A new programming period of Cohesion Policy lies ahead and the debates surrounding the reform could not omit the high priority partnership represents for the successful implementation of the policy. Two decades after, the evidence is widely scattered among countries (even more between regions), on what concerns partnership implementation, factors that contribute or hinder its realization and the spillover effects (Kelleher et al. 1999; EC-DG Regio, 2005; EP, 2008, EESC, 2010). The poor attention to the horizontal dimension of partnership leads us to think there is a missing element in the puzzle: is it enough to formally apply the principle of partnership or solutions of 'network' nature between wide range of actors is needed to achieve the effectiveness of the policy?In this contribution, we discuss the ambiguity of the partnership principle and the puzzling evidence of 'partnership winners and laggards'. In this attempt we proceed in two stages: first, we analytically refine the concept of partnership diving it into two categories and measure it. Going back in time, based on a comparison of three regional cases (Silesia, Saxony and Apulia), it can be seen how partnership moved in certain contexts from formal requirement at planning stage to various forms of partnership arrangements during the implementation. While certain actors have more access-points compared to others but factors differ in each context, it is showed that formal partnership is not necessarily a 'fertile soil' for real joint collaborations between administration and societal actors. To explain why this happens, at the second stage, we posit three clusters of variables, which differently influence the creation of partnerships: capacity (for public administrations) organisational (for societal actors) and contextual (leadership, experience and money). Our study suggests, related also to the debate on (new) public governance as influenced by partnership principle, that alongside network modes, market and hierarchy-style governing determines the dynamics of multi-organizational partnerships in cohesion policy.
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