Why do we need an ethical approach to cross-border cooperation?:

Article written by Elisabetta Nadalutti, Italian researcher


One of the most compelling and important challenges we are facing today is linked to borders management, cross-border cooperation and the ways politics and policies of borders affect peoples’ lives and relations. Indeed, cross-border management is at the core of the European Cohesion Policy since is perceived as a way to promote and reach cohesion. And cohesion is vital in order to keep together the European Union as a ‘common’ project.

Brexit is surely challenging this Project and there are those who already talk of the ‘disintegration’ of the Union. We also worryingly witness domino effects on the continental Europe. Hence, the Catalan case, Italian strong economic regions seeking semi-autonomy in order to have more control over their finances and administration, and EU scepticism and right wing movement raising in Germany and France. Recently, the Committee of the Region has warned that closing borders and suspending Schengen generate uncertainties, bring important costs to border cities and regions and influence the structures of cooperation like the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation.

Political, economic, and security strategies have been put on the table to overcome these issues. However, not even a document or a strategic plan formally mention the role that ethical values, symbols, ideologies and belief have in shaping cross-border cooperation. That is surprising, since we know that human beings interpret and shape borders and their natural environment through governing them well or ill. Thus, why don’t the Commission and other governmental/non-governmental actors officially consider the ‘human factors’ that shape CBC? Indeed, little is still done for people-to-people (P2P) relations, or what I do refer to when I focus on the ‘empathy’ of the border.

My suggestion to the EU Commission, supranational bodies and national and local actors that deal with CBC, is to focus on a normative-ethical understanding of cross-border regions and CBC by 'humanizing' borders. My question to stakeholders, policy makers, practitioners who focus on cross-border practices is how, and what are the strategies they implement on the ground in order to ‘experience’ the people who are on the other side of the border? How can we know their experiences, and therefore cooperate on a human level?

I think that strategies that focus on acts of generosity, hospitality and inclusion should be considered, operationalised and formalised in the Cohesion Policy documentation. That these ‘ethical’ practices should be problematized by referring to different national, local political and bureaucratic systems within the framework of a ‘universal frame of cross-border cooperation values’. To my knowledge, we miss a legal ethical framework that focuses on this ‘empathic’ dimension of cooperation. Is this dimension irrelevant? I do not think so, since cross-border areas are ‘ethical’ spaces where people have reasons for pursuing goals ‘other than’ personal well-being or individual self-interest, since they embrace the common space of the border.

Written by Elisabetta Nadalutti, Italian researcher

<< back