Levels of governance
Cross-border cooperation at this long and varied border is highly evolved and long-standing, but its governance is relatively informal and unstructured compared with other borders. The main specific feature of French-Belgian cross-border cooperation is the predominance of a “bottom-up” approach to governance, as illustrated by the major role played by the two EGTC, which serve as multi-level fora for dialogue.
The national border level
The absence of a governance structure at the national border level or of an intergovernmental commission (IGC) is particular to French-Belgian cooperation. However, the creation of a French-Belgian Parliamentary Working Group has made it possible to propose a structuring strategy for this cooperation.
- The French-Belgian Parliamentary Working Group, composed of six French and six Belgian members of parliament, met from 2005 to 2007. It had a two-fold remit: firstly, to identify the legal and administrative obstacles to cross-border cooperation and to put forward solutions to overcome these, and secondly, to recommend a governance framework for the French-Belgian Lille conurbation.
The working group’s main objective – the creation of the Eurometropolis EGTC – was indeed achieved in 2008 – but this assignment also gave rise to joint technical and legal work by the departments of central government and the federal bodies on either side of the border, concerning sectoral topics coming within their fields of competence, such as health and transport, and leading to the recommendation of coordination, convergence and experimentation mechanisms. This work is being updated during 2013/2014
The regional level
At the regional level, the asymmetry between the competences on either side of the border (federal entities on the Belgian side, a unitary State that has embarked on a process of decentralisation on the French side), combined with a particular geographical configuration (the Eurometropolis, the most integrated cross-border territory, is situated right on the boundary between the two Belgian regions, Wallonia and Flanders), renders a strictly regional cooperation strategy inappropriate.
The bilateral relations between the French and Belgian regions have taken the place of a regional approach. They are coordinated by the European France-Wallonia-Flanders (FWVL) programme. These bilateral agreements include:
- The decentralised cooperation agreement between the Conseil régional of the Nord-Pas de Calais Region.
- The protocol on collaboration between the Conseil régional of the Champagne-Ardenne Region and the Walloon Region (2001 and reactivated in 2011)
The departmental and local level
The French-Belgian border is characterised by numerous bilateral agreements between local authorities.
- The cooperation agreement between the Conseil général of the Nord Department and the Province of West Flanders (2003)
- The cooperation agreement between the Conseil général of the Nord Department and the Province of Hainaut (2007)
- The strategic cooperation protocol on development between the Conseil général of the Ardennes Department and the Province of Namur (2006)
The two EGTC – the Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai Eurometropolis and West-Vlaanderen-Flandre-Dunkerque-Côte d’Opale – have a multi-level form of cross-border governance: their members represent the authorities at all the different levels. The two EGTC make it possible to debate and achieve coherence between the partners’ positions within their bodies and the geographical areas they cover. As a consequence, they serve as a benchmark for the rest of the border; other territories plan to eventually form EGTC too.
It is interesting to note that in terms of strategic positioning, the national border level links to the higher organisational tier of the North-West Europe region (and notably its centre, served by the London-Paris-Amsterdam-Cologne high-speed rail network) via the Lille Eurometropolis with its metropolitan project, and the Nord-Pas de Calais Region.