Social and economic differences across EU less important for citizens – survey

Interreg marks 30 years. [Shutterstock/GagoDesign]

An increasing number of Europeans living in border regions of the EU say social and economic differences are not problems affecting cooperation between their home and neighbouring country, a new survey shows.

Now more than a half (52%) of Europeans surveyed do not see social and economic differences between their countries as affecting cross-border cooperation at all, a 6% increase since 2015, according to a poll of 41,091 citizens living in regions close conducted by Gallup International on behalf of the European Commission.

Most Europeans living in border regions, who make up a third of the EU’s 450 million population, still continue to see language and as the main obstacle in cooperation between their countries, followed by legal and administrative divergences, though their proportion has decreased by in the past five years.

EU citizens living close to the other countries most often travel across countries for leisure and tourism, as well as to take advantage of shopping opportunities and services. The number of those crossing the border has grown, with close to four out of five respondents saying they have travelled to another country, a 3% increase compared to 2015.

Europeans are also on average comfortable with peers from neighbouring countries. Most people living in EU border regions would feel comfortable with having a citizen from an adjacent country as a neighbour (91%), work colleague (89%), family member (88%) or manager (82%).

The EU funds cooperation across borders through a policy called Interreg, which aims to help local and regional authorities tackle common challenges with shared solutions. Such projects can be among member states, countries aspiring to join the bloc’ and even regional cooperation with third countries, for instance, in the Mediterranean region.

The policy, which is now marking its 30-year anniversary, may emerge relatively unscathed from the EU’s ongoing funding battle.

While the European leaders cut the overall cohesion policy envelope for the next seven-year budget by -11.5% this summer, they left the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), from which Interreg received its €10.1 billion allocated for the previous period, largely untouched.

However, the final figures remain unclear as negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council drag on.

Divisions over economic criteria in cohesion policy negotiations

Negotiations on cohesion policy between the European Parliament, Commission and Council will take place on Thursday (15 October), focusing on how strictly the flow of money is regulated and whether it should be distributed according to economic criteria. EURACTIV Germany reports.

More focus on youth

I can only encourage all managing authorities of the Interreg programmes to give as large space as possible to projects that involve young people,” Marc Lemaître, director-general at the Commission’s regional policy department,  said at a recent event.

Ahead of the programme’s annual event, young people participating in the Interreg Volunteer Youth project drafted a declaration, calling for improving young people’s skills and increasing access to training opportunities, boosting their employment, simplifying the programme’s rules, addressing climate change and improving their engagement in policymaking.

The manifesto also urged for better communication via digital tools, which may contribute to resolving the Interreg’s visibility problem, as survey results suggest the EU should invest more in promoting initiatives aimed at strengthening links across the frontiers.

People living close to the border are now less aware of EU funded cross-border projects, their number dropping from 31% to 24% since 2015.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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