Subnational governments in transnational networks for sustainable development

  • Sander Happaerts
  • Karoline Van den Brande
  • Hans Bruyninckx
Original paper


Since the 1970s, subnational entities such as provinces, states or regions have joined together in transnational associations based upon common interests, especially in Europe. Such transnational networks of subnational governments have also been created in the sphere of sustainable development, a policy domain that is largely shaped in multilateral decision-making settings and that is characterized by complexity and uncertainty, urging policy-makers to learn from other governments. Those networks have both external and internal objectives. On the one hand, they want to represent their members at international organizations and influence multilateral decision-making. On the other hand, they are aimed at fostering cooperation between subnational governments and at stimulating policy learning. After presenting a typology of existing networks in the sphere of sustainable development, the article presents a comparative analysis of the participation of the Belgian entities Flanders and Wallonia in ENCORE (Environmental Conference of the European Regions) and nrg4SD (Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development). The research shows that Flanders and Wallonia use networks mostly for formal and informal cooperation but not for influencing multilateral decision-making for sustainable development. The external dimension of the networks, however, is applied for identity politics. The analysis also demonstrates that little political capital is invested in the networks.


ENCORE Governance Identity politics nrg4SD Sustainable development Transnational networks of subnational governments 



Association of European Border Regions


Assembly of European Regions


Association Internationale des Régions Francophones


Council of European Municipalities and Regions


Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions in Europe


European Clusters and Regions for Eco-innovation and Eco-investments Network


Environmental Conference of the European Regions


Environmental Platform of Regional Offices


European Union


Forum of Global Associations of Regions


Innovating Regions in Europe


International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources


Lisbon Regions Network


Network of Regional Governments for Sustainable Development


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Peri Urban Regions Platform Europe


Conference of European Regions with Legislative Powers


Network of European Regions on Education for Sustainability


Sustainable European Regions


United Nations


United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


World Commission on Environment and Development



This research was funded by the Flemish Policy Research Centre for Sustainable Development ( The authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sander Happaerts
    • 1
  • Karoline Van den Brande
    • 1
  • Hans Bruyninckx
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for International and European PolicyKULeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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