In the European Union, cross-border regions account for about 40% of the territory and host almost one-third of its 512 million citizens. At the same time, border regions in Europe generally have lower economic performance, higher unemployment rates, and a relatively underdeveloped infrastructure compared to the more central regions in the Member States. It is estimated that, if 20% of the border barriers were eliminated, the border regions’ GDP would increase by 2%, reaching some EUR 91 billion per year.
In recent years, there have been several initiatives at European level to improve cohesion in these regions. The most recent one comes from the European Commission, which proposes a cross-border mechanism to solve legal or administrative problems by applying the legal provisions of the neighbouring Member State for a particular joint project, in a cross-border region.
The idea seems interesting (although there are already instruments in place for such situations, such as INTERREG or, why not, bi / multilateral agreements between states). Reading the proposal and following the discussions on this issue in the European Parliament, I found some unclear aspects:
1. This mechanism is theoretically “optional”. However, Member States are required to opt either for this one or for “other existing ways” of resolving legal obstacles that impede the implementation of a joint project in cross-border regions. I wonder then: what does the Commission consider by the phrase “other existing ways”? Is there an exhaustive list? Or are there some criteria for defining acceptable ways in the sense of the proposal?
2. Why should Member States make a one-time choice for a whole border zone? In this situation, states that do not currently have legal mechanisms in place will be forced to use the mechanism proposed by the Commission … And then where is the optional character?
I believe that Member States must have full freedom in choosing to use such a mechanism (which, incidentally, also involves additional human and financial resources). Member States should be able to decide on a case-by-case basis, from project to project, if they want to use the new mechanism or other existing mechanism or, not to activate any of these mechanisms.