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, 28 January 2009

Naughty Irish cross-border drivers

I quite enjoyed this story on the BBC this week about drivers from Ireland running up thousands of pounds in driving fines in Northern Ireland (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/7852597.stm). In fact, it's a bit cruel really - the UK economy needs every penny it can get at the moment.

Actually, the EU is trying to address this issue through the snappily-titled proposal for a "Directive facilitating cross-border enforcement in the field of road safety" (http://preview.tinyurl.com/chf7uj). In fact, the proposed Directive only covers the following at present: (a) speeding; (b) drink-driving; (c) non-use of a seat-belt; (d) failing to stop at a red traffic light and not parking fines - it's more difficult to justify bad parking as a road safety issue perhaps, although when you see the idiots that park on pedestrian crossings or in bus lanes, I think a case could be made. I am certainly surprised that using a mobile phone while driving is not on the list: that is clearly a safety issue.

I can see the road lobby moaning vociferously about this, but the Border-Crosser has very little sympathy - why should you be allowed to drive badly with impunity just because you live across the border? After all, there's an even easier way of avoiding a fine - don't break the law.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Happy New Year - and a late Christmas present

A bit late I know, but it's been a hectic couple of months in the cross-border world. Not content with trying to get the late starters among the new 2007-2013 co-operation programmes moving, the Commission suddenly sprang a big surprise by offering 6 month extensions for the old 2000-2006 programmes which were meant to close down at the end of 2008.

This last-minute knee-jerk reaction approach is, unfortunately, too often the case with the Commission. Programmes were caught unprepared; even those that could react had mostly closed down projects anyway, so an extra 6 months does not really help project spending very much (apart from amongst those real laggards who still had projects running up to 31 December, of which there were a few.)

However, there is one key positive element to come out of all this. Programmes will now get some help in paying their closure costs. It has always seemed bizarre that expenditure eligibility finished at the end of 2008, but the deadline for closure documents was 15 months later. Certainly, it takes time for such documentation to be compiled and prepared, but who was meant to pay for the 15 months work? The Commission's answer (up to last month) of "the Member States" might be okay for national programmes, but was never a fair response for multi-country programmes. So the programme extensions should be seen as allowing some of the closure costs to be an eligible expense, and programmes should still aim to submit documents by March 2010.

Next time though, a little more warning would be nice.