Border: France-Belgium

Dynamic cooperation initiatives

Cooperation between protected natural areas

Cooperation between protected natural areas along the French-Belgian border is one of the oldest and most developed in Europe. Created in 1996, the Parc naturel transfrontalier du Hainaut (Hainaut Cross-Border Natural Park) brings together the Parc naturel régional (PNR) Scarpe-Escaut on the French side (1968) and the Parc naturel (PN) des Plaines de l’Escaut on the Belgian side (1996). In 2005, the two sides set the objective of creating (by 2022) the first cross-border natural park on the French-Belgian border and the two managing bodies (the PNR’s joint association and the PN’s managing commission) drew up a joint “cross-border charter” and established a permanent cross-border working group. The Parc naturel régional Scarpe-Escaut’s joint association steers the charter’s implementation and plays a threefold role as facilitator-coordinator, initiator-supporter and operator. The two management bodies are together drawing up an agreement that sets out their common commitments under the cross-border charter, the current version of which covers the 2010-2022 period.

River basin cooperation

The extent of the river basins that straddle the French-Belgian border has enabled the local and regional authorities to work together with a view to cooperating on cross-border river basins. Two river basins, those of the Escaut and the Meuse, stand out from the great network of watercourses (the Lys, Sambre, Semois, and the Flemish wateringen, etc.) and are the focus for a large proportion of the cross-border cooperation actions in this area. As an “international hydrographical district”, the Meuse has its own international commission, which was set up in 2002 and which brings together the Belgian, German and Dutch stakeholders. The 350 km-long Escaut River is the subject of increased protection since an agreement between the three border countries was signed in 1994. This river also constitutes an area for close cooperation between the Parc naturel régional Scarpe-Escaut and the Parc naturel des Plaines de l’Escaut.

Cooperation in healthcare

Cooperation in healthcare along the French-Belgian border is highly developed. The close proximity to one another of healthcare facilities has made possible the implementation of numerous cross-border initiatives, particularly from the 1990s onwards. This has resulted in the signature of a framework agreement on cooperation in healthcare, which was adopted in 2011. Having been signed in 2005, it gives healthcare cooperation a stable legal framework by simplifying administrative procedures and ensuring that the border populations have continuity in terms of access to healthcare.
Some projects serve as prime examples in this area:

  • Born of the “LuxLorSan” project, the French-Belgian Health Observatory (l’Observatoire franco-belge de la santé (OFBS), which is a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG), brings together nearly 60 participants (health insurance and healthcare players, healthcare facilities, health observers, etc.) and is the lead partner in many healthcare cooperation projects. It defines itself as a “permanent forum for discussion, forward-looking studies and actions in the area of healthcare, medical-social issues and health insurance”.

  • This cooperation in healthcare was also given structure in 2005 with the creation of “Organised Zones of Access to Cross-Border Healthcare” (“Zones Organisées d’Accès aux Soins Transfrontaliers” – ZOAST). Inspired by the pilot project “Transcards” launched in 2000, agreements by zone enable the population concerned to go to a hospital on the other side of the border without prior medical authorisation and to receive inpatient and/or outpatient treatment there. First implemented in Thiérache, these agreements have been extended to cover the Lille conurbation, Tournai-Valenciennes, Mons-Maubeuge and the Ardennes. Other cooperation agreements exist between hospitals but on a bilateral basis. By way of example, we may cite the agreement signed in 1994 between the Regional Hospital in Mouscron (Belgium) and the Hospital Centre in Tourcoing (France).

Cooperation in the area of transport

Public transport is also an area where cross-border cooperation is very developed along this border. Strategically and structurally important in the integration process, it encourages cross-border mobility while at the same time reducing congestion on roads. It facilitates the emergence of joint projects that foster better coordination between the territories concerned. Many transport links cross the border (particularly to take children to school), with the greatest number of these links being in the Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai Eurometropolis, which plans to create a multi-modal cross-border transport network. Thus, no fewer than thirteen bus routes link up the French and Belgian parts of the Eurometropolis. The Mouscron-Wattrelos-Roubaix route is the oldest of these cross-border routes and helps to structure this cross-border area. In terms of rail transport, two cross-border lines also connect the Lille conurbation to Belgium: the Lille-Courtrai and Lille-Tournai lines. This highly developed and polycentric network enables the Eurometropolis to be at the centre of cross-border mobility and to assert its European dimension.

Cooperation in research and innovation

Other areas are the subject of close cooperation: cooperation in the area of research and innovation aims to foster the territory’s economic development and to make it economically more attractive. The close proximity of the universities and research institutes along the border facilitates enhanced collaboration between the communities of researchers. The French-Belgian Metropolitan University project, launched in 2011 and steered by the Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai Eurometropolis, is for example encouraging the creation of a European research and innovation hub, which is one of the European Union’s strategic priorities (Europe 2020). Similarly, the “Invest in Eurometropolis LKT” innovation platform is providing the impetus needed for the emergence of new initiatives and ambitious projects by pooling the knowledge and skills on either side of the border.

Cooperation in culture

Cooperation in this area is highly developed along the French-Belgian border (signature of cultural cooperation agreements between France and the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and the Flemish Community of Belgium). There are many cooperation projects between structures, institutions, administrations and schools for the arts and culture such as the cross-border theatre centre “La Virgule”, which brings together the Mouscron and Tourcoing theatre companies right in the heart of the Lille conurbation. A network of cross-border cultural players and independent performers (the LEAD network) makes it possible to reinforce the consultations and support between stakeholders and professionals in the arts. Many other projects are carried out: cross-border festivals, cross-border programmes shown on local television, etc. (See list of projects.)