Since the reform of the Structural Funds in 1989, the EU has made the principle of cohesion one of its key policies. Much of the language of European cohesion policy eschews the idea of trade-offs between efficiency and equity, suggesting it is possible to maximize overall growth while also achieving continuous convergence in outcomes and productivity across Europe's regions. Yet, given the rise in inter-regional disparities, it is unclear that cohesion policy has altered the pathway of development from what would have occurred in the absence of intervention. This article draws on geographical economics, institutionalist social science and endogenous growth theory, with the aim of providing a fresh look at cohesion policy. By highlighting a complex set of potential trade-offs and interrelations – overall growth and efficiency; inter-territorial equity; territorial democracy and governance capacities; and social equity within places – it revisits the rationale of cohesion policy, with particular attention to the geographical dynamics of economic development
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