Nikola Hochholdinger, KDZ Centre for Public Administration Research Austria
Relevance of the Practice
In Austria, the Länder (subnational level), are responsible for the legislation within the field of spatial planning. Nevertheless, the planning system in Austria is rather complex and strongly differentiated. As a cross-sectional policy many different authorities on all government levels – national, regional and local – are dealing with planning tasks. Local governments in Austria are playing a crucial role in spatial planning since they are responsible for the local development planning within their own competences. Other tasks are shared competencies between two or more governmental levels. Consequently, there is an urgent and huge need for intergovernmental communication, coordination and cooperation. As there is no framework legislation on the federal level, the organization of the Austrian Conference of Spatial Planning (ÖROK), which was founded and established in 1971 by the federal government, the Länder and the municipalities, serves as the central intergovernmental communication and coordination platform in the area of spatial planning. Both local government associations – the Association of Cities and Towns and the Austrian Association of Municipalities – are equal and full members of the political decision-making body of the ÖROK. The ÖROK is connecting all three governance levels including the heads of the social and economic partners with a consulting vote. Hence, the conference is an instrument of cooperation and partnership across sectors and levels of government.
Furthermore, the ÖROK is focusing in its recent activities on many specific problems connected with the urban-rural disparities and interplay. First, the project ‘Strengthening Regional Governance’ was built on the results of the ÖREK-partnership published as ÖROK-recommendations and aimed at making further preparatory steps towards cooperative governance of functional regions and to foster urban-rural linkages. Second, the development of Austrian’s urban regions is another long-term core subject of the ÖROK which was also driven by an ÖREK-partnership called ‘Cooperation Platform Urban Regions’ resulting in the roadmap for implementing the ‘Austrian Agenda Urban Regions‘ and the recommendation ‘For an Austrian Policy for Urban Regions’. In addition, the Österreichische Stadtregionstag was initiated and established as permanent exchange platform since 2013 hosted by the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns. And third, because of its thematic focus on ‘Strategies for regions with population decline’. All these activities support both urban local governments (ULGs) and rural local governments (RLGs) to cope with spatial challenges jointly and bundle municipal resources in functional areas. The practice is related to report section 2 on local responsibilities, section 3 on local finances and section 4 on local government structure as only coordinated spatial planning between all levels of government ensures sustainable regional and local development and thus contributes to good service delivery, solid public finances and effective administrative and territorial reforms.
Description of the Practice
According to the main purpose – the multi-level and cross-sectoral coordination in the area of spatial planning and regional policy – the work of the ÖROK is threefold:
- spatial planning and development;
- regional policy;
- national contact point for EU-structural funds programs.
One of the core tasks of the ÖROK in the field of spatial planning and development is the elaboration of a common overall and nationwide strategy based on a consensual agreement of all partners: The current Austrian Spatial Development Concept (ÖREK) was published in 2011 and covers a planning period of ten years being a long lasting integrative, multi-level and cross-sectoral process where all partners work together in different thematic working groups. The ÖREK- Partnerships were established in order to implement the guidelines of the ÖREK. Although the Austrian Spatial Development Concept is not legally binding, it serves as the key guiding principle for all planning authorities in Austria. The elaboration of the ÖREK builds upon an intensive dialogue involving all members of the ÖROK and many other actors relevant for the spatial development and is accompanied by research work. For example, in the framework of the ÖREK 2030 process experts, planners and decision-makers discussed in the setting of conferences the future spatial development in Austria as well as the challenges and possible solutions at local, regional and federal level. In addition, the process was accompanied by a think tank made up of international and national experts from a wide variety of space-relevant specialist areas. A special feature of the ÖREK 2030 was the participation of so-called ‘Young Experts’. Analyses and study elaboration are other important tasks of the ÖROK. With the ÖROK Publication Series, the ÖROK Recommendations and the ÖROK Atlas as part of the Regional Monitoring System, the organization of the ÖROK provides important planning materials for Austria’s spatial development policy such as for example the ÖROK Forecasts. Furthermore, the Austrian Spatial Planning Report is published by the ÖROK in regular three-year intervals. Additionally, and with regard to the implementation of the EU structural funds in Austria, the ÖROK supports the strategical EU-programming process on national level (‘Partnership Agreement Strat.at 2020’) and hosts the Austrian management authority for the Investment for Growth and Jobs/ERDF program 2014-2020. Within the framework of European Territorial Cooperation, the ÖROK is serving as National Contact Point for promoting the respective EU-programs and provides support both for potential applicants and grantees.
As a multi-level organization, the ÖROK integrates representatives of all of its partners within its permanent bodies. On the political level, the ÖROK is comprised of the Austrian Chancellor, the federal ministers, the provincial governors (Landeshauptleute), the presidents of the Association of Cities and Towns and the Austrian Association of Municipalities, the social and economic partners. On the administrative level there is the Commission of Deputies which is functioning as a preparatory organ for the political conference. The Standing Sub-Committee is responsible for the ÖREK, the ÖROK studies and publications and the ÖROK-Atlas. Furthermore, the Sub-Committee Regional Economy is acting as a coordination platform for all issues concerning the regional policy of the EU and its implementation in Austria. And finally, there is a national committee for the transnational and interregional cooperation and network programs.
Assessment of the Practice
In Austria there is a long tradition of balancing out different interests within an intensive multi-lateral dialogue and partnership agreements (e.g. social partnership). Although the recommendations of the ÖROK are not legally binding, the work and activities of this multi-level organization have a crucial impact on the relationships and planning praxis of all authorities by improving the intergovernmental dialogue and providing various planning tools and materials. During the last decades the ÖROK has set up an effective and efficient communication and cooperation system where all partners – the UGLs as well as the RGLs – are treated equally. With several formal bodies and many other soft (informal) formats the ÖROK has initiated a lot of different processes and developed some good working mechanisms of cooperation, strengthening the intergovernmental relations and giving all municipalities a voice at the national level concerning the spatial development. The ÖROK has succeeded in overcoming administrative borders especially between the Austrian Länder and between urban and sub-urban regions. It is acting as a permanent interface picking up new topics both bottom-up and top-down and addressing especially the problems connected with the urban-rural disparities and the regional interplay. Therefore, the ÖROK is strengthening the local level by supporting the needs of the urban and rural municipalities not only within its intergovernmental dialogue and by involving them into the elaboration and implementation of the overall Austrian planning strategy. The information and communication forums offered by the ÖROK and in particular the ÖREK-partnerships are very much appreciated and highly valued by all parties for the creation of a common understanding and of concrete implementations. This can also be seen as the resulting products of the ÖROK – the monitoring system as well as their publications and planning materials – are often used as a crucial background information for political decisions (e.g. population prognosis).
References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications
Gruber M, Kanonier A, Pohn-Weidinger S and Schindelegger A, ‘Raumordnung in Österreich und Bezüge zur Raumentwicklung und Regionalpolitik‘ (publication series no 202, ÖROK 2018) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/Bilder/5.Reiter-Publikationen/_%c3%96ROK_202_en_klein_HP.pdf>
Österreichisches Raumentwicklungskonzept ÖREK, ‘Roadmap zur Umsetzung der “Agenda Stadtregionen in Österreich“‘ (ÖROK 2017) <https://www.stadtregionen.at/uploads/files/RoadmapAgendaStadtregionen_FINAL.pdf>
Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz ÖROK, ‘ÖREK-Partnerschaft Regionale Handlungsebene stärken – Fachliche Empfehlungen und Materialienband‘ (publication series no 194, ÖROK 2015) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/publikationen/Schriftenreihe/194/OEROK-SR_194_web.pdf>
—— ‘Agenda Stadtregionen in Österreich Empfehlungen der ÖREK-Partnerschaft “Kooperationsplattform Stadtregion“ und Materialienband‘ (publication series no 198, ÖROK 2016) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/publikationen/Schriftenreihe/198/OEROK-SR_198_web.pdf>
—— ‘ÖROK-Empfehlung Nr. 55 Für eine Stadtregionspolitik in Österreich’ (ÖROK 2017) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/fileadmin/Bilder/2.Reiter-Raum_u._Region/5.Empfehlungen/OEROK-Empfehlung_Nr._55_angenommen_HP.pdf>
—— ‘Ergebnisse der ÖREK-Partnerschaft Agenda Stadtregionen in Österreich Empfehlungen der ÖREK-Partnerschaft “Kooperationsplattform Stadtregion“ und Materialienband‘ (issue 6, ÖROK 2018)
—— ‘Ergebnisse der ÖREK-Partnerschaft: “Strategien für Regionen mit Bevölkerungsrückgang“ Broschüre der ÖREK-Partnerschaft‘ (issue 6, ÖROK 2018) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/fileadmin/bestellservice/publikationen_pdf/broschuere_Ergebnisse_der_oerok-Partnerschaft_Strategien_fuer_Regionen_mit_Bevoelkerungsrueckgang_kurzfassungDE.pdf>
—— ‘15. Raumordnungsbericht Analysen und Berichte zur räumlichen Entwicklung Österreichs 2015-2017‘ (publication series no 204, ÖROK 2018)
—— ‘Die regionale Handlungsebene stärken – Status, Impulse und Perspektiven‘ (publication series no 208, ÖROK 2020) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/O__ROK_SR_NR._208__2020__Reg_HE_online-Version.pdf>
—— ‘Österreichisches Raumentwicklungskonzept ÖREK 2011´ (ÖROK, last updated 2021) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/raum/oesterreichisches-raumentwicklungskonzept/oerek-2011> ÖROK website, <https://www.oerok.gv.at>
 Markus Gruber, Arthur Kanonier, Simon Pohn-Weidinger and Arthur Schindelegger, ‘Raumordnung in Österreich und Bezüge zur Raumentwicklung und Regionalpolitik‘ (publication series no 202, ÖROK 2018) 10.
 Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz ÖROK, ´Die regionale Handlungsebene stärken – Status, Impulse und Perspektiven´ (publication series no 208, ÖROK 2020).
 ÖREK, Austrian Spatial Development Concept.
 Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz ÖROK, ´ÖREK-Partnerschaft Regionale Handlungsebene stärken – Fachliche Empfehlungen und Materialienband‘ (publication series no 194, ÖROK 2015).
 Österreichisches Raumentwicklungskonzept ÖREK, ‘Roadmap zur Umsetzung der “Agenda Stadtregionen in Österreich“‘ (ÖREK 2017) <https://www.stadtregionen.at/uploads/files/RoadmapAgendaStadtregionen_FINAL.pdf> accessed 2 August 2019.
 Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz ÖROK, ‘ÖROK-Empfehlung Nr. 55 Für eine Stadtregionspolitik in Österreich’ (ÖROK 2017).
 See ‘Aufgaben und Produkte‘ (ÖROK, 2021) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/oerok/aufgaben-und-produkte>.
Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz ÖROK, ‘Österreichisches Raumentwicklungskonzept (ÖREK) 2011´ (ÖROK 2011) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/raum/oesterreichisches-raumentwicklungskonzept/oerek-2011>.
 Österreichisches Raumentwicklungskonzept 2030, <https://www.oerok.gv.at/oerek-2030>.
 Österreichische Raumordnungskonferenz ÖROK, ‘15. Raumordnungsbericht Analysen und Berichte zur räumlichen Entwicklung Österreichs 2015-2017‘ (publication series no 204, ÖROK 2018).
 See Johannes Roßbacher and Markus Seidl, ‘Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning’ (ÖROK undated) <https://www.oerok.gv.at/fileadmin/user_upload/Bilder/1.OEROK/OEROK_Folder_EN.pdf>.
 Gruber and others, ‘Raumordnung in Österreich und Bezüge zur Raumentwicklung und Regionalpolitik‘, above, 66.
 The social partnership in Austria comprises four associations at the federal level: on the employers’ side the Austrian Chamber of Commerce (WKÖ) and the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture (LKÖ), on the employee side the Federal Chamber of Labor (BAK) and the Austrian Trade Union Confederation (ÖGB). The social partnership has an advisory function. See ‘Sozialpartner. Was ist das?’ (Die Sozialpartnerschaft Österreich, 2015) <https://www.sozialpartner.at/?page_id=127>.
 The Commission of Deputies is consisting of the section leaders, the directors of the provincial government offices, the secretary generals including different committees and working groups.
 Gruber and others, ‘Raumordnung in Österreich und Bezüge zur Raumentwicklung und Regionalpolitik‘, above, 12.
 e.g. Commission of Deputies, ÖREK Partnerships, working groups, etc.
 Gruber and others, ‘Raumordnung in Österreich und Bezüge zur Raumentwicklung und Regionalpolitik‘, above, 45.