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.

The programme ESPON 2013 for the 2007-2013 programming period was adopted by the European Commission on 7 November 2007. Its budget amounts to €47 million, 75% of which is funded by the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) under the “European territorial cooperation” objective of cohesion policy (interregional cooperation). The remaining 25% is financed by the 31 participating countries: the 27 Member States (Croatia was invited to join the programme), Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The latter countries had already taken part in the ESPON programme in 2002-2006.

Its aim is to contribute to the formulation of European policies relating to the objective of territorial cohesion and harmonious development of the EU territory. To do this, it needs to provide comparable data, information, analyses and scenarios for territorial dynamics. The purpose of the programme is to make available knowledge and territorial potential for the development of larger regions and territories, thus contributing to the competitiveness, territorial cooperation and sustainable and balanced development of these territories.

The five priorities for the ESPON programme in 2013 are:

  • Priority 1: Applied research on territorial development, competitiveness and cohesion
  • Priority 2: Targeted research responding to practitioners’ needs and European perspectives for different types of territory
  • Priority 3: Tools for a scientific platform and territorial indicators for the production of comparable data and tools for analysis and scientific support
  • Priority 4: Capitalisation and activities of the network
  • Priority 5: Technical assistance, analytical support and the communication plan

The programme is based on a system of calls for proposals that are issued regularly to which consortiums of researchers respond. These consortiums must include teams from at least three different countries, a “project leader” team and partner teams.