Economic and social cohesion represents the second largest object of EU expenditure (after the common agricultural policy). Still, it is harder to find a definition of cohesion than descriptions of its components and policy instruments.
The policies are heavily weighted to combat regional disparities, and the Treaty of Lisbon would make express mention of the territorial dimension of cohesion.
Here is a treaty level introduction to the world of economic, social and territorial cohesion.
Article 158 TEC
Article 158 TEC (ex Article 130a) builds on the concept cohesion without defining it.
This takes the form of efforts to reduce the disparities between various regions. The backwardness of the least favoured regions or islands, including rural areas, is emphasised.
Here is the current Article 158 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), as published in the latest consolidated version of the treaties, OJEU 29.12.2006 C 321 E/118:
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COHESION
Article 158 TEC
In order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Community shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic and social cohesion.
In particular, the Community shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions or islands, including rural areas.
Original Lisbon Treaty (ToL)
Although the Treaty of Lisbon is unreadable on its own, it spells out how or if the current treaties are amended.
Sometimes there are no specific amendments, although most of the times one or more of the horizontal amendments apply.
Article 2, points 130 and 131 of the Lisbon Treaty amended the Title heading and Article 158 TEC (OJEU 17.12.2007 C 306/84–85):
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND TERRITORIAL COHESION
130) The heading of Title XVII shall be replaced by: ‘ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND TERRITORIAL COHESION’.
131) Article 158 shall be amended as follows:
(a) in the first paragraph, the words ‘economic and social cohesion’ shall be replaced by ‘economic, social and territorial cohesion’;
(b) in the second paragraph, the words ‘or islands, including rural areas’ shall be deleted;
(c) the following new paragraph shall be added:
‘Among the regions concerned, particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions.’.
The Table of equivalences of the original Treaty of Lisbon tells us that Title XVII first became Title XVII with the addition of territorial in the TFEU (ToL), and renumbered Title XVIII Economic, social and territorial cohesion in the consolidated version.
Article 158 TEC initially became Article 158 TFEU (ToL) before the renumbering of the treaty made it into Article 174 TFEU in the consolidated version (OJ 17.12.2007 C 306/217).
Lisbon Treaty consolidated
Article 174 TFEU
Territorial has been added to the Title, which has been renumbered. The Article has been renumbered. The Community has been replaced by the Union. The specific amendments have been inserted.
Article 174 TFEU appears like this in the consolidated version of the Treaty of Lisbon (OJ 9.5.2008 C 115/127):
ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND TERRITORIAL COHESION
Article 174 TFEU
(ex Article 158 TEC)
In order to promote its overall harmonious development, the Union shall develop and pursue its actions leading to the strengthening of its economic, social and territorial cohesion.
In particular, the Union shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions.
Among the regions concerned, particular attention shall be paid to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions.
Cohesion will henceforth evoke the economic, social and territorial dimensions of a concept not immediately clear to non-French readers. (But the concrete manifestations are measurable in euros.)
The new paragraphs 2 and 3 add up to the corresponding paragraphs of Article III-220 of the Constitutional Treaty.
The third subparagraph of Article 3(3) of the amended Treaty on European Union (TEU) states that the EU shall promote economic, social and territorial cohesion, and solidarity among member states.
EU powers in general
The powers of the European Union are attributed or conferred by the member states through the treaties (including their aims). The Treaty of Lisbon makes an effort to present the different categories of competence (as they are modestly called) in a systematic manner.
The taxonomy of EU competence is set out in Article 2 TFEU. The three main or general categories are exclusive competence in 2(1), shared competence in 2(2) as well as supporting, coordinating or supplementing competences in 2(5), although the exact scope and arrangements are laid out in the various treaty provisions as stated in 2(6):
Article 2 TFEU
1. When the Treaties confer on the Union exclusive competence in a specific area, only the Union may legislate and adopt legally binding acts, the Member States being able to do so themselves only if so empowered by the Union or for the implementation of Union acts.
2. When the Treaties confer on the Union a competence shared with the Member States in a specific area, the Union and the Member States may legislate and adopt legally binding acts in that area. The Member States shall exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has not exercised its competence. The Member States shall again exercise their competence to the extent that the Union has decided to cease exercising its competence.
3. The Member States shall coordinate their economic and employment policies within arrangements as determined by this Treaty, which the Union shall have competence to provide.
4. The Union shall have competence, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty on European Union, to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy.
5. In certain areas and under the conditions laid down in the Treaties, the Union shall have competence to carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the Member States, without thereby superseding their competence in these areas.
Legally binding acts of the Union adopted on the basis of the provisions of the Treaties relating to these areas shall not entail harmonisation of Member States' laws or regulations.
6. The scope of and arrangements for exercising the Union's competences shall be determined by the provisions of the Treaties relating to each area.
Article 4 TFEU: Shared competence
Economic, social and territorial cohesion is mentioned among the competences listed as shared in Article 4 TFEU:
Article 4 TFEU
1. The Union shall share competence with the Member States where the Treaties confer on it a competence which does not relate to the areas referred to in Articles 3 and 6.
2. Shared competence between the Union and the Member States applies in the following principal areas:
(a) internal market;
(b) social policy, for the aspects defined in this Treaty;
(c) economic, social and territorial cohesion;
(d) agriculture and fisheries, excluding the conservation of marine biological resources;
(f) consumer protection;
(h) trans-European networks;
(j) area of freedom, security and justice;
(k) common safety concerns in public health matters, for the aspects defined in this Treaty.
3. In the areas of research, technological development and space, the Union shall have competence to carry out activities, in particular to define and implement programmes; however, the exercise of that competence shall not result in Member States being prevented from exercising theirs.
4. In the areas of development cooperation and humanitarian aid, the Union shall have competence to carry out activities and conduct a common policy; however, the exercise of that competence shall not result in Member States being prevented from exercising theirs.
The intergovernmental conference approved a Declaration (33) on island states:
33. Declaration on Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
The Conference considers that the reference in Article 174 to island regions can include island States in their entirety, subject to the necessary criteria being met.
The concept cohesion seems to be rather elusive, but concrete policy instruments and budget lines are easier to come by. Here is the description offered by the Scadplus (Europa Glossary) web page Economic, social and territorial cohesion (no date given):