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Strengthening territorial cooperation in Europe: the best bet for our common future  
​Editorial by Karl-Heinz Lambertz, president of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Francina Armengol, president of the Balearic Islands, member of the CoR and president of the Euroregion Pyrenees Mediterranean, ahead of the 9th annual meeting of the European Group of Territorial Cooperation Platform in Palma, Mallorca, 27 September 2019.

Removing barriers and fostering territorial cooperation between Member States have been synonymous with European integration and solidarity. Since its inception over 60 years ago, the EU has supported these efforts guided by the objectives of deepening territorial cohesion, tackling regional inequality and opening up the single market. Nevertheless, administrative burden, lack of investment and recent political events have meant that opportunities offered by territorial cooperation have yet to be fully realised.

With 150 million people or 30% of the EU's entire population living in internal border regions, cooperation in areas such as sustainable development, transport, healthcare and culture is vital for the integrity of the single market and European integration. Protecting, supporting and investing in cross-border cooperation not only benefits the border communities, but the European Union as a whole. By introducing policies and programmes — such as the European Territorial Cooperation and EU regional funds (cohesion policy), the EU has supported cross-border cooperation over the past 30 years.

Euro-regions and European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) — whereby two or more regions from different EU Member States work together in areas of shared economic, social, cultural and political interest — have played a particularly important role in deepening integration in Europe.

Launched in October 2004, the Euroregion Pyrenees Mediterranean supports territorial cooperation between Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Occitania, aiming to be an innovative and sustainable Euroregion. It is also reviving a shared political and cultural identity. In addition, it has helped launch projects such as the award-winning Cerdanya hospital located in the Pyrenees and the first cross‑border hospital in Europe.

Citizens in cross-border regions may be diverse in terms of their languages and culture, but more often than not share similar obstacles in pursuing economic and social development. Differences in competencies, structures and laws between border regions have held back many opportunities for cooperation. The European Commission has indicated that fully removing cross-border burdens would actually increase GDP by 8% and has made strides to cut red tape. Yet proposals to introduce population-density criteria in border territories when considering access to funds risks hampering territorial cooperation.

The EU is developing a new European Cross-Border Legal Mechanism that allows two or more local or regional authorities to sign an agreement and launch cross‑border cooperation. This has the potential to boost projects between border territories, by enabling regions to mirror legislation in their respective Member States. What is certain is that these and other measures to support regional, territorial, transnational and cross-border cooperation, should be treated as a priority for the new European Parliament and European Commission. What is also evidently clear is that successful cross-border cooperation must give regions the capacity to plan programmes and make decisions for themselves.

Even with the right level of political will and reduced administrative burden, successful territorial cooperation needs investment. Under the current EU budget (2014-2020), almost EUR 10 billion of cohesion policy funds will have been invested in cooperation between regions of which EUR 6.8 billion has been committed to cross-border regions. The proposed cut from 2.75% to 2.5% of cohesion funds earmarked for territorial cooperation would undermine the efforts to establish economic‑development strategies and promote European solidarity.

As the new European Parliament and Commission take office, the European Union must concentrate all its efforts on demonstrating European solidarity and strengthening integration. If the EU is to placate populism and respond to new challenges, such as globalisation, inequalities, migration and climate change, we must continue to work together to reinforce territorial cooperation and turn our regions into the engines that drive sustainable growth benefitting every citizen in every corner of Europe.

Background note

The annual meeting of the European Territorial Cooperation Groups Platform will take place this year in Palma, Mallorca, on 27 September 2019 and is organised by the European Committee of the Regions in partnership with the EGTC Euroregion Pyrenees Mediterranean and the Government of the Balearic Islands.

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