More than one third of the European Union’s citizens live and work in Europe’s border regions. Cross-Border Regions (CBR) play a crucial role in local (and in some cases in national) economies in most of the EU’s countries. Last year, the cooperation at the borders of the Member States has been intensively discussed and set as a high priority of EU’s policy agenda. As the “Refugee Crisis” unfolded and Paris terrorist attack took place, it became a topic of even higher importance. As a consequence, in 2016, for the first time in the history of the European Union, the European officials consider the option and are under the pressure of cancelling the Schengen Agreement (free movement).
It is difficult to summarize the efforts of thousands of people working in this area, but some highlights that I find interesting are the following.
I will start by mentioning about the most important event in my view that took place at the regional level, namely in the Netherlands, more precisely in South of Holland- Limburg – Maastricht was launched Netherland’s largest probably cross-border research organization: ITEM. With the great support from the local Province of Limburg, Maastricht University’s Institute for Transnational and European Cooperation Mobility is reminding to policy makers about the importance of existence of research infrastructures for the regional development. The lack of data or limited studies on mobile workers often impedes policy makers to make evidence-based decisions.
2015 was a promising year for Cross-Border Regions in the EU. During the Luxembourgish EU Presidency, cross-border cooperation gained a lot of momentum and was discussed as a key component of Regional development on EU policy agenda (for example). The celebration of the 25 Years Anniversary of the largest European Territorial Cooperation (the INTERREG programs) in November, discussed among other things (topics that particularly draw my attention):
- Refugee crisis, the first and foremost danger in endangering the entire free movement principle based on which the EU is based;
- Lack or poor data;
- Need for broadening and strengthening cross-border cooperation outside EU countries.
Ironically, while in Brussels the EU representatives and all gathered at the Conference on “The Future of Cross-Border Regions” and were showing great concern about the shattering impact of Refugee Crisis on border cooperation efforts.. the terrorist Paris attack took place in the same day and France had to close its borders. Ironically again, those who executed the attack where from Brussels.
Since the appearance of the nation states, the EU has tested the trust and build a space of free movement. Decades of negotiations and cooperation, a lot of investment in this direction takes place [For 2014-2020, more than EUR 10 billion will be invested in cooperation between regions, of which around €6.6 billion will go to cross-border regions. This should ensure maximum impact and even more effective use of the investments].
Commuting affects people’s health and welfare. Despite all the challenges EU faces at the moment, people cross borders everyday for work, if they are living at the frontier. It took more than 50 years… to establish a common legislative framework for all the Member States.
For all these efforts to collapse would mean.. a great need for creativity to find an alternative form of governance of current EU countries (that could be easily translated into a great regress).
2016: the year of Netherlands.
Netherlands is taking over the EU Presidency from January, 2016. The hopes are high and the challenges even higher.. As in many other times, I hope that this time Netherlands will once again impress the world with its geniality. It is known for its pioneering and original approaches to deal with ‘things’, often distinguished itself from the rest of the world.
Yet, the European Union is not about one country only, neither it would not exist without its borders and partners. The EU needs urgent international support in dealing with the Refugee Crisis. “If more states contribute, the burden will be more manageable for all” [Ostrand, 2015]
To conclude: Although incomparable, keeping strict borders remains for the rest of the world a reality.. and sometimes – a very cruel reality. Borders are the pride and glory of the EU. The Manifesto of scientific community remains valid, show must go on..