Final Declaration of the AEBR Annual Conference 2010 "Territorial Cohesion in a Post-Crisis Scenario: Contribution of Cross-Border Cooperation":

Around 250 participants attended the AEBR main event of the year 2010 in Dundalk/East Border Region, Republic of Ireland. A detailed report about the conference will soon be available.

 

Draft Final Declaration

AEBR Annual Conference 2010

 

Territorial Cohesion in a Post-Crisis Scenario:

Contribution of Cross-Border Cooperation

 

Current debate on the future European Cohesion Policy will achieve its critical momentum with the publication of the Fifth Cohesion Report. The review of the EU Financial Perspectives will certainly include modifications with impact in many European regions’ expectations. In the meantime, the Union discusses its strategy until 2020 while there is a need to keep the “territorial” approach for the cohesion of “every” European territory. There are more proposals on the table, like the “European 2030 Project”, elaborated by the Reflection Group chaired by Felipe González, which is centred on the main global challenges faced by Europe.

 

However, these profound global challenges also affect European regions: knowledge-based growing, climate change, demographic change and energy security. To cap it all, a deep economic and financial crisis put us on the ropes, adding difficulties to continue infrastructure projects, affecting our labour markets, and having, in any case, a tremendous impact in the development perspectives for many of our territories. And this is particularly worrying for those territories with additional handicaps, as it is the case of border regions, be either peripheral or mountainous, urban, rural or maritime.

 

In this sense, the AEBR has elaborated concrete proposals for future European Cohesion and territorial cooperation founded on the expertise cumulated by dozens of border and cross-border regions after four Interreg periods. Such proposals are based upon the evaluations of these programmes and the practice on the ground, showing that Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) adds value to the European integration process and strengthens European values. The AEBR has brought its points of view forward through in depth discussions with European institutions (Commission, Parliament, Committee of the Regions) and other European associations.

We have also exchanged views with other public and private stakeholders, affected by and/or interested in a set of challenges that involve, somehow, every European citizen. We understand CBC not only as part of the European Cohesion Policy, but also as a strong instrument. So, CBC will play a fundamental role in the EU 2020 Strategy. Subsidiarity, Decentralisation, Multi-level Governance, etc., are key concepts, and all analyses made in the last years by the European institutions, and also by independent research centres, show the contribution of territorial cohesion (and the programmes to implement it) to the European project from many points of view. The AEBR already elaborated an analysis on the added value of CBC, and has applied this pattern in all debates on territorial cohesion afterwards (Green Paper, Barca Report, Cohesion reports, various consultations by the Commission, the CoR and the Parliament, etc.). We have also gathered an enormous data base with best practices: the experience accumulated by our members in all European borders.

 

Therefore, it is the time to defend the Cohesion Policy as it has been defined until now, taking not only into account territorial disparities but also further strengths within the EU. The three strands (cross-border, transnational, interregional) should be kept while stressing their mutual complementarity. A wider concept of European Cohesion should still consider EU neighbouring countries as object of this cohesion and deepen the implementation of effective CBC initiatives at all external borders of the Union, but in particular with potential accession candidates. They also aspire to their development quota, and European support to these processes is a matter of common sense. The Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership have to keep on including decentralized territorial cooperation elements where DG Regio should receive a more relevant role in synchronising cross-border programmes.

 

And, within the EU, there should not be any doubt (already seizing some Member states) as to whether involve decentralised authorities to manage European funds or not. The participation of local and regional actors has been decisive to generate capacities and mobilize wills, paving the way to a multi-level governance process to coordinate efforts in order to reduce European regional disparities and to be more efficient. In this same sense, CBC programmes should be managed by the border regions in partnership with national governments, with a more clear focus of programmes on CBC to produce common added value.  To this end we have additional instruments, as it is the case of the European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTCs).

 

There are nevertheless some forces operating against. There are two particular risks:

 

-          Sectorialization of European policies, with a excessive concentration in more developed areas; and

-          Consolidation of a few macro-regions, where national (or trans-national) interests may prevail.

 

The Commission’s proposal to establish a common strategic framework involving all Structural Funds could be interesting to develop the EU 2020 Strategy, but it should guarantee local and regional participation in the elaboration of such a framework, while taking into account their developmental interests, stressing particularly Territorial Cooperation within Cohesion Policy (and financing). This is very important when determining top European priorities leading main political initiatives in the next decade.

 

We agree with the Commission on the need to better measure the impact of the EU structural effort. We have better indicators and evaluation systems, but the measurement of cross-border performance (quantitative, but also qualitative) is still pending. We should walk a step beyond simple data collection on both sides of the border. Our Association has already proposed several series of indicators and has begun some initiatives to develop measurable impact evidences, far from mere empirical observation. The approach of future cross-border programmes have to be backed in a more analytical way, so that CBC problems and developments can be better defined. The participation of universities and research centres in the ULYSSES project will strengthen this process and may offer new tools to define future CBC strategies.

 

From the sectorial point of view, we are analyzing current main areas of CBC through projects, Task Forces and regular or permanent workshops (health, transport, innovation) in order to gain access to the best information available to make accurate technical contributions (conclusions and recommendations based on results) in main debates on territorial cohesion, but a stronger political impact is needed.

 

The AEBR would support a cross-border interest group of politicians within the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament to strengthen border regions’ position on the debates foreseen in the next months (Fifth Cohesion Report, Financial Perspectives, Future Cohesion Policy) and promote the interests of European border and cross-border regions now and in the future.

 

The requests and recommendations of the AEBR Annual Conference 2010 will be sent to EU institutions and European border regions, offering some answers to the current situation, when traditional development concepts, our relationship with the environment, growth patterns, the consumers’ behaviour and many other components need a new approach based on sustainability, solidarity and subsidiarity.

 

The Association of European Border Regions

 

Dundalk (East Border Region), 22nd October 2010

 

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