AEBR and DG Regio organised a meeting with b-solutions beneficiaries:



 

On 31 January, AEBR, together with the European Commission, organised a meeting in Brussels with the project partners resulting from the first call for proposals opened under the b-solutions initiative. The meeting took place right in the middle of the implementation process of the 10 pilot actions, and gave the candidates the opportunity to exchange about their experiences and to show the developments achieved so far.

Ms Nathalie Verschelde, Deputy Head of D2 Unit (Cross-Border Cooperation) at DG Regio, moderated the workshop which was attended also by experts from the Central European Service for Cross-border Initiatives (CESCI), the Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross-border cooperation (ITEM) at the Maastricht University and the Mission Opérationelle Transfrontalière (MOT).

AEBR is proud to manage an initiative which paves the way for the implementation of innovative policies for cross-border cooperation (CBC) in the EU, going against the current political trend which is creating a troubled environment where borders are hardening. As such, b-solutions is a relief for border regions providing support to stakeholders.

Mr Pascal Boijmans, head of D2 Unit at DG Regio, introduced the workshop explaining how the 25th anniversary of Interreg encouraged DG Regio to make an assessment on cross-border cooperation within the EU. Since the publication of the “Cross Border Review” and the many consultations with stakeholders which followed, it was clear that still many legal and administrative aspects needed to be tackled to increase the effectiveness of CBC. The European Commission has clearly addressed this need in its Communication "Boosting Growth and Cohesion in EU Border Regions" adopted in September 2017, and b-solutions is one of the actions envisaged to start working in this direction.

Mr Dirk Peters, Senior Expert for European territorial cooperation, EGTC and ECBM at the European Commission (DG Regio), stressed the relevance of instruments which provide funding, create trust and allow to practice joint management of cross-border areas for the realisation of CBC. Furthermore, Dirk Peters introduced the European Cross Border Mechanism (ECBM), a legal tool which could strongly improve CBC and that serves as a background for b-solutions. The ECBM is a procedure to overcome cross-border obstacles of a legal or administrative nature by enabling the application of legal provisions of the neighbouring member state to allow for the realisation of a defined case/project. As a matter of fact, despite the existence of already well established solutions to address CB obstacles in financial (e.i. Interreg Programmes) or institutional (i.e. EGTCs) matters, the absence of a quick and effective mechanism to overcome the hurdles in legal and administrative terms keeps hindering many CB activities in border areas. The ECBM would thus enable a faster implementation of projects or provision of services which are still staggering nowadays – as it resulted from the analysis of the pilot actions developed in the framework of b-solutions carried out during the workshop.

 

Ensuing the introduction of the workshop, the representatives of a first group of selected projects illustrated the development of the pilot actions implemented thanks to b-solutions.

Ms Sandra Karuša, representative for the Project “Lithuanian – Latvian institutional cooperation on cross-border groundwater management” (Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre), pointed at the importance of strengthening sustainable cooperation by unifying working strategies and tools of data analysis between the two countries. The solution envisaged to overcome difficulties resulting from different methods on analysis of the ground is to achieve an agreement on the methodology of data analysis.

Mr Jean-Yves Pirlot, representative for the project “GeoConnectGR” (Secretariat of the Summit of the Greater Region), explained how they aim at harmonising geographic and hydrographic data across the regional and national borders and homogenising open data mapping of the Greater Region. This will enable the Greater Region's Geographic Information System (GIS-GR) to cross-reference hydrographic data with other data on specific cross-border topics and thereby support territorial observation and decision-making taking into consideration the cross-border dimension.

Listening to these cases, Mr Jean Peyrony, director general of MOT, highlighted the crucial role of national states when it comes to cooperation. Mr Peyrony stressed particularly the importance of the European Union in allowing and supporting cooperation at all levels, both the local and the national one.

 

The analysis of the projects focused then on obstacles to CBC in the field of employment: Mr Boštjan Starc and Mr Alessandro Badin from the project “XBorder – Work” (Friuli-Venezia-Giulia Region) brought evidence of the difficulties and uncertainties that people face when declaring taxes in a cross-border context. The aim of the action they are involved in is to clarify the status of people who work in a member state and live in another one. The goal is to create a joint information point and a single tool to calculate the taxes’ share, facilitating thus free movement of workers between Italy and Slovenia.

Ms Lavinia Kortese works on the implementation of the pilot action “Roadmap for recognition of qualifications for highly demanded professions” (Province of Limburg, NL). In the regions across Germany and The Netherlands cross-border mobility of workers is hindered by a strict regulation of the recognition of some professions. To facilitate the recognition of qualification in the neighbouring country, the project partners brought together public authorities from Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium to develop material informing citizens who would like to look for a profession in the neighbouring region and guide them through the procedure.

Professor Martin Unfried from ITEM pointed out the usefulness of bilateral agreements to solve both cases – both are obstacles of an administrative, bureaucratic nature lying at the national level. Yet, such problems are felt more strongly in border regions because here there is a stronger need to go beyond national boundaries.

 

The following group of projects focused on institutional cooperation: Mr Frédéric Siebenhaar and Mr Christian Kleinert, partners of the action “Cooperation protocol on administrative procedures on health insurance for frontier workers” (EGTC Eurodistrict PAMINA, DE/FR), shared their experience is solving complex administrative procedures to register to an health insurance scheme for cross border workers. The pilot project assembles health insurance organisations, social security bodies and national authorities to create a protocol to ease mobility of workers in the region.

Mr Jean-Louis Valls showed the first results of the pilot action “When EMS (emergency medical system) erase borders” (Consortium of the Working Community of the Pyrenees) which aims to provide an effective emergency response in the area across France, Andorra and Spain. During the first months of implementation, agreements with fifteen partners and eight bilateral conventions have already been reached to achieve automatic recognition of professionals registered in the Medical and Nursery Associations in the neighbouring countries.

Mr Gyula Ocskay from CESCI noted how both cases require the acceptance of a practice or a law of the neighbouring county to succeed in their intention. Such cases could be solved through the application of the ECBM: adopting the legislation of the neighbouring countries would allow cross-border cooperation.

Mr Hannes Schaffer and Ms Gabriele Gstettenhofer, representatives from the pilot action “Bilingualism in the Tri-Border Region AT-HU-SK” (Lower Austria), illustrated the project they are involved in. This strives to create a legal frame for the realisation of cross border kindergarten and school attendance. In this way, bilingualism could be achieved, and the population would grow more mobile, resilient and open towards the neighbours.

Mr Loïc Delhuvenne and Ms Inês Mendes presented the achievements of the project “Cross-Border mobility in dual education in the Eurometropolis” (EGTC Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai). The objective of the pilot action is to facilitate mobility of trainees and thus create more job opportunities in the cross-border area. Currently, different legal frameworks hamper cross-border mobility of apprentices in dual systems of education between Belgium and France. The solution envisaged is the creation of a single employment area where trainees have better access to the job market.

Mr Ricardo Ferreira, coordinator of the Border Focal Point team (DG Regio), remarked the positive impact of both projects on cross-border cooperation: they both envision a long term perspective of collaboration and interaction across the national boundaries. Also, both pilot actions could favour from the ECBM: the political willingness would stabilise, and the capacity to make agreements strengthen.

Mr Tommaso Vaccarezza from the pilot action “EGTC GO Cross-Border Public Urban Mobility Plan” (EGTC GO)explained how the project partners strive to solve the lack of integration of urban transport networks operating in the divided cities of Gorizia (IT), Nova Gorica (SI) and Šempeter-Vrojba (SI). The goal is to realise an integrated transport network and project partners are working to achieve this by bringing together transport providers of the two cities, regional and local authorities as well as national ones.

Mr András Gödöc and Mr Zoltán Madaras, representatives of the project “CrossMarkets – Enhance cross-border selling at local farmers’ market” (PANNON EGTC), illustrated the progress made so far by assembling farmers and producers from the cross-border region, local and national authorities in Hungary and Croatia. The solution to a lack of accessibility of the neighbour’s market is to provide information and ease the procedure, which in turn will enhance cross-border trade and exchange.

In conclusion of the meeting, Dirk Peters (DG Regio) observed how the ECBM could solve many of the obstacles that were presented in the meeting and facilitate specific difficulties that arise when two different legal systems and administrative practices meet.

Ms Cinzia Dellagiacoma, project manager at AEBR, emphasised the importance of such an innovative approach to foster European integration and thanked the participants for the progress they are making with the development of the pilot actions they are involved in. AEBR is determined to exploit the results which will be achieved by the beneficiaries to raise awareness on cross-border cooperation best practices and to continue plea for a better connected European Union of the regions.

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