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.

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?