Cross-border cooperation in Europe is important to address future challenges

You will be hard pushed to find any areas of our lives that have not been put to the test by the coronavirus pandemic. This also applies to cross-border cooperation, which has not had to cope with such a challenge for decades. Many Member States closed their borders overnight without consulting their neighbours.

The consequences of this were not only felt by important areas of the economy, which found themselves in a very difficult position: after decades of prosperity and open borders, families were separated once more, people were unable to get to their places of work, and travel and cross-border trade became virtually impossible during the first months of the crisis.

On the other hand, the pandemic has demonstrated the incredible resourcefulness and the high degree of solidarity among the nations of Europe. And this pandemic has once again proved that cross-border cooperation is not merely desired by European citizens but is imperative for the existence of many people.

Based on the feedback gathered from the border regions last year and a large number of studies, we passed a resolution in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on the future of cross-border cooperation. This resolution is the contribution of the CoR to the Conference on the Future of Europe. It provides specific proposals to reinforce cooperation along the sea and land borders and life in the border regions in the event of a pan-European or regional crisis. Moreover, the resolution of the CoR contains provisions calling on the Commission to propose measures enabling emergency vehicles and staff to cross borders freely should a crisis arise. It also calls for the further development of cross-border public services.

Furthermore, we face considerable social challenges in Europe: a sustainable power supply, climate protection, digitalisation and overcoming the pandemic concern us all, and can be implemented more easily and successfully by working together.

The recent flood disaster in Belgium, Luxembourg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate has shown that cross-border cooperation, solidarity and support are a reality. Despite being affected itself, Luxembourg immediately deployed a team to Rhineland-Palatinate to lend support to the relief workers in those areas worst hit by the flooding.

" the pandemic has demonstrated the incredible resourcefulness and the high degree of solidarity among the nations of Europe. "

During the COVID-19 pandemic, experience has shown not only that close cooperation along national borders is necessary in such exceptional circumstances but also that it can be implemented. Temporary restrictions at the frontiers have really put our partnership to the test in recent months.

The border checks and obstacles for commuters during the pandemic have made everyone aware of how closely we are intertwined in the border regions. Despite the various restrictions to prevent the spread of the pandemic, many positive signs also came to light between the regions: patients were admitted to hospitals in neighbouring Member States, digital formats, such as video conferencing, were swiftly established, and direct contacts at all relevant regional and national levels were set up. In this way, it was possible to create exceptions for border workers and commuters even during the periods when the risks of the pandemic were at their greatest. In the future, our goal is for Germ any to coordinate more closely witits partners along the borders on classifying areas of risk; for example, in Rhineland-Palatinate these countries are Belgium, France and Luxembourg. In addition, rather than imposing across-the-board restrictions on entire countries in the event of high incidence rates, the aim is to differentiate between the regions affected.

" Despite being affected itself, Luxembourg immediately deployed a team to Rhineland-Palatinate to lend support to the relief workers in those areas "

The group of expert institutions, to which the Robert Koch Institute, Santé publique France and other state agencies also belong, is a good start to achieving such harmonisation. One important factor also concerns the even closer sychronisation of data w it h mutually recognised criteria and compatible databases. Communication among one another and mutual understanding is an ongoing process requiring language skills and joint platforms.

When it comes to regions adjacent to the Schengen Area, we need to reinforce our awareness of the everyday situation they are faced with. This was demonstrated by the strict restrictions on the freedom of movement for commuters during the pandemic. Yes, we do need to take measures to protect against infection, including across borders, as it is common knowledge that the virus does not simply stop there; however, like tackling coronavirus hotspots within a state, these measures should be of a transparent nature and, wherever possible, by mutual consent.

We are seeking to open up healt hcare provision, part icularly in border regions where the infrastructure is less well developed, and there are some positive first signs of this, for instance in the field of em ergency care and radiology (MRI). The setting up of a joint healthcare centre is also being addressed. Unfortunately, the billing arrangem ents have so far been too com plicated and time consum ing, there have been difficulties in obtaining licences for physicians treating patients as part of the state health insurance schem e.

Travelling across borders within the European Union without being subject to any checks has become something we all take for granted. This freedom of travel is a precious asset that we all benefit from, not only for holiday trips but also for studying or working abroad, and for exchanging goods across borders. For this reason, we must campaign for the preservation of this freedom of movement in Europe.

The values advocated by us as the EU also include the protection of people in need, and of those subjected to war and persecution in their home countries and seeking protection in our region. It is essential that we provide these people with the shelter they need, and therefore it is right that the gates of Europe are open to them.

We are working on consolidating our cooperation with each other in the future, on pushing ahead together and, above all, on living and breathing Europe on a daily basis. We need a united Europe to deal with the refugee crisis, to defeat terror, to prevent war and to ensure peace.

Rhineland-Palatinate occupies a special position on our continent, in the heart of Europe, sharing borders with Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Rhineland-Palatinate requires cross-border cooperation. Open borders secured by the Schengen Agreement guarantee peace and prosperity. A strong, united, peaceful Europe is the result of many years of hard work. We shall keep this in mind and regard it as a mission for the future.

Our future, just like our past and the present, can only be called Europe.

This article appears in the EURegionsWeek 2021 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the EURegionsWeek 2021 Issue of TerritoriALL
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