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Cross-border cooperation in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis

Pavel Branda

The current unprecedented crisis has put to the test all aspects of our lives, including cross-border cooperation, which is facing its most challenging time in decades.

Overnight, Member States closed their borders across the EU without consulting their neighbours or even local and regional authorities, thus affecting the everyday lives of people living in border regions. This also put some sectors of the economy in a very difficult position.

I hope that, instead of countries closing their borders, cross-border cooperation becomes an integral part of addressing this complex crisis together

This was, for example, the case with health and care for the elderly in some border regions where these sectors depend on workforce coming from the other side of the border.

On the other hand, this crisis has also shown the incredible resourcefulness of and solidarity between the peoples of Europe, proving once again that cross-border cooperation is not only wanted by Europe's citizens but also essential for a good quality of life for many of them.

The crisis has shown us how fragile the results of long-term endeavours are and that we should not take them for granted. It is my strong belief that it also presents an opportunity for us to put an even stronger emphasis on the benefits of cross-border cooperation and to bring it to the centre of the European political agenda.

The European Committee of the Regions  (CoR) stepped in right at the beginning of the crisis in an effort to revive and reinforce cooperation across borders. To look into what was happening on the ground, the CoR launched the COVID-19 exchange platform on its website in March.

Shortly after the launch, it became clear that we would need to look specifically at border regions, as they were disproportionally affected by the crisis; a dedicated section on cross-border cooperation was needed.

The CoR decided to partner with the European Commission (DG REGIO) and the leading associations in the field - the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), the Mission Operationnelle Transfrontalière (MOT) and the Central European Service for Cross-border Initiatives (CESCI),- to pool resources and publish stories on cross-border and transnational experiences during the crisis in one place. So far, over 100 stories have been published there.

These valuable experiences will be used in the CoR's consultative work and to support an in-depth analysis of what the crisis means for cross-border cooperation and how cooperation across borders can help address this new situation in the future. In fact,

I hope that, instead of countries closing their borders, cross-border cooperation becomes an integral part of addressing this complex crisis together.

“It should be the CoR's role to put to the Conference on the Future of Europe comprehensive recommendations on cross-border cooperation.

This experience helped us to realise that we have to look to the long-term future of cross-border cooperation. While the EU and its cornerstone policies have created many new opportunities in border regions, many obstacles still remain. And these obstacles were aggravated during the COVID-19 crisis.

Citizens living in border regions continue to encounter difficulties in their daily lives, in relation to finding a job, accessing healthcare, everyday commuting and overcoming administrative problems. Similarly, businesses face obstacles that hamper their growth, while local and regional authorities still face challenges in establishing deeper cross-border cooperation such as cross-border public services.

This cannot be considered acceptable in the EU, as the internal border regions cover 40% of the EU's territory, accounting for 30% of its population (150 million people) and hosting almost 2 million cross-border commuters. Overcoming legal and administrative obstacles is crucial to maximising the opportunities that open borders offer to citizens and businesses and to implementing the measures required to maintain those advantages even during a crisis.

It should be the CoR's role to put to the Conference on the Future of Europe comprehensive recommendations on cross-border cooperation.

In this respect, the CoR plans to focus on two issues: first, a long-term vision of the future of EU cross-border cooperation, with specific proposals on the border regions, to be implemented by 2050; and, second, legislation guaranteeing minimum standards for on cross-border cooperation in a crisis situation, to ensure the maintenance of a basic level of public services and a satisfactory livelihood for citizens living in cross-border regions.

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL