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Succeeding Together across Borders

Submitted by on 28 Mar 2013 – 13:58

Dr Wilfried Görmar, Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development, within the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning

In a time, where the European idea is under pressure and national egoisms regain weight, some initiatives help against such tendencies. Programmes for territorial co-operation across Europe, alongside borders and within large transnational areas or European macro-regions respectively are valuable tools for promoting the European idea on the ground.

Cross-border co-operation started after the World War II with the objectives to minimise the risk of new wars, to build Europe from the bottom and to help solve burning issues like urgent medical help, fire protection and infrastructure development across borders. In the middle of the 1990s, transnational co-operation across large sub-regions of Europe, like the North Sea and the Baltic Sea was initiated. It helps integrating Europe across larger European territories of several countries and beyond the immediate border areas.

Partners from different countries work together and create example solutions on how to make better use of regional values like typical natural and cultural heritage of the Mediterranean, the Alpine space or Central Europe, to prevent the risk of floods in transnational river systems like Rhine/Meuse, Elbe and Danube, to maintain and improve the water quality of the Baltic Sea, to promote regional development alongside Trans-European transport corridors or to create transnational structures for innovation support to small enterprises.

Partners of transnational projects comprise local, regional and national authorities of several countries, as well as sectoral and research institutions as well as private associations and enterprises. Project results are therefore often based on horizontal and vertical collaboration and make use of different professional and cultural backgrounds and experience. Common project implementation is also a valuable learning process, a “learning by doing” on concrete issues which enhances cross-cultural competence.

Although no governments exist for transnational co-operation areas, respective projects have strong multinational arguments for national implementation. Beyond the immediate effects for the respective co-operation areas, many solutions can be applied also elsewhere in Europe. From the perspective of regional and local actors, transnational co-operation strengthens their European competence while at the same time helps solve regional or local problems. Many mayors around Europe have reported on such experiences.

At the Member State level, indirect benefits emerge, such as adjustments in legal, administrative and planning systems. A recent example is the establishment of foundations for maritime spatial planning systems in all countries around the Baltic Sea which is supported by a number of transnational projects. Such effects do not concern Member States of the European Union alone, but also neighbours which participate in transnational projects on an equal basis, such as partners from Russia.

A relatively new approach to supporting cohesion across borders is the development and implementation of macro-regional strategies. Their success is dependent on a proper co-operation of all relevant actors, their motivation and a complementary collaboration of all available funding instruments. Transnational co-operation programmes – although financially small – significantly contribute to implementing macro-regional strategies, such as for the Baltic Sea and for the Danube region.

It is less the financial contribution which counts here but the transnational (macro-regional) dimension of projects under those programmes. Thus, macro-regional strategies benefit from the existence of transnational programmes. The latter in turn, gain political weight through an affiliation to the implementation of macro-regional strategies. However, transnational programmes and projects cannot be seen as the only instrument. A successful implementation of macro-regional strategies is only possible if all other programmes, networks and institutions of the respective macro-regions contribute to that as well.

An important effect of the implementation of macro-regional strategies and transnational programmes is the foundation or strengthening respectively of transnational networks and governance structures. This is especially true for the Baltic Sea Region, where already dozens of intergovernmental, inter-institutional, inter-regional and non-governmental networks exist, comprising all countries in the area – members and non-members of the European Union.

This applies for instance to the Council of Baltic Sea States (foreign policy and overall responsibility), the Baltic 21 network (environment), HELCOM (sea water quality), BASREC (energy co-operation), VASAB (spatial planning), Baltic Sea Labour Forum, the Union of Baltic Cities, the Baltic Sea State Subregional Co-operation, the Baltic Development Forum (broad economic co-operation), Ars Baltica (cultural co-operation) and many others.

In future, those transnational institutions and networks can take over an even stronger role and responsibility for implementing the Baltic Sea Region Strategy and of its concrete projects. For instance, findings and pilot solutions of transnational projects on how the water quality of the Baltic Sea can be improved, need to “transported” to and implemented by all relevant decision-makers with support of appropriate multilevel governance systems. Transnational networks are important elements in that respect. Finally, transnational co-operation networks establish firm and durable ties between actors from different countries and thus, promote European integration.

In order to reaffirm the European idea, those instruments deserve particular attention which create European added value. This is true in particular for territorial co-operation programmes and should therefore also be considered when deciding on future financial perspectives. The European Parliament in particular has recognised the European importance of territorial co-operation from the very beginning and opted for strengthening this instrument. It is worth remembering that attitude in times of pressure on the European idea.