ESPON – the European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion – is a research programme on European territorial development.

It was originally designed as a research network aimed at observing the EU territory. After a test phase between 1998 and 2001, the first ESPON programme was launched for the 2002-2006 period as a programme financed by the EU initiative Interreg III, followed by a second programme, ESPON 2013, for the 2007-2013 programming period.

The ESPON 2020 programme for the 2014-2020 period was adopted on 26 May 2016 by the European Commission. The managing authority is the Luxembourg Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure. 



The aim of this programme is to support the strengthening of the effectiveness of the European Union’s cohesion policy by producing, disseminating and promoting territorial analyses covering all the Member States and four partner countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).

Target Audience

1st target group:

  • European policymakers, particularly in the field of cohesion policy.
  • National policymakers and practitioners responsible for territorial cohesion, ETC programmes, macro-regional strategies and cohesion policy.
  • Authorities implementing European Structural Funds and preparing periodic reporting.
  • Regional and local policymakers and practitioners responsible for territorial cooperation.

2nd target group:

  • Organisations promoting regional or urban interests at European level
  • University academics, both researchers and students as future decision-makers
  • The private sector and a wider European public

Priority Axes

Two priority axes run this programme:

1. Territorial evidence, knowledge transfer, territorial observation and communication tool

Priority axis 1 is exercised within the framework of thematic objective 11 of the ETC Regulation. This axis is implemented through a single operation. The managing authority has appointed a single beneficiary, the ESPON EGTC based in Luxembourg.

2. Technical assistance (TA)

This axis is implemented by the managing authority.

Specific objectives

ESPON 2020 has five specific objectives

  1. Applied Research
  2. Targeted Analysis
  3. Territorial observation tools
  4. Communication
  5. Technical support

Applied research projects and targeted analyses

ESPON 2020 calls for Applied Research projects which contribute to its specific objective 1. The list of past and current projects is available on the ESPON website

With regard to the Targeted Analyses of specific objective 2, stakeholders can submit their proposals at any time. The ESPON EGTC assesses the applications twice a year. Ongoing targeted analyses are available on the ESPON website

Espon contact points

Each State involved in the ESPON programme nominates an ESPON Contact Point (ECP). Since 2002, the CGET (formerly DATAR) in France has nominated the « Réseau interdisciplinaire pour l’aménagement et la cohesion des territoires de l’Europe et de des voisinages » (RIATE) as the French contact point. 

More generally, the RIATE aims to participate in research and engineering work on European spatial planning and its neighbourhoods. It supports research and provides territorial stakeholders with knowledge tools as input for their reflexions. The role of the RIATE is seen as one of the links in the information and exchange chain between science and politics. 

ESPON projects concerning cross-border cooperation

METROBORDER Project – Cross-Border Polycentric Metropolitan Regions 

  • Project period: 2009-2010
  • Lead stakeholder: Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
  • Research coordination: University of Luxembourg

The Metroborder project is an applied research project within the framework of the ESPON second programming period 2007-2013, carried out by the University of Luxembourg. The research, initiated by a group of States (CH, LU, FR, DE, BE/Wallonia) aimed to analyse eleven cross-border polycentric metropolitan regions in Europe and, in the long run, to develop a cross-border polycentric metropolitan region (i.e. structured into several hubs) within the Greater Region and in the Upper Rhine, so as to strengthen their position in Europe.

More information on the project
Final report of the project

 ULYSSES - Using applied research results from ESPON as a yardstick for cross-border spatial development planning 

  • Project period: 2010-2012
  • Lead stakeholder: Alsace region
  • Research coordination: Fundacion TECNALIA Research & Innovation

The ULYSSES project, initiated by the AEBR and carried out by a research consortium whose lead partner is the Fundacion TECNALIA Research & Innovation, aimed at encouraging cross-border territorial analysis in European border regions in order to establish spatial planning schemes. The objective was to promote strategic consultation in cross-border territories through prior territorial analysis. The territorial analysis of six cooperation areas made it possible to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these areas, as well as best practices in cross-border territorial analysis. 

More information on the project
Project website

CPS project - Cross-border Public Services 

  • Project period: 2017-2018
  • Lead stakeholder: Sønderjylland-Schleswig Joint Secretariat and Infocenter (Denmark/Germany) 
  • Research coordination: Spatial Foresight

This project aims to provide a targeted analysis of cross-border public services, with the objective of improving the provision of cross-border public services in different border regions with different traditions of cross-border cooperation. It also involves policy makers at regional level, authorities responsible for EU-funded cooperation programmes and European organisations. The project, whose lead stakeholder is the Region Sønderjylland-Schleswig and on which the AEBR has positioned itself as a project helpdesk, brings together stakeholders from different European borders and observers, including the European Committee of the Regions, the MOT, the CESCI and the International Association of Regional Development Institutions (IARDI, Ukraine).

More information on the project

ESPON TIA CBC - Territorial Impact Assessment 

  • Project period: 2017-2020
  • Lead stakeholder: INTERREG A Deutschland- Nederland (Euregio Rijn-Waal) Joint Secretariat
  • Research coordination: to be confirmed

Funded by the ESPON programme, this project provides for the implementation of a method for defining the impact of cross-border cooperation programmes and policies on the territorial development of border regions. The MOT is taking part in this project as an observer.

In March 2014, the MOT responded to a consultation on the ESPON 2014-2020 programme.
See the consultation