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.

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.