Collaboration despite differences: In the EU, cross-border regions such as the Rhine-Meuse-North Euregio are witness to some of the most dynamic exchanges of people, knowledge, services, and goods, actively redefining the meaning of borders and of the nation itself. This regional and local cooperation is often a grassroots effort, a spontaneous action happening individual of capitals’ control. How can the EU improve its collaboration as a union of states through the model of regional border cooperation?
Committee on Regional Development (REGI)
Amanda Häkkinen (FI)
Topic at a Glance
Cross-border cooperation is a part of daily life for almost 30% of all EU citizens and plays an imperative role in European integration. People living in border regions face various administrative and legal obstacles in their daily lives, including different social security systems. Solving these issues requires cross-border cooperation to be made run smoothly without hampering its spontaneity and authenticity.
European border regions, also known as Euroregions, are a defining feature of European geography, with internal borders regions covering 40% of the EU territory and hosting almost 30% of EU citizens. Border regions are not simply intersections of two or more Member States, but unique areas that facilitate a fluid exchange of social, cultural, political, and economic influences. They serve a unique function in European integration: on the one hand, the status of internal borders has diminished since the creation of the EU, but on the other hand, border areas and their citizens have become a source of intuitive and natural territorial cooperation.
Although border regions constitute potential areas for optimal European integration where studying, working, and moving across borders is a daily occurrence, they often lag behind in development and are typically located far away from the national capitals, with less developed public transportation than elsewhere in the country. Despite internal border regions’ significant contributions to the EU’s economy as they produce 30% of the Union’s GDP, their citizens are reported to cope worse economically than those living in non-border regions. They also often lack access to hospitals and educational institutes. The EU’s unique border areas can only utilise their full potential for innovation, social cohesion and integration if they are provided with the resources and administrative uniformity to do so. In order to achieve this, the EU must come closer to its citizens and ensure they can carry out their daily activities regardless of the existence of an administrative national border.
Relevant Policy Measures and Legal Framework
European Cross-Border Cooperation (ECBC) is encompassed within European Territorial Cooperation (ETC). In addition to ECBC, it covers transnational and interregional cooperation. ETC has been an instrument of the EU’s cohesion policy since 1990, which aims at promoting and facilitating the “overall harmonious development” of Member States and their regions. As a part of the cohesion policy, ETC is constructed to solve problems that despite transcending national borders require a common solution. In 2007, the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) was created to bring uniformity and legal and administrative stability to cooperation with border regions. ETC programmes are planned and financed for seven-year programming periods as a part of the European cohesion policy and run parallel to the EU’s long-term budgetary periods. Within the EU budget, ETC is financially supported by the European Structural and Investment Funds. Three main Funds specifically target the areas of ETC: European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), and the Cohesion Fund (CF). Given the long policy cycle, ETC programmes must seek to foresee future challenges and changes within the Union.
Almost 75% of the allocated resources to ETC in 2014-2020 are used to finance ECBC programmes, also known as Interreg A. They aim at fostering cross-border cooperation between NUTS 3 regions in at least two Member States located either directly on the border or close to the border area. In 2014-2020, the EU funded around 60 ECBC programmes in various border regions, such as between South-East Finland and Russia, Italy and Slovenia, and in the Euregio Rhine-Meuse-North between the Netherlands and Germany. In the latter region, the EU has for example funded language courses, exchange programmes, and internship opportunities for vocational school students to explore cross-border job markets. In the border region between Finland and Russia, the EU and national governments provide funding for projects that seek to tackle interregional problems, such as environmental protection and business development.
With regard to the legal framework underpinning ECBC, the importance of cross-border cooperation is recognised in Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which acknowledges the special challenges of internal border regions. The ETC is revised, updated, and reformed under the ordinary legislative procedure.
Further Research and Questions
Internal border regions provide a significant contribution to the Union’s economic, historical, cultural, and social wealth. In cross-border areas, European integration becomes a tangible part of everyday life, be it through working in another country and getting back home for supper, receiving treatment across the border or learning another language at daycare. However, these unique elements of border areas are threatened by administrative and legal differences between Member States, additional bureaucracy in areas of social security, recognition of credentials, and technical standards, and a significant distance between ordinary citizens and the EU’s cross-border programmes.
- How can the EU most efficiently allocate its funding to further cross-border cooperation?
- How can Member States strike a balance between reducing the negative impact of the territorial, legal, and administrative discontinuities while maintaining national sovereignty in governance?
- How can the EU support local grassroots cross-border efforts without hampering their spontaneity and authenticity?
- How can Member States ensure an efficient share of health care resources and an unobstructed access of healthcare personnel to the country in need in case of an emergency?
- How can the EU foster multilingual and multicultural innovation in its cross-border areas?