At a time when Europe is growing together, cooperation between countries is becoming increasingly necessary. One of the main reasons for pursuing transnational spatial development in the Baltic Sea region is to attain a common understanding of the facts of planning.
The COMMIN project seeks to foster and develop this understanding and thus to establish a common communication basis for the exchange of knowledge and experience. In past years, most of the countries involved have modified existing planning law, or, in the countries that joined the EU in 2004, completely new planning systems have been established. No overview of the current status of planning systems in Baltic Sea region countries was available. It has therefore been the task of all eleven countries taking part in the COMMIN project to prepare an account of basic institutional and spatial planning principles and to compile a glossary of key concepts in spatial planning. The two products have been elaborated in the eleven different languages and then translated into English to provide a basis for communication about systems and concepts in the world of spatial and urban planning, and hence to promote mutual understanding as a whole.
The participating countries tackled these tasks in very different ways, but it was everywhere clear that no joint compendium comprising a description of the planning system and key planning concepts existed for all the countries of the Baltic Sea region. Many countries already had basic materials, like the ARL binational planning handbooks or an overview of formal planning instruments at the EU level produced by the VASAB project (cf. ). This was the basis on which the project could be developed.
In the interests of developing a common basis for communication, it was a particularly challenging task to provide not only a technically impeccable description of the complex systems in each country but also to formulate it in language accessible to international planners and to readers from outside the planning profession. However, comprehensibility proved an increasing difficult problem. It was almost impossible to strike an acceptable balance between a scientific account of the structure of government and administration and the entire planning system and a readable, comprehensible description for the use of non-experts at home and abroad. What exacerbated the problem was the virtual absence in Germany and other countries of official translations for technical terms in spatial planning.
Particularly confusing for participating countries was the three-tier government system in Germany, with not only the federal government at the national level and local government but also the intermediate level of the constitutive states (Bundesländer), which exercise their own state authority, as well as territorial and personal sovereignty. But this confusion is also a point of departure for the understanding process.
The German text was prepared by a team comprising planners, lawyers, economists, and administrative scientists. It required a balancing act between legal precision and communicable classification.
Finally an editorial note: to keep a text already larded with information and notes as readable as possible, we decided to use the masculine form in most cases. In principle, however masculine also stands for feminine.
There is no treatment of this subject in English that is so up to date (status December 2006) and we hope that it will contribute not only to understanding in Europe but also to the transfer of information and knowledge within the country.