Back in 1990 the European Commission launched its first INTERREG Community Initiative (ICI), financed via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) with more than one billion Euros. One of its main goals was to create a common vision on the future of borders in Europe. Best practices of cross-border cooperation from Benelux and the Rhine Basin started to be adopted by the European Community as part of a broader plan for cooperation and integration (L. O’Dowd, 2003: 22). Gradually, cross-border cooperation become an instrument able to enhance the effectiveness of local, regional or transnational institutions and policies (European Commission, 2011: 11).
From 1994 to 1999, encouraged by the success of the first ICI, the European officials supported the implementation of the INTERREG II Community Initiative (ICI II). This time, the total budget was more than 3.5 billion Euros. Social and economic disparities dividing “old” and “new” Europe were now tackled at regional level.
Starting with 1997, transnational cooperation is introduced as a new dimension of the ICI II. Spatial planning across borders and regions required special instruments. To this end, transnational cooperation provided the EU with the necessary means to tackle problems such as flooding and drought across the continent (S. Dühr et al, 2007: 294).
The ambitions set up by the EC for the INTERREG III Community Initiative (ICI III), implemented between 2000 and 2006, were a clear indicator for the importance of territorial cohesion in the European architecture. With a budget of more than five billion Euros, the ICI III became one of the main EU instruments aiming to reduce social and economic disparities among regions. That is, to provide a better access to health services, education, energy networks or create strong links between universities, NGOs and research centers (Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion)[i].
After 2007, the ICI III turns into the European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) objective of the EU Cohesion Policy. With an unprecedented financial plan of 8.7 billion E, the ETC accounts for 2.5% of the Cohesion Policy total budget for the period 2007-2013[ii]. From that moment on, the Cohesion Policy has three main objectives: 1) convergence, 2) regional competitiveness and employment and 3) territorial co-operation, as part of the EU effort to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world by 2020[iii].
A cross-border cooperation programme tries to stimulate the development economic, social and environmental activities through joint strategies for sustainable territorial cooperation. There are three specific outcomes deriving from this general objective: integration, understood as common education, communities or business; investment, meaning physical, economic and social infrastructure; and governance, defined in a limited way as the need for regional development and policies[iv]. While working to achieve them, territorial cooperation promotes representative democracy and encourages the creation of innovative public services, cross-border partnerships, institutional transparency, and the reduction of costs for people to people cooperation. From this perspective, territorial co-operation appears as a strong integrationist instrument for the EU.
Moreover, the ETC provides the fertile ground for the creation of new types of transnational institutions as those envisaged by Dahl back in 1994. For this purpose, the ETC highlights the need for a better territorial coordination capable to address the cooperation needs of different stakeholders and to enhance dialog among regional, national and European level. However, in today’s world, social and institutional networks go beyond governments, corporation or supranational institutions and involve civil society and communities, together with their beliefs and values (H. Anheier, 2013: 14). Consequently, it might seem as an impossible task to develop coherent territorial policies capable to incorporate such a divers set of stakeholders.
Cross-border programmes tend to over complicate the situation. While trying to answer local and cross-border needs, these Programmes function under the umbrella of national and supranational institutions and EU Regulations. In this context, one big challenge is to measure the local impact of such Programmes and to provide further corrections able to maximize their contribution to the development of cross-border regions.
Up to a certain extent, the distribution of these funds can be seen as an attempt to ensure a rightful allocation of resources capable to produce public goods. From this perspective, the cross-border cooperation programmes share a common characteristic with a good governance system: the distribution of public goods, such as access to education or equality in front of the law (cf. Mungiu-Pippidi, 2008: 8). This means, for example, that cross-border indicators should be able to capture the contribution of the Programme to the development of a local governance system. On one hand, if measurable, such indicators can provide valuable information on the actual progress of a cross-border Programme and determine its future trends (G. Williams, 2011: 1). On the other hand, if poorly defined, thus non-measurable, indicators can negatively impact on the overall objectives a Programme and its outcomes.
In our opinion, a functional ETC can be achieved only within a well defined governance system, along with a set of high level European policy indicators. The latter should be integrated into the national strategic plans of each member state, together with the special development needs of the border areas.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION, European Territorial Cooperation, Building Bridges Between People, 2011
DÜHR, Stefanie, STEAD, Dominic, ZONNEVELD, Will , The Europeanization ofSpatial Planning through territorial cooperation, Planning Practice & Research, ed. Routledge, 29 Nov. 2007
ANHEIER, Helmut, STANIG, Piero, KAYSER, Mark, Introducing a New Generation of Governance Indicators, The Governance Report 2013, Oxford University Press, 2013
MUNGIU – PIPPIDI, Alina, The EU as a Transformation Agent. Lessons learned from governance reforms in East Central Europe, Hertie School of Governance working papers, No. 33, 2008
WILLIAMS, Gareth, What makes a good governance indicator, The Policy Practice Journal, January, 2011