Starting in the afternoon, Dirk Hilbert, mayor of Dresden and co-president of Euroregion Elbe-Labe; Benedikt Praxenthaler from the division for cross-border cooperation of the German Federal Ministry of Interior and Ann-Sofi Backgren, President of AEBR opened the conference and welcomed the audience.
Martín Guillermo Ramírez, AEBR’s secretary general, introduced the following sessions, in each of which speakers offered different perspectives on the aspect of trust, a crucial matter in cross-border cooperation. “A common say shared by the founders of both the European Union and AEBR perceives borders as the scars of history, because borders have been more often than other regions stage of conflicts. Cross-border cooperation has worked to heal these scars, and trust is the starting point to build peaceful relations. To bring development and welfare in border regions, trust is essential”, emphasised Mr Guillermo Ramírez. He pointed out that the European Union is also based on trust, and that this project needs to continue being supported and it cannot be given for granted: local and regional authorities should take advantage of the tools and the funding offered by the EU to sustain trust and cooperation across borders.
Dirk Peters from DG Regio at the European Commission showcased the main instruments to foster trust building among regions and member states put at disposal by the EU: the funding channelled through Interreg, the legal base offered by the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation, and, possibly, the new proposal for a European Cross-Border Mechanism. Florence Jacquey, director of EGTC Summit Secretariat of the Greater Region, and Xosé Lago, director of EGTC Galicia-Norte, presented obstacles to cross-border cooperation that their organisations face and the measures they undertook to overcome these hurdles and build trust among the stakeholders in the framework of the project b-solutions. To conclude this panel, Doede Sijtsma illustrated with examples from his experience how trust building is essential for cross-border cooperation – and how this must be supported with policies that allow for collaboration to happen.
The panel entitled “Joint Thinking and Doing, but also Showing: CBC Branding and Visibility” offered the occasion to display successful projects and ideas to enhance cooperation. Dirk Peters illustrated the many initiatives introduced by DG Regio; Giulia Brustia, Project Assistant at AEBR, presented the progress of the project b-solutions, a pilot initiative managed by AEBR and promoted by DG Regio to solve obstacles that hinder cooperation. Representatives of AEBR’s members from the Euroregion Spree-Neiße-Bober and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chios explained examples of successful joint actions and launched new ideas to cooperate on common challenges. Finally, Dawid Lasek from the Polish Association Carpathian Euroregion brought a good example of communication, showing the case of joint tourism promotion as a successful practice of cross-border branding.
The “Case of the Host”, developed the second day, was culture, inspired by the candidacy of Dresden as European Capital of Culture 2025 with its project entitled “Neue Heimat” (new homeland). Neue Heimat on the road Project: Saxony through the eyes of others has supported three teams of international journalists travelling through rural areas. Tadas „tuchkus“ Rickevičius from Kaunas, Lithuania, and Joshua Strydom from Harare, Zimbabwe, explained their participation in the project, showing their work.
Irena Dourou, Rapporteur for Culture with no Borders at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe, held a keynote speech with inspiring words, stressing how culture is a tool to unite people. “We should combine the analysis of cultural patrimonies and explore the factors that unite people instead of divide them, so to create new ties for societies, being local authorities key actors to do so because they are closer to citizens” reminded Ms Dourou to the audience.
The last panel of the morning was a presentation of best practices of cross-border culture cooperation in rural areas conducted by Stephan Hoffman (City of Dresden): Vesna Humar from Nova Gorica/Gorizia presented their candidature to ECC 2025; Valentina Marcenaro of the city of Dresden, presented X-Dörfer; Jurjen van der Weg from the City of Leeuwarden, who presented their ECC in 2018, and Radek Sobehart from Ústí University, partner of the project kultura.digital, offered examples from projects set up in their organisations to show how culture can boost cooperation in border regions.
Two more workshops organised by AEBR gave the opportunity to the participants to exchange further and connect with stakeholders: AEBRS’s Task Force External Borders brought together representatives of regions located at the external borders of the EU to exchange on future possibilities and common challenges, while Gavin Daly from ESPON EGTC and Bernhard Schausberger from the Interact Programme offered new insights in policy-making for cross-border cooperation after 2020.
AEBR’s Annual Conference has given voice to border regions along these two days, offering the chance to learn, network and connect with other border regions. As AEBR’s President Ann-Sophie Backgren said when welcoming the audience, as representatives of border regions, “we need social networks, individuals that trust each other and a more focused policy agenda to bring together people that benefits from cross-border cooperation”. The conference has contributed to strengthen these values and will continue to do so at the next Annual Conference of AEBR in November 2020 in Eupen, Belgium.