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The inherent tension between regional equality and economic growth (efficiency) is recently much debated in the context of place based development policy and agglomeration in the European Union. A general conclusion reached in the literature is that a policy targeted at regional equality may be harmful for economic growth. Such policy therefore should be transformed in such a way that it also promotes the mobility of both people and firms and hence facilitates the possibilities of increased agglomeration. Recent insights from economic theories suggest that agglomeration externalities are not taken into account in the migration decision of firms and people, causing the dynamic urbanisation processes to not necessarily result in a (social) welfare optimum. This is even more so if other welfare effects than GDP and product variety are taken into account. Regional economic development is not sustainable if the dynamic urbanisation processes stemming from agglomeration economies do not lead to a welfare optimum. In this paper we assess the possibility of a non-sustainable regional development path. We conclude that strong additional negative externalities of growing large agglomerations are harder to prove than negative externalities of small agglomerations becoming smaller. Moreover, the size of short run negative effects that will stimulate the migration of people has not been adequately assessed. The European Union should therefore be careful in interpreting place-based costs and benefits of growing, large agglomerations at the detriment of small regions.

Keywords: Europe; NEG; Sustainable development; agglomeration economies; cohesion policy; externalities

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, PO Box 30314, 2500 GH The Hague, the Netherlands., Email: 2: Department of Economic Geography, Urban and Regional Research Centre Utrecht (URU), Utrecht University, PO Box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, the Netherlands., Email:

Publication date: September 1, 2010

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