Border: France-Belgium

A “melting pot-border”

The French-Belgian border, whose position dates back to the early eighteenth century, constitutes a true “melting pot-border”. The frontier does not correspond to any physical obstacle (mountain or river) and it has always been an area where there has been movement and contact. This specific geographical context accounts for the density of population in the territories that surround the border,2  as well as the number and close proximity of the conurbations in this region.

The territories on either side of the border are thus characterised by high population density and a network of towns clustered close to one another. The continuous nature of some of the urban settlements is such that the border disappears, with streets starting in one country and ending in the other. This is the case in the Dunkirk conurbation on the North Sea coast, as well as in the Lille and Longwy conurbations.

Two cross-border urban areas stand out particularly in terms of their density: the “Dunkirk-West Vlaanderen-Côte d'Opale” conurbation and the Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai Eurometropolis, which are hubs for cooperation, territorial economic development and cross-border mobility.

This picture of continuous urban settlements needs, however, to be nuanced due to the great geographical diversity of the areas along the French-Belgian border. Thus, the rural areas retain their specific characteristics and a degree of autonomy. Located between Brussels and Paris, Thiérache – which is made up of parts of the French Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie Regions, as well as the Belgian Provinces of Hainaut and Namur – constitutes a self-contained rural area (77% of the population of Thiérache live in rural districts) structured by a network of small towns that are separate from one another. The geographical unity of this area makes it possible to carry out common cross-border actions and projects. Thiérache is one of the leading players in cross-border cooperation in the region, notably in the area of healthcare.

The high degree of interconnectedness of these territories has fostered the emergence of a common linguistic culture (between the Walloons and the French). However, the three communities that dwell in them – French, Flemish and Walloon – have each retained their identity and mode of functioning.

  1. The Nord-Pas de Calais Region and Belgium have a population density of around 324 inhabitants per km², compared with France's average of 113.