cover of Coatleven et al. (2020)

In March James Meek (2000) has pointed out the news prioritising ‘our’ casualties and ‘our’ people stranded overseas and travellers ‘here’ being infected by a traveller from ‘there’. This encourages suspicion, hostility, racism, tighter borders, even violence. ‘Sometimes the coverage becomes the vehicle for a criticism, implicit or explicit, of something “their” society does that “our” society – we imagine – would not…’. True, but closing borders is in the nation state’s power. As Murphy (2020, 29) says, it serves ‘…to strengthen the institutional relationship between state and society…’. The editor of the volume where Murphy and others write about territoriality defines it as ’…the actions or behaviours used to control or exert power over a geographically designated space.’ (Storey 2020, 1) Earlier, I have drawn attention to it effecting cross-border cooperation. There would be more to tell, but here I draw attention to a French think tank already referred to when discussing David Djaiz (2019). Its new report  (Coatleven, Hublet, Rospars 2020) proposes changes with potentially revolutionary effects on territorial governance, which is why I fear it will not be followed. Before presenting their proposals, the authors praise German crisis management relating it to federalism. I beg to differ: Vying for votes, much as national ones, Länder governors, too, invoke territoriality. 

You might say: So what, and: three cheers for democracy! Yes, but how we practice democracy – by territories – makes precisely for the territorialism criticised above. Federalism does not change one iota of this.

The report’s other proposal goes at the heart of the matter. It argues for tailor-made arrangements following functional instead of territorialist logic. The point is, in highly integrated areas like the ‘Grand Region’ comprising Luxembourg and the ‘Grand Genève’ it is reasonable to assume that the incidences of COVID-19 will be the same throughout. Pointing to arrangements already in place under the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, they propose for border communities making contingency plans for tackling common threats. For which purpose EU law should make European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTCs) mandatory. Whatever its practicality in dealing with COVID-19, this could be unacceptable to EU member states. They have always been suspicious, accepting EGTCs only on condition of their being voluntary and restricted to matters not within the gift of sovereign states. Closing borders – exercising territorialism – clearly is.

The Commission of course would be elated if this were to be accepted. If ever it did, it no longer entertains any idea of a European federal, let alone a super-state. Being against states monopolising the exercise of territoriality is at the same time in its genes. The reverse is equally true: insisting on this as their privilege being in the member states’ genes. Territoriality remains a bone of contention. (Faludi 2016)


Coatleven, L., Hublet, F., Rospars, Th. (2020) Covid-19 et gestion de crise subsidiaire. Perspectives transfrontalières à la lumière du fédéralisme allemand, Groupe d’études géopolitiques, Rapport. Available at: For English see: Subsidiary Crisis Management in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Germany’s Federalist Experiment in Transporder Perspective:

Djaïz, D. (2019) Slow démocratie : comment maîtriser la mondialisation et reprendre notre destin en main, Allary, Paris.

Faludi, A. (2016) ‘The territoriality of EU Cohesion Policy’, in: S. Piattoni, L. Polverari (Eds.), Handbook on Cohesion Policy in the EU, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham UK, Northampton, MA, USA, 491-505.

Meek, J. (2020) London Review of Books Blog. See:

Murphy, A.J. (2020) ‘The history and persistence of territory’, in: Storey, D. (Ed) A Research Agenda for territory and Territoriality, Edgar Elgar, Cheltenham, 43-60.

Storey D. (2020) ‘Territory and territoriality: Retrospect and prospect’, in: Storey, D. (Ed) A Research Agenda for territory and Territoriality, Edgar Elgar, Cheltenham, 1-24.

The graphics shows the cover of Coatleven et al. (2020)

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