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, 10 June 2009

A Baltic Strategy

The Commission will today publish its Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region which is aimed at providing the region with a policy framework delivering better results for the EU citizen.

Why the Baltic? Well, on one level it's an obvious choice. The institutional system in the region is packed with international and interregional organisations, like the Nordic Council, the CBSS, HELCOM, the BSSSC, the UBC, the BEAC and a whole host of other acronyms. Indeed, you might ask, if the Baltic is so good at being organised across national borders, why does it need a strategy at all?

The answer is twofold. Firstly, having so many organisations in one region can be a disadvantage when it comes to agreeing on actual action. All these organisations have slightly different focuses, subtly different priorities. Getting them all pulling in the same direction at the same time is none too easy.

The second issue is often a consequence of the first. Since it is difficult to get everyone to agree on a joint approach, it is all too common that the discussions do not lead to sufficient action on the ground. And this is what has been seen in the Baltic. For all the talk and broad, political agreement, the environmental state of the Baltic Sea itself keeps worsening, the transport links do not improve sufficiently quickly, and economic development is still divergent.

The Baltic Sea Strategy offers the chance to better co-ordinate what is already in place and to guide future co-operation work more effectively - in short, to provide the overall framework into which actions and projects can be fitted and organised coherently.

Boiled down to these basics, it's a remarkably straightforward and sensible idea. The uncharitable might ask why it took so long to get around to it, but the role of the Commission in the process provides the response to that. The Member States were unable to come up with this together and needed the Commission as an impartial player to take the lead role in co-ordinating the work. In this, it can be seen as an expansion of the role the Commission often plays in the cross-border programmes in the region. And it could be the start of something much bigger - other regions in Europe are watching with much interest.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Plus ça change...

Regular readers will notice that the Border-crosser has been on an extended break recently, but, in some areas at least, it is as if he hasn't been away at all. Slovenia and Croatia continue to drift along in mutual incomprehension, despite a fairly determined effort by the Commission to haul them back to their senses.

The post below (25 Feb) sets out the background to this dispute, but it is the on-going intransigence which is perhaps the saddest part of the story. We all know the recent history of the Western Balkans and the dangers involved in inflaming nationalist sentiments. If ever there was a need for cool heads and a dedramatising of the situation, then this is it. And yet, we get the exact opposite: consider this scary article http://www.javno.com/en-world/mp-zmago-calls-serbia-bosnia-against-croatia_262530

"Then weapons will fire"?? Have we learned nothing? The answer, apparently, is no.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A great leap backwards

As of yesterday, Americans and Canadians crossing the longest continuous land border on the world require a passport or equivalent document before being allowed to actually cross. The usual arguments on security, control of national borders, the post 9/11 world have all been trotted out to justify this development. Yet, to the Border-crosser at least, this seems, sadly, another step backwards for cross-border co-operation.

How can the introduction of such travel restrictions on a border long regarded as one of the most fluid in the world be necessary, when Europe is moving rapidly in the other direction? Is Europe less safe as a result of Schengen? Is being able to travel from the south of Portugal to the north of Finland without the need for a passport a fundamental danger to our continent? And, since the answer to both questions is no, what is going on?

It seems that North America, essentially driven by the USA of course, is over-reacting to the events of recent years. As a result, North America has become a little bit more closed, a little bit more divided, and a little bit less co-operative than it was. This piece, on Alaska-Yukon border crossings makes the point rather well: http://newsminer.com/news/2009/jun/02/island-effect/