Identifying and removing obstacles

Advances at European level

The European political context is favourable for the work on obstacles to cross-border cooperation, and for a multi-level approach. Several processes have been initiated at this level, putting into perspective the work carried out on each border.

At the intergovernmental level, the work of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the Eu

Over the course of its presidency of the Council of the European Union (2nd semester 2015), the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg put an emphasis on the issues at stake in cross-border cooperation, and the need to overcome obstacles to cooperation. This issue was debated during the General Affairs Council meeting of 17 November 2015, and the informal ministerial meeting on spatial planning of 26 November 2015, on the basis of a study – for which the MOT was commissioned by Luxembourg – on legal solutions for overcoming obstacles to cross-border cooperation, investigating the needs for changes to law and envisaging new legal tools.

A new European legal instrument

Faced with the coexistence of different legal systems in cross-border territories, Luxembourg has proposed a new European legal instrument, which would allow the application, in the case of a facility or service that is territorially confined (for example, a hospital or a tramline), of one legal framework on both sides of the border. This new European legal instrument, named “European Cross-Border Convention” (ECBC), could be developed within the framework of post-2020 legislation.
The existing instrument, the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), allows the creation of structures for the governance of projects, but it does not resolve the questions of content: with certain policy areas requiring specific regulation (on environmental questions for example, or in the field of health), it is necessary to determine which standards will be applied.
Local actors would draw up a proposal for a convention, to be approved by the national governments, specifying – for a particular matter in which their remits are shared (for example a cross-border public service) – which of the two national laws would apply. This instrument, based upon the principle of mutual recognition, would enable local and regional authorities to propose a solution, that states would be able to validate or not, after a more simple procedure with a shorter timetable than within the framework of an intergovernmental agreement.
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An intergovernmental working group for innovative solutions to cross-border obstacles

In order to develop the proposal of the Luxembourg Presidency on this instrument, a Working Group for Innovative Solutions to Cross-border Obstacles was proposed conjointly by France and Luxembourg, at the Directors’ meetings for spatial planning and urban policy on 11 and 12 May 2016 under the Netherlands Presidency.
This intergovernmental platform brings together interested States and different experts on cross-border cooperation. It will report on its work within the framework of intergovernmental cooperation (territorial agenda, urban agenda). It met for the first time on 5 July 2016 in Vienna.
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At the European Commission level, the “Cross-Border Review”

In autumn 2015 the European Commission launched a consultation on obstacles to cross-border cooperation, within an initiative named “Cross-Border Review”.
This European consultation received 653 responses from organisations and private individuals, which can be viewed on the website of the European Commission.

First results of the Cross-Border Review

Profile of respondents: 84% reside in a border region; 48% are private individuals; 33% cross the border occasionally; 14% every day, with the main purposes of leisure (30%) and buying goods or services (20%).
While the legal and administrative obstacles (lack of recognition of qualifications, differences between social security systems, pensions systems and taxation) are considered as the most important by 53% of respondents, linguistic obstacles and difficulties of access are frequently mentioned. Work on cross-border mobility appears indispensable in the findings of the study, and the comprehension of languages and sociocultural knowledge of the neighbouring society are considered as basic initial requirements for the development of border regions. 66% of respondents see the shared border as an “opportunity”, and consider that cross-border cooperation has improved over the past ten years.
The report specifies that the responses are “encouraging for further work”, and that “the large number of obstacles mentioned together with corresponding proposed solutions show that there is a great will to improve and intensify cross-border cooperation across Europe”.
Read the summary report
More info on the Cross-Border Review

Aside from this consultation, the European Commission has launched two studies and a working group on the subject; it should unveil its proposals at the beginning of 2017.