Everyday tales and stories from the border regions of Europe and beyond, with the aim of explaining why we border-crossers are as obsessed as we are about this subject, why it is important to all of us, and why the co-operation community needs a little bit more visibility than it normally gets.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

So, just what is Territorial Cohesion?

Nope, that's not a trick question. Not content with having rebranded INTERREG as "Territorial Co-operation" for the 2007-2013 period, the EU has also come up with a concept similar in name, and not a million kilometres away in content, with "Territorial Cohesion".

Well, we think it's close in content. It's a bit difficult to tell, as the Commission has managed to issue a Green Paper on the subject without actually defining what it is (ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/consultation/terco/consultation_en.htm). In fact, the Commission seems quite proud of the fact that there is no definition and stresses that this will depend on reactions to the Green Paper.

Now there may be some twisted logic in there somewhere, but it looks an awful lot like ceding any advantage that you might have from holding the pen. If you put a definition down, no matter how weak, you force people to react to it, and comment on it. Without that framework, reactions could (and probably will) fly off in all directions.

This is especially true with this kind of topic, where every possible regional interest group sees the concept of territorial cohesion in its own narrow perspective. Expect bodies dealing with mountains, cities, rivers, rural, peripheral, island areas and others to have very different ideas about TC (as it should not be called). I suspect the Commission is going to have a tricky time prepare a cohesive summary of the public consultation.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Mexico invades USA (sort of)

With the US distracted by the general election, Mexico took the opportunity to surprise its northern neighbour and has launched an invasion of Arizona.

Of course, I may have exaggerated this story slightly - see media.www.clarksonintegrator.com/media/storage/paper280/news/2008/11/03/News/Mexican.Troops.Illegally.Cross.Border-3521894.shtml

for the accurate picture. Mind you, 42 illegal border crossings in a couple of years is quite impressive.

This reminds me of previous incidents involving the UK and Spain (www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/feb/19/gibraltar.world) and Liechtenstein and Switzerland (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/mar/02/markoliver).

It's good to know that there are so many armies wandering the globe who are fans of INTERREG and co-operation. After all, we don't like the artificial restrictions borders create either.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Interregional Clanjamfry!

The Border-Crosser has been visiting the INTERREG IV C Forum in Lille (www.interreg4c.eu), and what a scary experience it has been. If anyone tries to tell you that co-operation is not very popular, then you should send them to one of these events. 1200 people networking like fury, with lots of techy briefings on application forms and programme manuals thrown in for good measure (the Border-Crosser gave these a miss, it must be admitted).

Some interesting political elements were tossed into the mix as well, with the key message that, to be and to remain relevant, interregional co-operation needs to link itself much more closely to national and regional programmes. This may seem self-evident - after all, what's the point of exchanging experience and best practice, if the new information gleaned is not put to good use? - but because co-operation has for too long been seen as a parallel and distinct element of Cohesion Policy, this link has not been made successfully, and many good lessons learned have never been fully implemented in the regions concerned.

It seems that this message is finally getting through, which is important for lots of reasons: not least in making a case for getting a much bigger allocation for interregional co-operation than the pitifully small amount of funds allocated this time round. € 300 million for a programme covering the whole EU (which could have been used three times over in the first call alone!) is pretty poor.

The fight for more recognition for interregional co-operation goes on, but things are looking brighter.

And if you don't understand the title, Google it!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

How to start a cross-border morning

You haul yourself into the office, get the coffee on as fast as you can, and then open the several dozen emails that have drifted in overnight. Another day stretches ahead.

And then you get a story like this: http://www.imt.ie/news/2008/10/crossborder_renal_project_wins.html - which gladdens the heart. Exactly the type of good news story needed to demonstrate the benefits that cross-border co-operation can bring.

Makes it all worthwhile, really.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Germany, Poland and tales of co-operation unfulfilled

Not everything works well, and not every example of co-operation is a shining example of cross-border harmony. The German-Polish border shows us what can go wrong and it's worth taking a closer look to try and figure out why.

History is the short answer, but more recent history than you might think. There have been cross-border co-operation programmes along the German-Polish border since the mid-nineties, but it was only with Poland joining the Union in 2004 that the programmes became fully integrated from a financial and implementation point of view. The situation was exacerbated by the fact that there were three programmes along the border, because the three German Laender refused to co-operate with each other in a single programme. Nice.

The real difficulties within the programme appear to have arisen because the German Laender have been basically able to run the programmes as they liked up to 2004. Before then, there was Structural Fund money on the German side, managed by the Laender, and pre-accession funding for the Polish side, managed by the Commission Delegation in Warsaw. Thus, it came as a nasty surprise to the Germans after 2004 when the Poles suddenly started behaving like a - shock, horror - Member State and asking difficult implementation questions and raising doubts about some of the projects the Germans wanted to fund.

Essentially, the three programmes need to operate as fully joint programmes, and, unfortunately, the impression that is given is that both sides of the border are pretty separated from each other. Much work needs to be done.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

It's Open Days time again

This way, that way, up, down, round about. It can only be the Open Days - that regions and cities meeting mega-event in Brussels. 4 days, 7,500 participants (from the EU, from the rest of Europe, Russia, China, Brazil...), goodness knows how many meetings and seminars scattered across around 30 venues. It's networking heaven.

...but it has its downside. If the Border-Crosser has to listen to one more presenter who has clearly never followed a presenting course in his life... well, let's just say it won't be pretty.

Check out all the details on www.opendays.europa.eu.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Maputo Corridor

I often hear the complaint that one of the main difficulties for strategic development projects is converting plans and studies into concrete action. One of the best examples that I have seen of a project being able to do exactly that is one from a perhaps surprising part of the world - the Maputo Corridor between South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland (www.mcli.co.za).

Here, they have married the public and private sectors into an effective, forward-looking organisation which has delivered real results in improvement the flow of border traffic and goods along the route. I can't claim to have carried out an in-depth assessment of the whole process, but even a cursory knowledge of the MCLI points to one factor which is common across all such co-operation actions - people. A dynamic CEO, fully committed to the project, has clearly driven the project forward, selling the concept, making the contacts, and lobbying for change and investment.

Time and again, we see the people principle at the very heart of cross-border and transnational co-operation. Without committed, dedicated people, co-operation cannot work, no matter what funding or paper agreements might be in place. With such people, impossible is nothing, to pirate a current advertising phrase.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The Politics of Co-operation

I have been reflecting lately on the importance of political level support in co-operation actions, and in a spooky coincidence (either that, or they've been reading my mind), those North Sea people have just produced a perceptive little leaflet on exactly this topic (see www.northsearegion.eu/ivb/news/show/&tid=243).

Politics matters because it is not always immediately obvious to the political level (or to others) that co-operation matters. In comparison to a nice solid road or waste-water treatment plant in your area, the idea of local officials exchanging information or ideas with someone from the other side of the border - or even from the other side of Europe - can sound a bit wishy-washy, a bit suspicious, a bit, dare I say it, like tourism at taxpayers' expense.

These are easy accusations to throw, but, of course, they miss the whole point of co-operation. It is about sharing ideas, learning from one another, building links and better working relationships, all of which help to deliver better results for economic and social development. We achieve nothing without co-operation in any walk of life, and the EU's co-operation policy is only one, positive, demonstration of this.

But to make co-operation work effectively, it needs that political support mentioned above. It needs politicians to recognise the benefits and to stand up for such actions. It needs politicians to say that "okay, this project may not provide you with a new road, but, in a few years time, it may help provide you with a better, cheaper road, as a result of what we learn from other partners in the project now." After all, isn't that what we elect them to do?

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Project Record for South-East Europe

A number of the new co-operation programmes have evidently been worried about receiving very high numbers of project applications, causing much work for programme staff, and much disappointment for applicants, with all programmes having limited budgets. This has resulted in some programmes adopting a two stage process, with expressions of interest as a first step, and then full applications being invited from a limited number of projects only.

This is a good strategy on paper, but it does run a major risk - as expressions of interest (EoIs) are easier to write, there could be a lot more of them, as applicants think that there is nothing to lose at that stage. And so it seems to have proved.

First up was the new Mediterranean programme, which received a massive 531 EoIs in response to its first call. A month or so later, this was smashed by the South-East Europe programme, which set a new record of a frankly quite terrifying 821 EoIs. The Border Crosser is very glad not to be working in the programme secretariat.

All of this is, of course, good news. There is clearly enormous interest in co-operation across most of Europe. The South-East figures were especially good if you consider 1 in 4 of the 5,400 partners in the submissions came from outside the Union, and 1 in 3 of those came from Serbia. They really are so co-operative down there.

Of course, the real test will be on project quality and how relevant the content actually proves to be. But that is for later on. Now, anyone going to beat 821?

North Sea Environmentalists

I may have said this before, but those North Sea people are very clever. Not only do they have an excellent website, but they give the impression of having really thought things through. Their upcoming energy seminar in Aberdeen (see conference list on the right) is just the type of thing that Europe should be encouraging at the moment.

However, what caught my eye was the little link at the bottom of their conference page on Travel Compensation. Basically, this is a nice piece of moral blackmail about offsetting your carbon costs of getting to the conference - I say offsetting, because the other option - changing your transport type - is unlikely to be possible, unless your planning to swim Aberdeen. They even helpfully provide a form with a list of offsetting organisations and their websites.

Now, how do we get everyone doing this?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The borders of the United States

The USA may have only 2 land borders, but what it lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in length. The border with Canada, at 8, 891 km is the longest in the world, while the Mexican border is certainly not the smallest at 3,169 km.

The American approach to these borders has always been very different, although the differences have narrowed somewhat since 11 September 2001. On the Canadian border they have the International Boundary Commission (http://www.internationalboundarycommission.org/) responsible for keeping the border demarcated; they also have the delightful Meet Me At the Border site (http://www.meetmeattheborder.com/) which is a very good information source for those living and working at or near the border. This would be quite a good idea for some of the larger European borders too.

It is interesting to note the increasing restrictions being introduced along this border from the point of view of travel documents and the evident concern being created, especially on the Canadian side about the impact of cross-border business. Contrast this with the advances brought about by Schengen in Europe and ask yourself which continent is heading in the right direction and which isn't...

In contrast, down south, we have sites like this - http://www.americanborderpatrol.com/ - which, scarily, seems to be one of the milder sites about border control issues with Mexico. Despite this, a bit of Internet digging threw up the "Agreement for Regional Progress" (www.sos.state.tx.us/border/arr.shtml) between Texas and 4 north-east Mexican states which is as close to a Euroregion-type declaration that I have seen in North America. Admittedly, the site was a little short on info since the signing in 2004, but I count any such agreement as grounds for optimism.

I do get the feeling that this is only scratching the surface on border issues across the Atlantic, and we may return to this topic in later posts.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Fun and games in the Arctic

The Border-Crosser has always been a bit sceptical about maritime cross-border co-operation. After all, how can it be truly cross-border if you cannot even see the other side of the border, never mind walk there?

Maritime border issues and disputes are another matter altogether, as this BBC story from yesterday shows(http://tinyurl.com/67foms). Evidently, this all links in with the oil and mineral resources that are beginning to be found up north, and it can cause some interesting clashes. Global warming is also having an impact, with some potential sea routes now much more attractive than in the past.

The tensions being created by Russia's current aggressiveness will not surprise most observers, but there are also disputes between the USA and most of Europe on the one hand and Canada on the other over access to the North-West passage (or Canadian internal waters as it is known north of the 49th parallel). There is also the example of a classic border disagreement between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_Island). When you get ministers flying in to bury bottles of alcohol on specific pieces of territory, you know this world is going slightly loopy.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Left hand, please meet right hand

Now, given the amount of money that the EU pumps into cross-border co-operation, you will not be surprised to learn that the Border Crosser thinks that the EU is a pretty decent type of organisation. However, sometimes the overwhelming bureaucracy and the sheer lack of connections between its policies drives you absolutely mad.

Here's the latest example. The Commission has just announced a "Renewed Social Agenda" which sounds very worthy indeed. Didn't know there was an old social agenda which needed renewing, but there you go. Anyway, among the list of items related to this announcement is a recommendation called "Cross-border Interoperability of Electronic Health Records

Firstly, let us set aside the fact that it is almost impossible to find this document on the Commission's website - it's not linked from the press release or the main social agenda page, or from DG Health (but I like you, so you can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/5agnnl). Secondly, let us ignore the very misleading use of the word "cross-border", as the document helpfully informs us that here cross-border means with neighbouring and non-neighbouring Member States. How can non-neighbouring Member States be cross-border? Is it that difficult to harmonise terminology?

Sorry, I was meant to be ignoring that. The recommendation relates how worthy it is to ensure this interoperability of health records to facilitate people getting treatment in other countries. Very true.
But is it not strange that there is no particular mention of the fact that this is already being done - in the true sense of the word cross-border - under INTERREG? To take but one example, the France-Wallonie-Vlaanderen programme has been working for many years on the co-ordination and integration of health services for their border population - see http://tinyurl.com/5fdeul and http://tinyurl.com/6ma3st for a couple of very impressive examples.

So why no mention? Are these not impressive enough? Do they not form a sufficient base for building a Europe-wide approach? Is there inter-DG rivalry about such projects? Or is it simply the case that whoever wrote the recommendation had never heard about what France and Belgium were doing with EU funds and never thought to ask? Hmmm, tricky, but I know which one my money's on.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Next call for projects under the North Sea Programme

The North Sea Programme seems such a well run programme, don't you think? Browsing their website today (www.northsearegion.eu), I notice that the next two calls for projects are already announced - from 1 Sept - 29 Sept and from 2 Feb - 02 Mar.

I am not so sure about their predeliction for short call times: one month seems very short for putting a co-operation project together. I imagine the response would be that is why they announce the calls so far in advance. Anyway, only 17 projects have been approved so far, so there is plenty of funding left if you're interested.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Where do we go from here?

It's a little strange - given that we are only in 2008 - that Europe is already in the early stages of preparing for Cohesion Policy after 2013. Actually, it's very strange, if we consider the speed Europe normally moves at. Who says the Lisbon Treaty is needed to avoid everything bogging down?

Of course, the reason for starting so early is that the whole process is going to be an almighty ding-dong, and is going to take most of the next 6 years. Cohesion Policy is only one (big) piece of the overall puzzle, and the upcoming "budget review" is likely to see the first shots fired in a pretty bitter round of in-fighting. There'll be the French, defending agriculture spending for all they are worth; the new Member States trying to ramp up Cohesion spending as high as possible; Spain trying to explain why she should still qualify for huge amounts of infrastructure spending despite being much richer than the new Member States; and of course the UK, trying to cut spending on everything at every opportunity. and consequently making no friends and gaining no influence whatsoever (from this perspective, it's almost like having John Major back in number 10.)

But enough of this big picture nonsense - what does it all mean for Co-operation policy? Well, it's all rather positive so far. The Commission's 5th Cohesion progress report, released in June (see http://tinyurl.com/67cecf) was rather effusive about the future of co-operation, stressing the positive reactions to the recent public consultation and noting the need for strengthening the policy (which is basic EU code for "give it more money").

The report also notes the need for more interregional co-operation (given the current enormous mismatch in the EU funding for INTERREG IV C and the level of interest in the programme, this is a no-brainer); and also points to the need to bolster co-operation across the EU's external borders. This is an important point, since the EU has been making a pig's ear of this co-operation recently - long-standing and carefully crafted co-operation on borders like Finland-Russia has simply stopped in the last year or so, as the countries try to get to grips with the complexities created by the EU's new ENPI cross-border instrument for such borders.

We have to remember that things looked quite promising for co-operation back in 2003 as well, but Member States ended up slashing the planned budget back to its current total of EUR 9 billion over 7 years (you would simply not believe how many Member States still moan about this reduction in funding, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was their finance ministries who did the deed.) Nevertheless, co-operation seems to have more friends in high places than ever before - when I read the positive comments by Germany on co-operation in their reply to the public consultation on the future, I nearly fell off my chair (see http://tinyurl.com/6sbykw).

Watch this space.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Dutch West Indies

If the French bits of the Caribbean are a little confusing (see previous post), at least all are an integral part of France, and all are in the European Union. The Dutch situation is another story.

The Dutch bits of the Caribbean number six in total, with Aruba having a separate status and the other 5 forming part of the Netherlands Antilles - at least at present. All are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but none of them are part of the EU.

Over the last few years, there has been a fairly tortuous process of discussions and voting, with a view to breaking up the Netherlands Antilles and giving the islands a new status. The trouble has been that they all want something different. Aruba was happy as it was; Sint Maarten and Curacao wanted autonomy within the Netherlands; Saba and Bonaire voted for closer ties to the Netherlands, and Sint Eustatius voted to stay within the Netherlands Antilles - which was going to prove difficult, since no-one else did.

Anyway, there appears to be the makings of a deal, although its implementation has been postponed again from the end of this year to a, as yet, undefined date. Sint Maarten and Curacao would get autonomy, and the other 3 would get the status of special municipalities.

What particularly interests us here is that the Dutch government is keen for some or all of the islands to become part of the EU and qualify as "outermost regions" like the 5 French territories mentioned in the previous post. This opens up the possibility of Cohesion Policy funding, and especially co-operation funding. This can only be good news, as it would mean the EU's "Caraibes" co-operation programme would have 2 Member States involved, and it would be much less of a Franco-French shouting match.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Down on the Spanish (or rather the French) Main

The Border-Crosser is drifting through the Caribbean at present. There are 5 integral parts of Europe out here: Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, St Martin and St Barthelemy. All 5 are part of France: the first 3 are overseas departments, and the last two are overseas collectivities.

St Martin is the most westerly part of the European Union (good quiz tip here). Its status as a collectivity (or COM) is very new - previously it was considered a commune of Guadeloupe. The French St Martin is also unique as it shares the island of St Martin with the Dutch "island area" of Sint Maarten and therefore has a land border with the Netherlands (therein lies another good quiz question about walking from France to the Netherlands without going through Belgium).

The 5 parts of France are all part of the Caraibes co-operation programme (see www.interreg-caraibes.org). This is one of those strange co-operation programmes involving only one Member State, but with a myriad of non-Member States also taking part to some extent. Cohesion funding is only available for the Member State territory (although there is now a 10% flexibility for spending outside the Union), so there are some complicated manoeuvrings to get some degree of access to European Development Funds (EDF - not to be confused with ERDF, which is a Structural Fund for regional development) for the non-Member State islands.

It is a pity that the co-ordination issues are so challenging, as there is a real need for some basic level co-operation on transport (air and maritime), communications, disaster management and environmental issues. It would be nice to think that a fully integrated Caribbean fund could be set up to address these points - but don't hold your breath.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

The difficulties of blogging

It's not that I don't have anything to say. I might not have anything interesting to say - that's for you to judge more. But I do have things to say. I just don't find the time to write. However, there is not much point of a blog if the writer doesn't blog. So, I'll try and find the time from now. Let's see how we do.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Into the Baltic

The South Baltic cross-border programme is having its launch event today in Gdansk, which is a good a reason as any to take a closer look. It's a brand new programme, created as a result of the expanded approach to maritime cross-border co-operation (anything up to 150km). Even then, the programme wouldn't exist if the island of Bornholm was not conveniently located just under 150km from almost everywhere.

This results in a five country cross-border programme, which is almost a contradiction in terms in itself, stretching across the whole southern Baltic Sea. It involves Sweden, Poland, Denmark, Lithuania and Germany (in roughly that order of enthusiasm). The Swedes were so delighted to get support for the programme that they were happy to let the Poles manage it: the Poles seem to want to manage every co-operation programmes they are involved in.

To be fair, the programme has made a good start. To be even fairer, the advantage of Poland managing so many co-operation programmes is that they are actually rather good at it, and have put in plenty of resources to get this programme moving forward. Consequently, despite the complexity of the partnership, and the fact that it is completely new, the programme is at the same stage of implementation as many more experienced programmes.

Having said all that, I still have my doubts. Maritime co-operation, by its nature, is not the same as land-based cross-border co-operation. Even close maritime co-operation is different, although it has sufficient similarities with terrestrial co-operation that it can be justified (and has been shown to work in some places). But cross-border co-operation across the southern Baltic? This is most of the way towards transnational co-operation, which is a very different kettle of fish.

It will be interesting to see the results that come from the South Baltic and how cross-border they truly are. On one level, it may not seem to matter much - once eligibility for cross-border co-operation is achieved, it is unlikely to be taken away at a programme level, no matter what the results (witness Greece-Cyprus for an example). But, on a higher level, too many poor or uninspiring results in too many programmes, and people could start to question the whole cross-border co-operation policy. And that would be a heavy price to pay for allowing long-distance maritime co-operation as a political compromise.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

A Serbian Paradox

What with everything that is happening at the moment (the Border-Crosser drafts neutrally), you might imagine that Serbia would be feeling less than enamoured with the European Union and all its constituent parts at the moment. And in general, you would be right. Lots of bellicose noise is coming out of Prime Minister Kostunica and company, and there are threats of refusing to work with the EU at all.

Any yet, next week will see a cross-border conference in the middle of Belgrade, organised by the Serbian government, celebrating the Neighbourhood Programmes (“Serbia’s Success Stories”) and looking forward to the new cross-border programmes for 2007-2013. So what’s going on?

In all probability, a number of things. Firstly, a majority of Serbs realise that they do need to keep working with Europe and that they do need to get on with their neighbours, regardless of their disagreements over the future of Kosovo. Secondly, the EU considers that engagement with Serbia remains vital for the region as a whole, and all good news stories must be encouraged (see the EU’s latest Western Balkans Communication from 5 March:
ec.europa.eu/enlargement/balkans_communication/index_en.htm); and thirdly, there is a key team of Serbian officials who have been driving the cross-border agenda forward in recent years since they have recognised the potential and added value of this co-operation for their country.

This group of people have a difficult task in the current climate. I wish them well.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The hidden borders of Europe

Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence has sparked off further tensions elsewhere is Europe. Kosovo's supporters claim that Kosovo is a unique case, that the attempted genocide by Serbia in the late 1990s meant Serbia had lost all moral authority, and that Kosovan independence has no impact on frozen conflicts elsewhere in Europe. Russia and Serbia argue the opposite, and even have support from within the European Union, with countries like Spain, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia all concerned about the precedent being established in Pristina.

In truth, both sides are being disingenuous. A unilateral declaration by a region or province of a country, without that country's consent, could obviously trigger parallel declarations (in fact, other declarations have been made years ago, without the level of recognition that Kosovo has already achieved). Equally, however, the only way something similar could happen in Abkhazia or South Ossetia, for example, is with full Russian backing – so the only way it becomes a precedent in these cases is if Russia wants it to become a precedent.

There are 6 principal areas of concern across Europe where the Kosovo situation is being watched very closely: the already mentioned Abhkazia and South Ossetia; Transnistria; Nagorno Karabakh; Republika Srpska; and northern Cyprus. (For a perspective from further away, see the Sri Lanka news story on the right-hand side.)

The first three cases are linked directly to Moscow – no-one is going to recognise these countries as independent unless Moscow does. Moscow is perfectly happy to keep all three territories hanging since it keeps them dependent, and gives Moscow leverage against Georgia and Moldova.

Nagorno Karabakh is occupied by Armenia; Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh are in positions of power in Yerevan – yet, even Armenia has not recognised Nagorno-Karabakh's declaration of independence. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have been spending very large sums on defence equipment (or, rather, attack equipment) and this is one area where the conflict could unfreeze rapidly.

Northern Cyprus has also declared its independence many years ago, but is recognised only by Turkey. The recent Cypriot presidential elections seem to have opened a possibility of resuming talks on the future of the island, and there are some hopes here. The Cypriot government's strong reaction on Kosovo's declaration is evidently directly linked to concerns that it strengthens the UDI of northern Cyprus. Again, this seems overblown, as no-one else is planning to recognise the UDI.

Republika Srpska is, of course, particularly problematic given the Serbian ethnic links. Demonstrations have already taken place in Banja Luka against Kosovan independence. If Srpska wants to declare independence on the basis of a referendum, how and why would this be different from Kosovo? Territorial integrity must apply to Bosnia, but must not apply to Serbia? This is a fundamental weak link in the argument of those who recognise Kosovan independence.

Of course, one further area where the Kosovan situation has an immediate impact is – northern Kosovo. If the majority population around Mitrovica says that it wants to be part of Serbia, why should Kosovan territorial integrity count for any more than the Serbian equivalent has done? Here, I think, we will actually see something happening in the short term, for the simple reason that Pristina’s writ will be unenforceable north of the Ibar, and Mitrovica et al will continue, de facto, to be linked to Belgrade.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

New borders, no borders

One of the results of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence is the creation of a number of new borders in the Western Balkans – or so say some. On the other hand, Serbia and Russia claim that no new borders have been created, since the declaration was illegal and does not create a new state.

Of course, the debate is not being presented in terms of the number of borders created or not, but that is one of the effects, and it is worth looking at the impact this could have. Macedonia's northern border is split in two, half Kosovar, half Serbian. The Serbian border with Albania becomes a Kosovo-Albania border entirely; and even the border with Montenegro is affected, with a short stretch now being between Kosovo and Montenegro. All of this is without even mentioning the long Serbia-Kosovo border which is now in de facto existence – not withstanding the rapid Serbian efforts to burn down some of the border posts.

Given this blog's focus on cross-border co-operation issues, what are the possibilities of encouraging such activity on these "new" borders? Well, it is clear that the very opposite of co-operation is going to happen along the Serbia-Kosovo border for the foreseeable future. But what of the others? It is likely that Albania and Kosovo will be keen to work together fairly quickly, but perhaps the most complicated case of all could be the Macedonian border. Macedonia, already suffering political issues on its southern border (this blog considers a country can call itself what it wants, so we will not be using the "former Yugoslav Republic…" terminology), will now face real problems on its northern borders. It will be keen to work with Serbia on the one hand, while especially the ethnic Albanian population will want to work with Kosovo. However, working with Kosovo could well lead to sanctions or boycotts from Serbia, thus undermining both possible co-operations.

Evidently, cross-border co-operation is not the first thing in peoples' minds at the moment. Nevertheless, the benefits of such contacts should not be underestimated in helping to reduce tensions in such difficult situations. Therefore, it is probably worth watching how events develop in the short to medium-term, and then taking careful steps to start cross-border links where possible.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

A new era in cross-border integration

A major step forward in cross-border co-operation was achieved last week, with the creation of the first European Grouping of Territorial Co-operation (EGTC). This unwieldy name disguises a new legal instrument for smoothing the running of cross-border programmes and projects. It gives cross-border groupings a formal identity and solid legal base for their work. The Committee of the Regions has a very good overview webpage on EGTCs - http://www.cor.europa.eu/en/activities/egtc.htm. Indeed, the CoR has been very active in EGTCs issues, even setting up an Expert Group to assist the setting up and operation of EGTCs.

The front runners are the Eurometropole on the French-Belgian border (see tinyurl.com/2r2dhe). There is a long history of co-operation here, and it is not surprising that they have taken the lead here.

Equally unsurprising is that the Member States have been very slow in setting up their national rules for EGTCs. Only about 6 or 7 have put these in place, despite a deadline of 1 August 2007. Commissioner Hübner, in the European Parliament last week, issued some veiled warnings to the slackers about the need to speed up implementation.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Raising the profile

We often complain that cross-border co-operation work does not get enough attention. We should recognise that the sometimes technical nature of the work can make it difficult to grab some positive publicity, so it was very good to see the attached video talking so positively about a really concrete example of health co-operation on the French-Belgian border (http://www.publicsenat.fr/cms/video-a-la-demande/vod.html?idE=56050 - in French).

This is a good example of the extra level of "sophistication" that can be sought in cross-border co-operation: health co-operation involves national responsibility, along with legal and administrative elements that can often only be solved by bringing together different layers of government. This can be complex, but when results can be demonstrated clearly and well like this, it is ultimately rewarding.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

A Happy (Co-operative) New Year to one and all!

So 2008 is underway, and already we are seeing changes in the border situations of Europe. The extension of the Schengen system last month means that you can drive from Lisbon to Tallinn without showing your passport, and this can only be good news for improving cross-border co-operation possibilities - especially for divided border towns such as Gorizia/Nova Gorica, Valka/Valga (http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=35818&sectionid=351020605), Komárno/Komárom and Slubice/Frankfurt-an-der-Oder to name but a few.

But what of those twin towns along the outside edge of the Union? What of Narva/Ivangorod? What of Imatra/Svetogorsk (http://tinyurl.com/yomn9k)? Here visas and border checks will remain the norm and these added complications and hindrances to co-operation are likely to be in place for the foreseeable future. This should always be borne in mind when assessing the success of co-operation activities in these areas.