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Comparative European Politics



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Over five decades a new decentralized model for the European capital city has emerged through the distribution of European Union (EU) institutions and agencies, but as the result of national compromise and competition rather than the implementation of a vision of Europe. More than a purely administrative issue, the location of EU headquarters opens questions on the nature of European spatiality, the relation between politics and space and the role of headquarters cities in that space. To date, the decentralized unplanned structure has brought economic and symbolic benefits to the host cities and nations, but has also caused—notably in Brussels—the destruction of neighbourhoods and increased socio-economic disparities. This article argues that, given the particular history and structure of the EU and the Eastern enlargement of 2004, a deliberate polycentric headquarters policy is necessary: to balance competition and collaboration among host cities, to tie the political EU capitals into larger economic network of cities, and to align it with polycentricity stipulated by the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP). Such a policy would contribute to the emergence of a postnational European space, promote European identity and synergy, and facilitate the integration of cities and citizens in Eastern Europe into the EU.