a common disadvantageous factor. This group of cities developed relatively evenly and in recent years did not lose the distance to province centres in terms of the level of wealth. Metropolisation has not yet led to a significant depopulation of the extra-metropolitan part of the country.

The observed decreases in the population of particular areas in Poland resulted rather from the ageing process and migrations abroad. The possibility of achieving local success was not limited to communes located in the vicinity of metropolitan centres, although the latter were those which primarily benefited from the metropolitanisation processes taking place. The thesis that we are dealing with "historical determinism" which differentiates "the world for winning large agglomerations and losing peripheral areas" is therefore not correct.

The main theses are as follows:

  1. There is no direct cause and effect relationship between theory, doctrine, politics and practice. Doctrines are often formulated on the basis of ideological assumptions, with little regard for theoretical considerations; regional policy is not always subordinated to the current doctrine, and the practice of making decisions with regional and spatial references is often not subordinated to the policy developed by the competent authorities.
  2. The doctrine of Polish regional policy is turning a circle from levelling out differences ("equality") through striving to ensure rapid growth ("productivity") back to levelling out differences. The last stage does not fully correspond to the current orientations of the EU Cohesion Policy.
  3. The Polish socio-economic space is differentiated by two basic "dimensions": the historical, stable process of "long duration", dividing the country into the western (more developed) and eastern (less developed) parts, and the dimension distinguishing metropolitan areas from non-metropolitan areas, which replaced the division into urban and rural areas characteristic for industrial economies.
  4. In Poland after 1990, mainly as a result of the process of metropolisation, differences between regions grew until 2012. (with the exception of 2008, when the slowdown in economic growth hit the more developed regions of the country harder). The level of regional disparities stabilized after 2012.
  5. The inhibition of the growth of territorial disparities is, to a large extent, a result of the strengthening of the processes of diffusion of development from certain metropolitan areas to areas more distant from them. In addition, many even peripheral local arrangements are successful as a result of efficient development policies, which contributes to the reduction of territorial disparities.
  6. Contrary to the emerging opinions, there is no "collapse" of small and medium-sized cities; the loss of the province function is not a common factor acting unfavourably. The development processes of individual territorial arrangements are much more complex and individualized, and the zero-one generalized approach is both oversimplified and untrue.
  7. The only new document setting out the rationale for spatial and regional policy - "A strategy for responsible development by 2020 (with a perspective until 2030)" - is an unfounded  document, both in its intellectual layer and in relation to its links with reality, with which it contradicts in many aspects (e.g. by pointing to the significant role of local government with a simultaneous centralisation of government - local government relations).
  8. The doctrine of "polarization and diffusion" (the better phrase is "concentration and diffusion") should be regarded as a desirable principle of regional policy. Education and strengthening their human capital should play a special role in promoting the development of less developed areas.
  9. Proactive management of often unfavourable - but inevitable - change (such as the depopulation of some peripheral areas) is needed to replace reactive (and therefore ineffective) action once the change has taken place.