Photo by Isaiah Rustad @isaiahrustad via Unsplash.

‘The Economics of Inequality’ by Thomas Piketty has just come out in Dutch. Jonathan Metzger (2019) might wish I should read it. What it reminded me of straight away was sharing a platform with Andrés Rodríguez-Pose at the ESPON seminar during the Austrian Presidency in December 2018 where I presented my ‘The Poverty of Territorialism’. Andrés was showing that the reason for voting LEAVE in the Brexit Referendum was the feeling of having been left to one’s own devices (Andres Rodriguez-Pose: The Geographies of EU Discontent and the Revenge of Places that Don’t Matter.) He has helped shaping ’A Territorial Reference Framework for Europe’ (ESPON 2019) much as the European Commission’s proposal for Cohesion Policy 2021-2027. ( Also, Andrés has now published a paper with, amongst others, the Dutch Commission Official Lewis Dijkstra. It concludes that such areas ‘…provide fertile breeding grounds for the brewing of anti-system and anti-European integration sentiments.‘ (Dijkstra, Poelman, Rodríguez-Pose (2019, 14) Counteracting anti-EU voting by ‘…fixing the so-called places that don’t matter is possibly one of the best ways to start.‘ (Op cit, 15). 

Indeed, ’…the fear of being left behind (…) is leading to a reaction which is starting to have serious political, social, and economic consequences. (…) Populism (…) has taken hold in many of these so-called spaces that don’t matter, in numbers that are creating a systemic risk…’ (Rodríguez-Pose 2018,, p.16) And: the ‘…challenge has come from an obvious, but at the same time completely unexpected source: the ballot box.’ (ibid, p.20) And, we have been ‘totally unprepared’ for political entrepreneurs exploiting the (my term) production of democratic legitimacy – say: voting – being by territories, in the UK, where Brexit has triggered much of this awareness, even exclusively so. The ‘first past the post’ system knows the most extreme form of the production of democratic legitimacy being by territories. How to deal with this in a world as interdependent as ours – one that eludes the basic assumption underlying territorialism that the world can be tucked away in boxes – seems a key problem. Purported advantages – providing, not only security but also a sense of identity – are maybe illusionary. Let’s assume they themselves believe they to be real, but the propagandists of territorialism sell us an ideology: to invoke Karl Marx, opiate of the masses. Territorialism cannot address growing inequality. Nor can it provide real help for areas now in a rebellious mood. Least of all can it help facing the anonymous ‘Empire’ Hard and Negri (2000) see operating behind the scenes. Territorialism might rather throw us back to the aggressive nationalism of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the Great War tragically ending the first phase of globalisation, leading almost seamlessly into the Second World War thereafter. 

With a view to the situation developing at the time of writing at the external borders of the EU on the Balkans


I hasten to add that I am not against borders as such, nor do I have an immediate answer. Suffice it to say that managing flows requires thresholds and floodgates. As the Dutch have known for ages, those gates need to be closed – and opened! – according to the situation. No, what I am against is what the French philosopher Eduard Balibar (2009) calls the sacralisation of borders, as if they where the outer skin of an organic body called the people, or nation.

Balibar, E. (2009) ‘Europe as borderland’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, 190-215.

Dijkstra, L., Poelman, H., Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2019): The geography of EU discontent, Regional Studies,

ESPON (2019) A Territorial Reference Framework for Europe (Applied Research)

Hardt, M, Negri, A. (2000) Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Metzger, J. (2019) Review of ‘The Poverty of Territorialism’. Planning Theory:

Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2018). The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do about it). Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 11(1), 189–209.

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