Territorial impacts of COVID-19 and policy answers in European regions and cities

City of Amsterdam

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis of social, political and economic systems throughout Europe and the world. Since March 2020, European authorities have taken diverse measures to contain the spread of the virus (reactive policy). In some cases, the crisis was used as an opportunity (proactive policy) to tackle other issues, such as accelerating the just, green or smart transitions. As part of a wider European study, PBL investigated the policy response in the Netherlands, focusing on the municipality of Amsterdam. The study found that most national-level policies were largely reactive and economically oriented, whereas local policies were broader in scope 

This case study report carried out by PBL is part of a wider ESPON study on the territorial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic in Europe and the policy response by countries, regions and cities. The fourteen case studies sought to investigate the degree to which proactive policies (i.e. policies which sought to use the crisis as an opportunity to tackle other issues) were established at the regional or local level and to estimate their impact. In order to ensure cross-case comparability, the structure and approach of this report is identical to the other case study reports. For example, Section 3 contains an extensive overview of relevant policies implemented in the Netherlands with respect to the just, green and smart transitions. In addition, the period under investigation conformed to that of the project as a whole: up to September 2021, roughly the first three waves of the pandemic.

Among other things, the research found:

  • The impacts of the pandemic in Amsterdam were in many ways atypical for the country, given the economic structure oriented towards tourism and international business as well as prevailing issues of labour market shortage, rapidly rising housing prices and growing social inequality.
  • Not the municipal or regional government was responsible for coordinating the Covid-19 response, but the national government. The strategy was overwhelmingly reactive, although the pandemic did heighten the urgency of reforming the healthcare system and linking this to social policy.
  • The policy response at the municipal level was largely reactive as well. In some cases, however, Amsterdam accelerated the achievement of other goals during the pandemic. These were largely in line with existing strategies or priorities, rather than being caused by the crisis.
  • The pandemic impacted governance. Coordination between healthcare providers, insurers and the municipality intensified. In addition, the municipal political culture became more holistic and cooperative. Finally, regional coordination was not hampered, and perhaps even facilitated by increased digitization.
  • The Netherlands was the only country in the European Union not to have submitted a recovery plan during the period under investigation. As a result, less explicit emphasis was placed on using to crisis to further the just, green and smart transitions than other case studies. Given the budgetary constraints in Amsterdam, EU money could have supported the implementation proactive policies.


PBL Authors
David Evers Guus de Hollander


Publication title
Territorial impacts of COVID-19 and policy answers in European regions and cities (TERRCOV)
Publication subtitle
City of Amsterdam
Publication date
6 November 2022
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