The persistence and exacerbation of territorial disparities in the European Union, coupled with the insecurity that the economic crisis and austerity policy have generated, threaten the vision of cohesion underpinning EU policy in the past decade(s). Spatial justice lies at the centre of the RELOCAL project, taking a decidedly bottom-up approach within a multilevel context. It departs from the basic premise that localities and their functional spaces represent the contextual nexus where the relationship between individuals and spatial justice unfolds. Thus, a core rationale of the RELOCAL project is to contribute to conceptually and empirically expanding the knowledge base on spatial justice and territorial inequalities, identifying the policies promoting spatial justice and socio-economic well-being at various levels of governance.
At the onset, the RELOCAL project undertakes a critical review of the literature about spatial justice associated with territorial cohesion, sustainable development and solidarity in order to develop a theoretical framework that includes these concepts and an analysis of the variety of European territorial models. One challenging aspect in this regard is linking the European Cohesion Policy debate more directly to ethical questions that have been raised in political and social theory regarding “fairness” and “justice”. As an element of spatial justice in territorial cohesion, fairness would require greater social understanding, more targeted engagement with different groups and their specific needs, and sensitivity to questions of access, opportunity and local capabilities. An important step in advancing current debate regarding the role of place-based development, local strategies and sustainability within broader understandings of cohesion, would be to elaborate notions of locale and the significance of the local in terms of theoretical conceptualisations, development scenarios and potential policy options.