Tilburg Center for Regional Law and Governance (TiREG) officially opened
On Thursday February 4th, 2016, the Tilburg Center for Regional Law and Governance (TiREG) was officially opened with a festive launch, set in Cinecitta, a beautifully restored old cinema in the city center of Tilburg.
With more than 120 participants, including academics and students from Tilburg University and other national and international knowledge institutions, representatives of international and European organizations, officials of national, regional and local government institutions, as well as leaders of business and non-governmental organizations, the opening was a memorable and inspiring event.
After the welcoming words by prof.dr. Martijn Groenleer, Professor of Regional Law and Governance at Tilburg University and director of TiREG, several of renowned speakers addressed the role of the region in effectively and legitimately dealing with complex (societal) problems and stimulating sustainable (economic) growth and innovation.
Return of the region
All speakers emphasized the ‘comeback’ of the region, in parallel with processes of globalization and Europeanization, requiring a renewed focus on regional law and governance.
Ms Anne-Marie Spierings, member of the Provincial Executive in Noord-Brabant, and responsible for agricultural development, energy and governance, kicked off by outlining the challenges for regional governance in the area of agricultural development and energy – both areas where fundamental changes need to take place. Spierings shared her concerns about the slow pace of the transition in energy. “The governance challenge in regard to great transitions is how to achieve the right amount of coordination between all stakeholders in their decision-making and follow through”, she told participants.
Prof.dr. Ernst Hirsch Ballin, Professor of Dutch and European Constitutional Law at Tilburg University, and affiliated with TiREG, referred to the profound changes in our society that require a refocusing on the region, as the space in between European and national structures on the one hand and small-scale local arrangements on the other hand. “When we talk about regions’’, he said, “we should always think about citizens because it is citizens who ultimately have the ability to make connections.”
The learning and innovative region: how effective?
The following three speakers focused on the region as a living lab for experimentation, learning and, indeed, innovation, inspired by the overarching question: how to devise regional governance structures that ‘work’?
Dr. Rudiger Ahrend, head of the OECD’s urban policy program, presented recent work of the OECD in the area of metropolitan governance. He showed that organizations dedicated to metropolitan area governance are common in the OECD, but that their competences vary. Ahrend also showed that metropolitan governance bodies matter for economic and social outcomes. The existence of such organisations is related with better performance, for instance in regard of public transport systems and environmental issues.
Mrs. Lia Voermans subsequently shared her experiences as director of the Delta Region office, coordinating a triple helix network in the Flemish-Dutch Delta region, with business in the lead. She emphasized the progress made in establishing smart connections, but also pointed to the many questions that remain about how to organize collaboration between government, business and knowledge institutions, and measuring the results thereof. Referring to the cartoon figure ‘Barbapapa’, she suggested that collaborations should be able to constantly shift shape, adapting to the dynamics in society.
Also prof.dr. Hans Mommaas, Director of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), and Professor of Regional Sustainability Governance with TiREG, described the region as more than simply an administrative unit. Rather than fixed territories, regions are fluid spaces in which socio-spatial interdependencies are dynamic, and in which continuous learning and ‘adaptive knowledge’ are key. According to Mommaas the central question for research and practice is: “How to organize and steer such fluid spaces”?
The inclusive and responsive region: how legitimate?
During a second round of contributions speakers focused on the issues that arise in regard of citizenship and democratic legitimacy as a result of a renewed focus of the region. They all, in one way or the other, addressed the question: how to devise legitimate regional governance structures?
Mr. Thomas Wobben, Director for Horizontal Networks and Studies of the Committee of the Regions, mentioned the work being done by the CoR to bring the EU closer to its citizens. Making use of their proximity to people and their problems, regions and cities can play a central role in multilevel governance structures. Reacting to the presentation of Mommaas, Wobben argued that even - or perhaps especially - if regions are fluid spaces this requires thinking about arrangements for representation and participation of EU citizens.
Also Mr. Gert-Jan Buitendijk, Director-General for Public Governance at the Netherlands Ministry of the Interior, argued that the region increasingly matters – socially, economically, ecologically, culturally, but that politically and administratively speaking the region deserves much more attention. Research needs to focus on regional structures and their characteristics, as well as the adaptive capacity of such structures. With regard to democratic legitimacy, he called for alternatives to be developed complementing or substituting traditional forms of representation and participation in local and regional politics and administration.
In his address, prof.dr. Anders Lidström, Professor of Local and Regional Politics at Umeå University, focused on democratically legitimate governance of city-regions. He stressed the importance of the citizen perspective and posed the demos question: what is the appropriate community for democracy? To answer this question, Lidström suggested using communitarian theory to distinguish various criteria and he provided evidence from two regions in Sweden applying these criteria. He mentioned comparisons and comparing (among and within regions, and with other forms of governance or levels of government) as the key challenge for research.
Before officially opening TiREG, prof.dr. Wim van de Donk, Commissioner of the King in the Province of Noord-Brabant, reiterated the return of the region, not so much as a scale or a level, but as a notion of governance requiring fundamental research. New concepts are needed to grasp the novel role of the region, according to Van de Donk, introducing the concept of ‘regionomics’. Regionomics refers to an economic model in which inclusiveness and connectedness are key values and as part of which governments, businesses and knowledge institutions together invest in a regional ecosystem of innovation and development.
Spontaneously awarding Professor Groenleer with his Province of Noord-Brabant tie, Commissioner van de Donk congratulated TiREG with the official opening. He was joined on stage by Tilburg mayor Peter Noordanus and rector magnificus of Tilburg University Prof.dr Emile Aarts, who both welcomed the opening of TiREG, for region, city, as well as university.
Watch the short animation about TiREG’s plans and ambitions shown during the launch.
Research on the region
As a joint initiative of Tilburg University and the Province of Noord-Brabant, TiREG studies the novel interactions that emerge among governments, businesses, civil society and knowledge institutions in the context of the region – in the Netherlands and beyond. For that purpose, the Center brings together law and public administration scholars as well as economists and researchers from other Dutch universities, notably Eindhoven University of Technology, to cooperate on research in the field of regional law and governance.