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More investment in missing links can transform border regions in smart growth hubs  
Local leaders call on EU institutions and national governments to tackle the lack of public and private investment on transport links in border regions, in order to improve living and working conditions for hundreds of thousands of European citizens.

The vast majority (95%) of EU funds are spent for core transport corridors of the Trans European Network (TEN-T). Small cross border projects are often not eligible for EU or national funding because domestic routes often have more volume. But coherent packages of relatively small interventions can help Europe's border regions to become smart functional areas integrating service and facilities for business, education, health, tourism, sport, culture, research and innovation, creating new opportunities of economic, social and cultural growth for their citizens. Developing border regions contributes to the improvement of European network corridors.

For this reason, smaller cross-border infrastructure projects should to be as high on the European agenda as larger TEN-T projects and, according to the opinion on missing transport links in border regions adopted by the European Committee of the Regions on 8 February, more public and private investment should be mobilised to ensure adequate transport links between both sides of the border and with the wider European networks.

" Thanks to the Committee's mobilisation, the awareness of the potential of smaller infrastructure and services in border regions is growing. The European Commission's 110 million euro call for funding small cross-border links can be an important turning point. What is needed is an integrated funding strategy relying on all available instruments – including the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the INTERREG programme, the European Structural and Investment Funds and the European Fund for Strategic Investment - to close missing links in border regions", points out Michiel Scheffer (NL/ALDE), regional Minister of the Province of Gelderland and rapporteur of the opinion. According to Mr Scheffer: "With a relatively limited investment, the EU can improve the quality of life of border communities and transform peripheral economies in strategic hubs for growth, turning the sometimes abstract notion of European added value into a tangible reality".

Alongside the lack of investment, regulatory problems are often the main obstacles blocking infrastructure projects in border areas. Regions and cities propose to overcome the current difficulties adopting the Luxembourg proposal for a European cross-border convention allowing for applying one country's infrastructure rules to the neighbouring region of another country.

With regards to the coordination of transport services, the Committee proposes, as first step, to better integrate timetables in border regions. The second step would involve the creation of cross-border concession for public transport. These steps ahead, together with a coordinated improvement of multimodal transport facilities, would bring a major change in the daily life of EU cross-border commuters.

Local leaders' proposals were shaped in the framework of an intense interinstitutional cooperation with DG MOVE and the TRAN committee of the European Parliament. A study on the potential of closing the missing transport link in border regions was released by the Committee to clarify the impact of upgrading specific connections between border regions, such as the link between Prague and Nuremberg, the bridge between Freiburg and Colmar, and the missing 15 km of electrified tracks between the German border and Wroclaw.

This April, we will close a missing transport link in my home province of Gelderland with the opening of a regional train service connecting the city of Arnhem with its German neighbour Dusseldorf on 6 April 2017. I’m convinced my report will inspire other regions to follow suit to better integrate border regions through new ways of transport " concluded rapporteur Scheffer.

Pierluigi Boda (IT, EN)
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