The European ‘Global Macro-Region’ – Redrawing the world map of globalization by Kathy Pain and Gilles Van Hamme


The European ‘global macro-region’ is a functional space distinct from the EU, which has been identified in a European Commission funded study by academics from Belgium, the UK, France, Italy, Bulgaria and Sweden. 

The two-and-a-half year study has investigated the major changes that people, businesses and state authorities in European countries are being swept up in as the dynamic changes associated with globalization proceed.

The research provides new answers to leading questions about Europe’s changing urban and regional relations in an increasingly integrated and global world:

1 – To what extent is Europe on the receiving end of the forces of globalization?

2 – To what extent is Europe a leading driver in the dynamics of global change?

Changing Urban and Regional Relations in a Globalizing World

Changing Urban and Regional Relations in a Globalizing World

Europe as a functional macro-region

In spite of the headline news given to the local impacts of world globalization, the researchers show that major changes reshaping the contemporary world are in reality structured by complex interrelations occurring at sub-global levels. In the case of Europe, such interrelations are remarkably intense at a functional macro-region scale because, in spite of information and communications developments, distance continues to play a key role in global flows of trade, migration, etc.

Nevertheless, this intermediary European functional space between the local and the global spheres is not simply an effect of geographical distance. The size and shape of the macro-region reflects historical and cultural ties, and the redrawing of territorial borders, as an outcome of the diverse and changing interests and actions of people, communities and state actors over time.

European rescaling

The geography of the macro-region is therefore not just about distance in terms of kilometres, or travel times, it is structured by social, economic and policy behaviours and practices. For example, the research team note a significant distinction between the geography of Europe that is emerging as a consequence of economic and migration flows, and that is generated by EU political actions.

The EU is probably the world’s most advanced territorial assemblage in terms of its political construction. ‘Regionalism’ has led to the successful geographical extension of political accord and the rescaling of governance mechanisms to a unique supra-state level, yet Europe’s most intense functional relations extend far beyond the political limits of the EU.

They include non-member states: Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, the Western Balkans, and the eastern, south eastern and southern ‘neighbourhood’ of Europe, the former USSR Republics, Turkey,  the Near East and North Africa. All of these areas have intense functional relations with the EU in terms of human flows, foreign direct investment, trade of goods and services and air connections, for example.

However, these relations are not balanced and uneven development of the macro-region reflects Europe’s relations with distant world regions.  Its external, as well as its internal, functional relations are developing and changing at a very high rate.

The central role of global firms and international capital flows

Europe’s political boundaries, whether at the metropolitan, city-region, nation state or EU scale, do not adequately represent Europe’s changing functional relations in the networked global economy.

In functional terms, the macro-region is an integrated area, yet its most important relations stretch far beyond the borders of the EU territory, connecting it strongly to distant world regions. Its economic vibrancy comes from its deep integration in extensive high value, strategic global business and social networks and flows, its trade in specialized high level services, and its flows of students and work force from all over the world.

Europe as a global player

Adding to the list of terminologies used to describe spaces of global integration above the metropolitan scale, the global city region, polycentric mega city region, etc., the European global macro-region defines an evolving, intermediary interactional space between the nation state and the global levels.

Europe’s major urbanised regions in particular are deeply embedded in global networks. A legacy of development differences between the so-called ‘old’ European ‘core’ countries (primarily in North Western Europe) and (Eastern and Southern Europe) ‘peripheral’ recent accession and ‘neighbourhood’ countries therefore defines a two-speed European functional macro-region.

This is important because Europe’s functional relations beyond the macro-region are vital for its future development, connecting it to the leading established and emerging domains of globalization, innovation and economic expansion, the US, Eastern Asia and, in particular, China.

We conclude that, functionally, Europe is still a major player in all types of global networks and flows, even though its prominence in the world has been declining in other areas. It can be considered a key force in economic globalization, performing better than other world regions in some high level spheres.

The EU as a global actor

As flows of information, ideas, people and finance are diminishing the bordering effects of Europe’s territorial political structures, the attempted up-scaling of policy to a supranational level of agreements, influence and actions, is a counter trend.

Importantly, however, in the regions of the world where Europe is strongly present in strategic functional terms, it is not systematically robustly active in political terms. The geographies of EU external actions and presence confirm that its political competence,policy coherence, and influence, are uneven, reflecting established and new divisions and, significantly for cohesion, a lack of capacity to ‘speak with one voice’ in many external world arenas.

The reality of the EU’s profile as a global actor is weak, including in several important rapidly emerging economies and some close neighbouring regions. So, there is a significant mismatch between the relations of the EU as an international political actor and the most important domains of its functional relations , suggesting that, as matters stand, the future place of Europe in the world is far from assured.

Kathy PainKathy Pain is a professor of real estate development and a research director in the University of Reading’s Henley Business School. She holds a PhD in geography and is a Corporate Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She has published extensively on the sustainable economic and spatial development of global mega-city regions. Her research has informed academic and policy thinking in the UK, Europe, North America, the Middle East and Pacific Asia.

Changing Urban and Regional Relations in a Globalizing World, edited by Kathy Pain and Gilles Van Hamme was published earlier this year. With a special acknowledgement to The European Spatial Observation Network, part financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

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