The legal framework
The Brussels Agreement
In accordance with the Madrid Outline Convention (1980), the French and Belgian governments, along with those of the French Community of Belgium, the Walloon Region and Flanders, negotiated and ratified an agreement that sets out the terms for cross-border cooperation between territorial authorities and local public bodies. Signed in Brussels on 16 September 2002, it came into force in July 2005.
This agreement, which covers the whole of the French-Belgian border (Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardie, Flanders and Wallonia), gives a legal framework to cross-border cooperation actions. On the French side, it applies to the regions, departments and municipalities and to their groupings and public bodies; on the Belgian side, it applies to the provinces, municipalities and to the Flemish and Walloon intercommunity cooperation structures as well as some public bodies. The agreement also allows the signatories, notably the Belgian communities and regions, to be parties to the cooperation agreements concluded between the French and Belgian local authorities. In this second scenario, two possibilities are envisaged:
- Article 10: participation in an existing structure or creation ex nihilo of a structure that has its basis in domestic law, like, on the Belgian side, the Flemish and Walloon intercommunity cooperation structures and certain associations, as well as EEIG; and on the French side, public interest groupings, local mixed economy companies and European districts.
- Article 11: creation of a local grouping of cross-border cooperation, a public entity governed by Articles 11 to 15 of the treaty and subsidiarily by the law that applies in the head office location.
It should be noted that, while the agreement does not provide for the creation of an intergovernmental commission, it empowers the prefects of the border regions and departments to examine, in collaboration with the competent Belgian authorities, all questions relating to cross-border cooperation (Article 2). With respect to the monitoring of cooperation structures, the prefects and the competent Belgian authorities shall keep one another informed and take decisions after due consultation (Article 8).