European border regions are role models for European integration and best placed to test new ideas and innovative solutions
Bringing cross-border cooperation back to the forefront of the EU’s policy agenda is one of the European Committee of the Region’s (CoR) top priorities. The Conference on the Future of Cross-Border Cooperation, organized together with the other founding partners of the European Cross-Border Citizens' Alliance, feeds into this objective. During the event, which took place on 5 July, participants reflected on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, identified the ongoing and future challenges for cross-border regions, and held a debate on the vision for cross-border cooperation as part of the future of Europe. The event took place just a few days after CoR's plenary adopted a resolution on cross-border cooperation which will serve as a contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest setbacks for cross-border cooperation in the past decades, but even before the outbreak of the pandemic, many border regions were already struggling with a plethora of unique regional obstacles. In a recent consultation commissioned by the CoR, border regions cited cross-border transport and connectivity as well as bureaucratic hurdles for citizens and businesses as the biggest obstacles that they face in their territories. With the Conference on the Future of Europe in full swing, the event organized together with the founding partners of the European Cross-Border Citizens' Alliance (AEBR, MOT and CESCI) and the recent resolution adopted at the CoR’s plenary aim to contribute to making cross-border cooperation a main point of discussion in the ongoing debate on the future of Europe.
Pavel Branda (CZ/ECR), Chair of the CoR's interregional group on cross-border cooperation and rapporteur of a recent opinion on Cross-Border Public Services, said: “It is very good that the European Committee of the Regions has taken on the task of representing border regions and their citizens in the Conference on the Future of Europe. We must put cross-border cooperation where it belongs – at the very heart of European integration project. Cross-border cooperation is one of the biggest successes of the European Union and must play an even greater role in its future. It is at the borders where the real benefits of European integration are being experienced by citizens."
Peter van't Hoog, Vice-President of the Association of European Border Regions and Regional Minister of Gelderland, commented: “Europe needs to implement many transitions to face challenges such as the climate change, and border regions can take a key position to shape these transitions in the years to come, putting commitments such as the Green Deal into practice at cross-border level, acting once again as dynamic laboratories for European integration.”
Jean Peyrony, Director of Mission Opérationelle Transfrontalière, said: “When Europe was hit by the pandemic, the overnight closing of normally open borders had serious consequences for the cross-border communities. The interdependencies revealed by the crisis require new policies: functional approach considering persons in their cross border living areas; multi-level governance involving cross border regions, States and EU. Cross border regions will be test cases of European integration and solidarity."
Gyula Ocskay, Secretary General of the Central European Service for Cross-Border Initiatives, added: “The pandemic has unprecedentedly challenged the European project of open borders. In 2020 many experienced the world of closed borders for the first time in their lives. Others recalled their childhood defined by the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. We have to unite our efforts in order to avoid the return of divided Europe.”
The European Cross-Border Citizens' Alliance was launched in 2020. It is an initiative that aims to better the life of European citizens living in the EU's border regions. Internal border regions cover 40% of the EU's territory, accounting for 30% of its population (150 million people) and hosting more than 2 million cross-border commuters.
On 1 July, the European Court of Auditors published a special report on the cross-border cooperation with results suggesting that its potential has not yet been fully unlocked.
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