The wondrous living in the European Union @ the border: Chamonix, France.

This post is about Recent Territorial Reforms in (some) EU countries

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe. One of its valleys – Chamonix – hosts one of the oldest ski resorts in France and in Europe! but this is not much discussed here…

Chamonix is at the border of 3 countries: France, Italy and Switzerland and it is probably not by coincidence a chosen location for the Annual Conference of one of the largest cross-border organizations in France, Mission Operationelle Transfrontaliere (MOT), 17-18th of June, 2015.

Although in the past the borderline that neighbours among the European Member States would be considered a handicap, in the words of the Member of the European Parliament Anne Sander (due to lack of knowledge on how to cope with differences in language and administrations), recently these are increasingly seen as an economic opportunity. The areas at the border between two or more countries are called Cross-Border Regions and about 1 million people work in these locations in the European Union. These individuals, called cross-border workers or frontier workers, commute daily/weekly or monthly between their home country and the neighbouring country for work.

Generally, labour mobility is low in the European Union, compared to US or Canada (0.2 vs. 3.2%, Bonin, 2008). Some statistics show that about 10 million EU citizens travel for work within the EU, out of which only up to 1 million are doing cross-border work.

France is an important key player in cross-border policies in Europe, with the highest number of cross-border workers in the EU. These are French residents who commute for work to Switzerland, Luxembourg or Germany and return back daily/weekly to France for living. More than 10 million French citizens in fact live around the border of their country. In times of financial difficulties, many choose to commute across borders (to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany and a small rate to Lichtenstein). Yet this number is low and restricted to borders, comparatively to the entire country landscape.

So now, about the Territorial Reforms and Cross-border Regions:

Territorial reforms discussed here refer to a shift from central to regional or local administration. This transition in administrative power can affect not only how the things are done within a region, but also how much is spent and how. For example, the recent French territorial reform mostly consists from regions that are merged in order to reduce their number (from 22 to 13) that will allow French regions to function as independent bodies when it comes to decide upon regional business strategies, trainings and employment policies. This will provide with discretionary power to decide upon local and regional transportation. Including, social projects will be possible to be decided and run independently, such as: community planning, infrastructure and secondary education.

Its neighbour – Italy is also undergoing important reforms. The final adoption of series territorial changes such as administration of metropolitan cities and its current implementation will lead to a greater management of large cities such as: Rome, Milan, Naples, etc. 14 Metropolitan cities are created and will have the power to absorb the capacity of small towns around it and organize its activities in a more centralized around the metropolitan cities manner. Although such changes are not at regional level, these will impact local economies and some of these metropolitan cities are located close to the border (Milan, Turin, Venice).

Although territorial reforms seem to be related only with administrative organization of a region or part of the country, this impacts also how the politics work in that area. According to political science, such regional or ‘meso’ level of government can lead to devolution, by which territories can make their own legislation.

This is important because: when two countries negotiate an agreement on taxation or another topic, this does not always take place at the same level when it comes to CBR’s (e.g. ministry to ministry instead of ministry to regional administration).

Balancing balls on wooden board
Unequal administrative representation in administrative negotiations

For example, when it comes to Luxembourgish labour market formed of more than 40% of cross-border workers, when negotiating certain agreements (e.g. related to taxes) that regard these workers, Luxembourg is represented by the entire country due to its small size (ministerial level) and Belgium, as one of its neighbours for instance, is represented only by the area that neighbourg Luxembourg (province level).

Cross-border work gains increasing attention from policy makers due to its economic potential for local and sometimes national economy. A Dexia study identifies a global trend that aims to reinforce regions in the light of economic crisis, either by increasing competences and means of existing regions or by creating new regional levels. Only in Grand Region that consists of cross-border areas in Luxembourg, France, Germany and Belgium has been produced 2.5% of the European Union’s GDP.

“The real territorial reform is when the institutions in the regions will be able to have economic gains and will be able to calculate it” 

Creating a favorable climate for stronger cross-border cooperation to incentivize the economic activities with countries next door, rather than being accused of stealing jobs, can lead to better perspectives for both, the country from where cross-borders come and for the country where these go.

I would like to conclude by quoting the French deputy, currently senator Michel Delebarre (Blanc, Keller & Schmid, 2010): “The frontiers are laboratories, where Europe is invented day-by-day”.

The frontiers are good indicator of how well administrations are ready to face challenges from the external environments/borders. Sometimes, is difficult to define how far the borders are.. With recent events in the Middle East, the borders of the European Union have been shaken up and local economies of Italy for example have been severely damaged. This is why learning about the capacities of borders, collecting the necessary statistics and carrying ex-ante analysis can help policy makers to prevent or solve local, regional or even national problems.

Talking about external borders of the EU, at the conference I met great minds and developers of ideas on how to improve cross-border regions, of which Mr. Ibrahima Amadou Niang, who is working on a project that would result in building a bridge between Mali and Senegal and another bridge between Mali and Burkina Faso. This project was inspired by the cross-border bridge between Sweden and Denmark.

Cross-border cooperation in Europe – Inspires!

photo

Ibrahima Amadou Niang, Expert – Ingénieur en Développement Local et Projets de Cooperation and Irina Burlacu, Researcher, Maastricht University, Chamonix, 2015.

An exhaustive and formal summary of the MOT conference can be found here. Many asked me what did I presented at this event, unfortunately my participation was limited only to my presence, which is the case sometimes for certain events, when I am invited to attend or need to be there to gain more knowledge about a certain topic (researchers’ life:). In this case I gladly accepted the invitation of the MOT team to attend this event and aimed to become more familiar with the French cross-border landscape.

***

At last, I could not end this post without saying few words about… Chamonix does not need any introduction to the European hikers, it is also a little heaven of professional sport equipment. It well takes care of the treasures of Mont-Blanc and its people make sure to return the favour to the mountain with their kindness, politeness (I had to say n-times ‘Bonjour’ number per day) and taxes.

Mauro A. Fuentes Álvarez

!! Where else in the world do you take the telepherique from one country and in some minutes arrive on the mountain next door that belongs to another country without a visa or whatsoever? (e.g. telepherique from France to Italy: Augille de Midi to Helbronner). A view from Augille du Midi, the highest telepherique station in Europe is attached below. This year Chamonix celebrates 150 years of alpinism.

About: Irina is currently a cross-border worker herself, working in Belgium and residing in the Netherlands. She is a passionate promoter of what she calls “active research”, by which a researcher is a sort of a story-teller who can communicate her/his research in an accessible language and engaging way.

Photos from Chamonix:

IMG_8397IMG_8416IMG_8405IMG_8403 

IMG_8532 IMG_8606

aiguilledumidi-zermatt-leotrippiIMG_8652

IMG_8642IMG_8749

Mauro A. Fuentes Álvarezstep-into-the-voidIMG_8439  IMG_8433 IMG_8948   img_89531.jpgwpid-homepage1865_benoist1

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