On the 142nd Plenary Session, on the 3rd and 4th of February 2021, the European Committee of the Regions adopted a very strong opinion on Cross-Border Public Services in Europe. This opinion supports the ongoing work that has been carried out in the context of the Border Focal Point Network. More information on the latter can be found on this site.
The issue of cross-border cooperation goes to the very heart of Europe; across the continent nearly one third of EU citizens work and live in border regions. The challenges that many of these citizens face, such as accessing adequate healthcare and other public services, travel, and administrative problems, has a direct impact on their daily lives. Cross-border cooperation (CBC) is therefore vital in overcoming the potentially dividing role that a border can play, and in promoting the territorial cohesion of border regions. The opinion defines cross-border cooperation as ‘European in Nature’, emphasising the fact that cross-border obstacles can be most effectively tackled at an EU level, by ‘close cooperation with national, regional and local authorities.’
The adopted opinion underlines the need for an EU legal framework to allow for an efficient establishment and management of cross-border public services, which would address the needs of EU citizens living in border regions. To this end, the opinion strongly supports the European cross-border mechanism (ECBM) proposal, which is currently blocked in the Council of the European Union. The Committee of the Regions calls on the Portuguese Presidency to accelerate its adoption.
Crucially, the opinion also calls for the strengthening of pre-existing practical transnational frameworks. These include fully utilising the already established ‘European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation’ (EGTCs), whose potential the Committee of the Regions believes has not yet been fully realised. The EGTCs would be supported by Member States’ efforts to establish stable and permanent cross-administration national cross-border contact points. These contact points would function as places to exchange experiences, discuss difficulties, and coordinate the practical implementation of EU legislation.
The combination of an EU legal framework, with on the ground implementation supported by Member States and regions with legislative powers, is the key to harmonious growth within the border regions themselves. The adoption of this opinion by the Committee of the Regions is a strong indication of the backing and support that cross-border regions continue to enjoy within the Committee of the Regions, and points to even more improvements ahead.
The Border Focal Point Network recently held an online event in which experts evaluated current cross-border public services and discussed future recommendations. Such recommendations include the joint allocation of Member States’ additional resources with the REACT-EU initiative to cross-border cooperation programmes in which they participate. This would enable an efficient strengthening of cross-border cooperation after the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, there is the need for increased human resource support for DG REGIO’s Border Focal Point Network with regards to coordinating the national contact points and the contact points in different DGs.