On 22 January 2019, in Aachen, Germany and France renewed their vows for enhanced cooperation among the two countries. This signature came 56 years after the first treaty that had been signed in Elysée, writes Ilona Raugze.
Raugze is the director of the European Territorial Observatory Network ESPON EGTC.
The treaty emphasises cross-border and territorial cooperation among public stakeholders on local and regional level, dedicating one of its six chapters on the topic. It also foresees a cross-border cooperation committee comprising stakeholders of the two countries, to better coordinate this cooperation.
A fine example of such cooperation, identified by an ESPON research on Cross-border Public Services in Europe, is the tram connection between Strasbourg and Kehl. In a cross-border area of about half a million inhabitants, 40,000 vehicles move every day as people travel across the borders for work or shopping, increasing traffic pressure, congestion and air pollution. To address this problem the two cities decided to develop a tramway line connecting the distance of 7 Km that separates them. And they managed to bypass several legal and administrative problems related to different regulations and fare systems by developing tailormade solutions, such a common zonal tariff for the cross-border tramway line.
In Kehl, it is also where the German-French Centre for European Consumer Protection is based. Founded as a non-profit organisation back in 1993, it is today the only bi-nationally operated member of the European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net), a network that is established by the European Commission in 2005. The Center supports German or French consumers facing cross-border disputes, with lawyers that support them free of charge. Their primary objective is to strive for an amicable and quick solution with the conflict partner. But if this solution is not in the interests of the consumer, formal legal processes can be initiated. The German-French Centre is financed by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry in charge of consumer protection, the former region Alsace, the Eurometropole Strasbourg, the county Ortenaukreis and several French and German cities in the Upper Rhine Area.
These examples show how the two countries became the champions of Cross-border Public Services in Europe, offering to their citizens cross-border services in the fields of education, transport, civil and environmental protection, labour market, health care.
According to the same ESPON research mentioned above, Germany and France share 59 bilateral services, when they are also participating in 25 multinationals (more than 3 countries involved). This accounts for about 11% of the total number of services offered in Europe.
This is what we call a territorial approach and it is an important element in policymaking to address problems that exceed administrative borders. Its aim is to combine resources and improve cost efficiency and quality of results of the public investments.
Cross-border Public Services are fundamental for such a territorial approach as they address joint problems or development potentials of border regions that are located on different sides of the nation-state borders. The existence of Cross-border Public Services supports the private sector’s initiatives and improves citizens’ everyday life, allowing them to live and operate in a broader region that is not limited by administrative borders.
As territorial-based solutions aim to overcome administrative borders it is obvious that the main obstacles arise due to administrative and legal incompatibilities. The example of Franco-German cooperation proves that political will is the most important element to successfully implement such solutions.
A pro-active approach is also needed to ensure the engagement of different stakeholders and long-term planning. On the EU level there is a number of tools that can support these initiatives: European Territorial Cooperation Programmes -INTERREG- are a good source of financing. The newly proposed cross-border mechanism provides also the necessary tools to remove some of the legal and administrative barriers in the next programming period.
Positive experience from various regions across Europe initiates further joint approaches, either in other cross-border areas or aiming to further integrate already existing joint management efforts, transport and environmental protection being two typical examples. Focus also seems to be now in the fields of spatial planning, economic development, tourism and culture. Interestingly, the development of energy-related Cross-border Public Services is not among the often-mentioned intervention fields for the future.
Cross-border Public Services is a difficult exercise, but it pays back. It is also a proof that European integration benefits directly the citizens: it is improving the quality of life in cross-border areas and it addresses different needs from both sides of the borders, contributing to Europe’s sustainable growth.