Marius Niculae

As a symbol of its legal and institutional complexity, the EU Regional policy is represented by a Rubick cub. Although symbols share some common traits with indicators, such as the power to capture the significance of an object, they differ fundamentally from the later by their multiple meanings and interpretations. If regarded from Brussels, the Rubick cub symbol can reflect the capacity of the regional policy to capture, in one dimension, a wide range of local needs. However, if regarded from a regional or even national perspective, the above symbol can be seen as a multifaceted system of policies, institutions and legislation waiting to be met by local standards.

Since the EU is a union of law, links between supra-national and national institutions occur within a legal framework. In this continuous system of trade-offs, national governments have a clear set of preferences about what type of policies they would like to allocate to the supra-national entities and what the content of the policies should be. Many of these trade-offs have a direct effect on the regional policy of the EU.

If we look at the national legislation of both Romania and Hungary we notice that their preparation for the EU accession did not completely met the binding expectations. In areas where member states still hold the primary capacity to legislate, such as health or education, readiness for cross-border cooperation is at its lowest level. Thus, cross-border norms appear as poorly standardized in the fields directly funded by the EU Programmes.

Some argue that these very specific domains are part from what member states like to keep as their exclusive catalog of preferences. However, previous experiences showed that non-compliant legislation affects also the fields of interest in which states share legislative competences with the EU institutions: labor market, agriculture, energy security or consumer protection.

At macroeconomic level there is an acute need for further cooperation. The latter can be achieved through the use of integrationist instruments such as the macro-economic imbalance procedure [ii]. A better coordination at this level will positively impact on the performance of a cross-border programme.

Finally, under the pressure of the EU, but also as a consequence of the exclusive law making capacities of the Union, legal spheres like competition or trade present high levels of harmonization. Even though the EU preserves the solely right to issue legislation in these fields, there are many regional and national factors that can hinder a complete legal coordination in these areas.

A cross-border programme offers a good example that shows the complexity of policy making in border regions. Due to the fact that Romania is not yet part of the Schengen area, liberties like the free movement of goods, services, people and capital are not fully explored. Such an unfortunate situation can have a negative impact on the development of legislation between the two countries. Practical examples are the unfinished infrastructure projects implemented under the umbrella of this Programme. More exactly, the absence of an inter-governmental agreement, meant to modify the actual law forbidding any type of construction activities in the proximity of the border line can hinder the envisaged result of the Programme.

Such inconsistencies hold back the Programme even on its usual emphasis on physical infrastructure and hard economic results. In border areas the adoption of wrong legislation can affect a larger spectrum of stakeholders than in other areas and reduce the likelihood of soft factors such as social capital and trust. Moreover, such legal anomalies can be used as a bargaining instrument and ensure an agenda setter-position for one state and a veto-player for the other state. Further pressure can mount and deter the potential of local institutions to negotiate, learn and develop cross-border relationships. In a representative democracy such as the EU, policy and legal consensus are the basis for exercising peer pressure and essential for successful coordination.

The cross-border cooperation programmes can play a major role in facilitating the adoption of common legislation in border areas but they lack the financial resources to put pressure on national governments. However, we have to acknowledge that the EU’s legislative policies in spatial planning and territorial cohesion are highly contingent with the national legislation of the countries involved [iii].

Thus, in countries where central governments have a dominant position, like in the case of Hungary and Romania, the outcomes of regional policies are heavily dependent on the national agenda. But, a closer look can reveal that the national legislation lacks transparency and appropriate tools to facilitate early stage negotiation between the central and the local authorities.

Territorial cooperation cannot fulfill its goal in the absence of clear national legislation capable to meet the strategic requirements of the EU and to serve, in a transparent and measurable way, the specific purposes of the border areas.


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