How to deal with conflictual central policy approaches? Spatial regional governance dynamics in Flanders unpacked.


  • Pieterjan Schraepen Ghent University
  • Prof. Dr. Joris Voets Ghent University


intergovernmental collaboration, spatial governance, rescaling, regional governance, conflict dynamics




In many national contexts, societal policy challenges are more interconnected than ever, necessitating the development of a new collaborative approach and the forging of broad coalitions. The regional level is often highlighted in the literature as a suitable scale to achieve various forms of policy integration (Gualini, 2006). The region is framed as a platform where diverse societal objectives can be realized by facilitating interaction among different actors and policy levels (Fricke & Gualini, 2018).

Various policy dynamics within many EU states attempt to concretely address these societal challenges. Developments range from those situated in the relational sphere of projects and programs on one hand to more systemic reforms that are territorially oriented on the other, intervening at the basic tiers of government (Zimmerman et al., 2020). However, the specific configuration of the regional space resulting from diverse, often conflicting central policy initiatives and particularly the friction such a (compartmentalized) central approach can cause, often remains overlooked.

This contribution focuses on a specific set of policy developments descending from the central government to the regional level. It zooms in on the concrete interplay that can arise between these various policy dynamics, examining how these policy initiatives interact with each other, potentially leading to conflicts or administrative innovations, and identifying the tensions and contradictions underlying them (Christmann et al., 2020).

Evidence is presented from Flanders (northern part of Belgium), where diverse regional policy dynamics and reforms are in progress within the current governance set-up, appearing to form a complex ensemble. This contribution specifically examines the role of conflicting policy systems within the broad domain of spatial planning.

More specifically, we delve into the interplay of three central Flemish policy developments that seem to evolve rather independently from one another in the present policy context:

  • The Flemish mobility regions reform as a tool for integrated regional planning by establishing a more intense intergovernmental cooperation platform for addressing urban mobility & planning issues through this new governance approach.
  • The Flemish region formation process as a generic central policy development that aspires to coordinate cross-policy cooperation more strongly by working with a fixed reference region scale.
  • The elaboration of a new Flemish policy approach through 'region deals' aiming to enable regional cooperation across different levels of government around spatial objectives and cooperation as equal partners, by determining how, by whom, and by what means these objectives will be realized.

We approach the interplay of these three policy dynamics as a new policy arena where, through the confrontation of these dynamics, new possibilities for collaboration and innovation can emerge, albeit with room for conflict, where various considerations and compromises between diverse positions and interests can find a way (Kuhn, 2021; Rangoni, 2020).


Christmann, G. B., Ibert, O., Jessen, J., & Walther, U. J. (2020). Innovations in spatial planning as a social process–phases, actors, conflicts. European Planning Studies, 28(3), 496-520.

Fricke, C., & Gualini, E. (2018). Metropolitan regions as contested spaces: The discursive construction of metropolitan space in comparative perspective. Territory, Politics, Governance, 6(2), 199-221.

Gualini, E. (2006). The rescaling of governance in Europe: New spatial and institutional rationales. European Planning Studies, 14(7), 881-904.

Kühn, M. (2021). Agonistic planning theory revisited: The planner’s role in dealing with conflict. Planning Theory, 20(2), 143-156.

Rangoni, B. (2022). Experimentalist governance. In Handbook on Theories of Governance (pp. 592-603). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Zimmermann, K., Galland, D., & Harrison, J. (Eds.). (2020). Metropolitan regions, planning and governance. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.