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.

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.