Cross-Border Relations at the Edge of the European Union

Chaired by Geoffrey Catchpole

Dr Ann Kennard

University of the West of England

18 April 2005.

With reference to maps, the speaker indicated changes to EU borders in the 20th Century. By the end of the century, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Baltic States became independent, a ‘Commonwealth of Independent States’ emerged, Poland and Lithuania joined the EU, but Kaliningrad remained a Soviet enclave within the EU territory. Because many people found themselves in new border areas, cross-border cooperation became important throughout central Europe. When Rumania and Bulgaria enter the EU in 2007 more eastern border area issues will arise. Borders may become nominally freer of restrictions, but new allegiances to ‘Europe’ (then represented by Austria, Germany and Italy) brings problems with relationships to the east.

Cross-border cooperation has been developed within the EU since the 1960s through ‘Euroregions’, because ethnic backgrounds of displaced peoples within border regions often caused alienation from their national authorities. So processes to ‘institutionalise’ border affairs have developed. At a supranational level (since 1990) the EU has funded ‘Community Initiatives’ through ‘Inter-Reg’ schemes for regions of its members, but also ‘Pah’ schemes (reflecting funding for Poland and Hungary) which are designed to help weak regional economies of states about to join the EU. When many young Germans from the east of East Germany went to the West, that region became even more impoverished and locals crossed borders (to Poland in particular) where goods and prices were attractive. With increases in East-West traffic generally, road and rail links between Germany and Poland became more important. Such factors prompted funding of jointly-planned projects from the two main EU sources, in order to regenerate the border regions.

Since 1990, intergovernmental commissions for planning and environmental issues have been established for various border regions. At a local level, links between schools, universities, trade unions, cultural bodies, etc. have developed. Poland now has seven neighbours, which renders its border regions on all sides of considerable interest and importance, so 15 principal ‘Euroregions’ have been created. Four on the western side with Germany and four with the Czech and Slovak republics were set up first, in order to tackle major environmental problems resulting from pollution of air, soil and rivers arising from coal, iron, steel and chemical industries. Later, more were set up in the very poor eastern border regions, but weak local government in centrally-controlled countries and sparseness of population has produced difficulties. To the north, matters are complex, because not only the three Baltic States but also Sweden, Denmark and Kaliningrad are involved in border problems. However, while the ‘Nordics’ and the ‘Baltics’ retain separate identities and views, there are common problems (such as coastal erosion and transport links) and a ‘Project Seagull’ promises now to promote improved democratic relationships.

There are functional problems. Because local authorities and other bodies lack legal Euroregion administrative status, the EU proposes to rationalise the 15 major and other minor border arrangements into 11 formal Euroregions. Moreover, the two funding sources have separate criteria for approvals so only one joint project (for a German-Polish university) has been effectively integrated to date, when the Germans tapped ‘Inter-Reg’ on social grounds and the Poles tapped ‘Pah’ on infrastructure arguments. Otherwise various half-projects have to be organised separately, although five of such schemes have worked quite well to date. On a larger scale, transnational arrangements have been successful. For example, Kaliningrad border problems have improved when both old and new roads forging EU links crossed them and a ‘Northern Dimension’ plan involving transport links with Russia is being developed. Other transnational schemes since 1997 have been promoted to improve trade, tourist and cultural links.

Regional institutions to plan for the whole of Europe (covering 18 ‘Central Europe, Adriatic and South-East European States’) are proposed, some including a number of non-EU countries, such as Greece and Yugoslavia, etc.

Dr Kennard concluded by noting that while developments so far are promising major problems remain. The Shengen Agreement necessarily requires relatively high barriers at EU frontiers to ensure its single market, which now remain in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, where visas and restrictions seriously affect the lives of its border peoples. Problems of immigration, asylum-seeking and crime abound. However, relatively informal Euroregion links reflect the needs and activities of their border peoples, where petty trading in poor areas (e.g. of Ukraine and Poland) reflect price and wage differentials. Overall, cooperation versus security is a principal issue. One Brussels ‘think-tank’ has argued for ‘cooperative and inclusive arrangements’ for border regions, albeit with ‘deliberately fuzzy frontiers’, which embrace ‘ trading and market relations, the Euro wider monetary areas, pan-European networks and corridors, movement of persons and civilian security affairs and military cooperation’.

Responding to questions, the speaker noted that 11 new Euroregional programmes are being discussed, involving 10 accession candidates and that Britain’s devolutionary borders are implicated. On American attitudes, she remarked that in 1993 a US initiative prompted border schemes in five south-east European countries (probably because of American fears that a nuclear Ukraine might not favour the West) and that the US would favour a united Europe so long as countries such as Poland remained strongly in favour of US involvement. Euroregional ideas came initially from German/French and German/Dutch border issues, then from a 1980 Council of Europe promotion of legal personality and a Madrid Convention to approve cooperative schemes and from 1989 initiatives by Germany against original Polish doubts, while local bodies themselves took action. Considering further extensions, while poor northern Caucasus countries (such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, etc.) would welcome EU links, they differ among themselves and Turkish accession would be lengthy, for various reasons.

Geoffrey Catchpole