Regional policy - General information & responsibilities

Aerial photograph
Photo: Regi

Information and services around regional policy, regional planning, spatial planning and regional development. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management coordinates the activities in Austria and with the EU.

Regional policy means improving the quality of life of people living in Austria in all regions and facilitating sustainable regional development. Specific attention is to be paid to current challenges like equal opportunities, growth and employment, globalisation or climate change.

Regional development is characterised by the fact that it has to be supported by citizens. Regional development can be successful only with the cooperative interaction of all players and of the policy areas of all levels: Nation - Provinces - municipalities and the European Union. Through offers of coordination of the regionally effective sectoral policies on all levels and through the promotion of cooperation in and between regions Austrian regional policy helps people make their living environment fit for the future - be it in the conurbations of the central residential areas or in rural areas; be it in the centre of Austria or in border regions.

“Regional policy”, “spatial development policy”, “regional planning” and “spatial planning” are what is known as cross-sectional tasks. The objective is to efficiently coordinate various sectoral policies (economic, transport and cultural policy etc.) for a specific area ("space", "region") in order to achieve positive development.

Responsibilities for regional policy in Austria and Europe

The competences for area-related public policies in Austria are divided between the Federal Government and the Provinces.

  • There is no legal definition of “regional policy” or “regional development” in Austria. In fact, they comprise activities that are taken by the Federal Government, the Provinces or other public agencies and aimed to influence the development of parts of the federal territory (“regions”).
  • “Nominal spatial planning”, which is regulated by specific spatial planning laws, is the responsibility of the Provinces and municipalities. Unlike Switzerland and Germany, there is no framework legislation for regional planning on federal level in Austria.
  • In addition, there are sectoral policies (for example infrastructure, public services, subsidies) which are not (federal level) or not primarily (provincial level) subject to the regulations of the (provincial) regional planning laws but may nevertheless have a great impact on spatial development (“functional regional planning”).

The coordination of the various public agencies whose work has an impact on spatial planning and development is the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management. The Federal Ministry is assisted in its spatial coordination activities by the office of the Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning (ÖROK).

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management also coordinates the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds) in Austria and is the certifying authority for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

On EU level, competences are distributed similarly: “Nominal spatial planning” is mainly the responsibility of Member States. However, the EU has some Community policies which have a very strong impact on spatial development, such as the EU Agricultural Policy and the EU Cohesion Policy as well as regulation and support tasks in the field of the environmental policy (for example Natura 2000), transport policy (trans-European networks) or competition law. In 1999 the - still actively pursued - European Spatial Development Perspective (EUREK) was adopted. As an immediate consequence of EUREK, the European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion (ESPON) was established. It provides uniform data, analyses and forecasts on spatial development for the EU as well as for Switzerland and Norway.

For the wider European area of the Council of Europe, the 2000 Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning (CEMAT) adopted Guiding Principles for Sustainable Spatial Development of the European Continent.