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Reactivation of the Cross-Border Tool

Despite the fiasco of the 2018 proposal, the Commission’s Border Focal Point and AEBR have continued implementing b-solutions cases showing the need for such an instrument. In January 2023, a good collection of obstacles to CB labour markets was presented in Brussels at an event on “Vibrant labour markets” organised by the Commission. On 17 April, the CoR also organised a very relevant event with plenty of examples.

The Parliament has also kept it warm and presented a draft report on 27 April, with “recommendations to the Commission on amending the proposed mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context”. The rapporteur was MPE Sandro Gozi (Renew Europe, FR), who proposed a new coordination framework called BRIDGEU (Border Regions’ Instrument for Development and Growth in the EU).

The EP asked for a simpler instrument, non-obligatory for member states and highlighted the importance of involving local and regional authorities. It built on the work developed by the EU institutions and other entities during the last years to show the need for such an instrument. Amongst the most quoted initiatives, we can find b-solutions, considered “a success” by this draft report and mentioned ten times in the preamble and the case studies (three out of four are b-solutions cases). It advocated for CB Coordination Points within national governments to decide whether and how to use the mechanism on a case-by-case basis. It also proposed to conclude commitments and statements with provisions and tasks for non-permanent ad hoc CB Committees. The States are free to reject an application for the implementation of the mechanism, but they are obligated to answer why.

This report took very much into account the study European added value assessment Mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context, prepared by the EP Research Service and released in May 2023, which identifies and assesses three policy options: (1) status quo (such as b-solutions, EGTC, BFP, …), (2) soft-law measures (raising awareness and capacities), and (3) adopting a new legislative instrument (ECBM 2.0). The third option seems to have the highest impact in addressing legal and administrative obstacles. This assessment also quotes b-solutions very often.

In the hypertexts above, you can download these documents, but here you also have the URLs:

Draft Report: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/REGI-PR-740608_EN.pdf

Assessment: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2023/740233/EPRS_STU(2023)740233_EN.pdf

The Committee of the Regions has also adopted an Own Opinion on the European CB Mechanism 2.0 through the COTER Committee. The Rapporteur was Magali Altounian (Renew Europe, FR) from the PACA Region, and the discussions took place on 22-23 June in COTER. The CoR Plenary adopted the Opinion on 10 October 2013. The CoR plans a second Opinion or Resolution in 2024, and the European Economic and Social Committee is also preparing a paper on the instrument.

The European Parliament finally adopted the Resolution P9_TA(2023)0327 amending the proposed mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context on 14 September (2022/2194(INL)).

The Commission, which seemed to be simply dusting it, awaiting a Presidency to assume it, has reacted. Just as the three-month deadline set out in Parliament’s resolution was to be met, the Commission adopted on 12 December 2023 a new, more simplified version: Amended proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context, including the CB Coordination Points and the CB Facilitation Tool. All this happened during the Spanish Presidency, but it will be settled during the Belgian and Hungarian ones in 2024.

On 23 January 2024 MEPs of the Regional Development Committee welcomed the Commission´s proposal following up on their BridgeEU legislative initiative adopted in September 2023, asking to reach an agreement with the Council before the EU elections in June 2024.

On 6 February, MEPs have reiterated their readiness to start interinstitutional negotiations with the EU governments on the new Commission proposal. EP rapporteur Sandro Gozi (Renew, FR) pointed out that the new mechanism is expected not only to remove barriers, but also to benefit cross-border regions financially and the EU economy by saving 457 billion euro and creating 4 million jobs every year. He has also stressed that the Commission´s new proposal is of a simpler character, has a voluntary nature, creates no new administrative burdens and effectively addresses legal issues the EU countries objected to in the original proposal from 2018. MEPs thus expect the Council to restart the talks as soon as possible in order to finalise the text before the European elections.

Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib, representing the Belgian presidency of the Council , has acknowledged the importance of removing cross-border obstacles hampering the development of infrastructure and impeding the life of cross-border communities. She stressed the importance of CBC for the functioning of the single market and expressed her full support for the new mechanism, which is, in her view, more flexible and allows the countries to act on a case-by-case basis. It would take some time to analyse the positions of member states, which might delay negotiations with the European Parliament. The Belgian presidency would do its utmost to meet the needs of border regions, although the agreement on the new mechanism might not be reached until the end of this legislative term.

The European Economic and Social Committee’s study group Facilitating cross-border solutions is currently working on a document analysing the proposal and aims to provide a few recommendations. This study group met on 9 February in a hybrid format for a DG REGIO presentation and discussion of the amended proposal. AEBR, the CoR’s EGTCs Platform / new CB Platform, ESPON, and Spatial Foresight were also invited to present their views/positions on the Commission’s proposal. The works continued on 6 March, shaping the document into a very positive and more balanced EESC’s own opinion with a few new ideas (CBCPs annual reports, including the initiators’ right to object to the CBCPs’ reports/opinions). There also was a general request to collect, organise and enhance all big numbers around CBC.

Other organisations, such as the University of Maastricht’s ITEM, have also worked around the CB tool. A recent event (25 March), Solving CB problems with the CB Facilitation Tool, invited MEP Sandro Gozi, the BFP, the CB Platform, and various stakeholders, including AEBR, to reflect on the Commission’s amended proposal, its perspectives and possible implementation procedures.

 

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