A mountain border
The border between France, Spain and Andorra, formed by the Pyrenees, is characterised by its physical, geographical dimension. It constitutes an obstacle to the development of cross-border transport, limits the exchanges and the volume of flows on both sides of the border. However these difficulties have not prevented the growth of dynamic local cooperation.
Flows that are geographically concentrated
Cross-border flows of workers are very limited compared with other borders. It is in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department that the largest flow of cross-border workers to Spain is found: 3212 workers residing in this department work in Spain, of whom 86% are of Spanish nationality (source INSEE: 2013). In this respect, we may note the great difficulty in obtaining regularly updated statistical data for these movements, particularly for flows from Spain.
By virtue of the border’s geographical configuration and the relatively small number of crossing points, different types of flows (people, goods) are limited and concentrated at either end of the mountain range where the motorway crossings are the French border crossings most frequented by heavy goods vehicles. This large volume of heavy goods vehicle traffic can also be related to the interruption to the transport of freight by rail at the border caused by the difference in rail gauge between the two countries.
As a consequence, the issue of trans-Pyrenees transport infrastructures is at the heart of the discussions between cross-border players, with the focus on the lack of road and rail links between the two countries in spite of an exponential growth in traffic and major infrastructure projects that have been completed (the high-speed line between Perpignan and Barcelona) or that are underway (Y Basque), and the gradual improvement of the N20 road to Andorra.
Sparsely populated and very rural central territories that impact the nature of cooperation
The French and particularly Spanish sides of the border are sparsely populated (with the notable exceptions of Andorra, Cerdanya and the coastal areas). The territory’s natural and rural character strongly determines the nature of cross-border cooperation relations, which are focused on the rural economy, tourism, culture and protection of the environment and resources.
These types of very local relations are sometimes the subject of cross-border agreements or micro-treaties, some of which are very old, such as the “Tribut des trois vaches” (“Tribute of the three cows” – Roncal Valley, Navarra) of 1375, and concern the framework for economic and rural exchanges, with, in some cases, a local festival being held to mark them still today. For example, the Pyrenees Haute-Garonne Community of Municipalities and the Aran Conselh Generau held a ceremony in Fos on 20 April 2018 commemorating the 505 years of the Treaty of “lies et patzeries”. These treaties of “lies et patzeries” are agreements adopted between rural communities of the French and Spanish valleys on either side of the border, for peace and pasture management, from as early as the 15th century.
- Pyrénées Haute-Garonne Community of Municipalities – Aran Conselh Generau
A framework agreement was signed between the two authorities notably to initiate a cross-border working group whose priority mission will be to propose “a commitment to cooperation and cross-border partnership between the two territories, enduring in time”. The agreement also targets priority areas for development, including sustainable development, culture, the economy, security, agriculture, tourism, and infrastructure. More info [FR]
- Cooperation between protected natural areas
With a view to promoting integrated sustainable development, French-Spanish cross-border cooperation is also being developed between different natural, regional and national parks, which are joining forces in order to optimise their environmental protection actions across a coherent territory. There are many examples: we may cite the cooperation between the Pyrenees National Park and the National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido, the Regional Nature Park in the Ariège Pyrenees with the Spanish Catalan Pallars Sobira Park, and the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Park with its counterparts on the south side of the border.
A project of a "three nations" Pyrenean Park which involves the regional nature park in the Ariège Pyrenees, the Catalonian Pyrenees and south slope under development parks in Andorra and Catalonia. The partnership’s aim is to establish common and labelled actions on a European scale.
- Cerdanya plateau
Situated in the west of the French department of Pyrénées-Orientales, the Cerdanya plateau, through the middle of which the border runs, is a true cross-border living space at an altitude of 1200 metres. Somewhat isolated from the two countries, the plateau can only be reached by passes and tunnels.
The fact that the towns of Puigcerdá and Bourg-Madame form a continuous settlement and the presence of the Spanish enclave of Llivia on the French side have recently facilitated a proliferation of significant cross-border relations. In particular, we may note the pioneering project of the first cross-border hospital in Puigcerdá.
It is also important to mention the creation in September 2011 of the Pireneus-Cerdanya EGTC in order to structure the cross-border conurbation of 30,000 inhabitants, cooperation for the management of the River Sègre and of a cross-border abattoir, etc.
- Pirineos-Pyrénées territory
A new European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) was created on 13 March 2018. Named “Pirineos-Pyrénées”, it brings together the principal territorial authorities of the central Pyrénées: Diputation de Huesca, the Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées Atlantiques departments, and the Government of Aragon. It merges into a single structure the existing bodies: the Aragnouet-Bielsa tunnel and the two EGTCs of Huesca-Pirineos-Hautes-Pyrénées and the Espace Pourtalet. The goal is a better pooling of resources for more efficient cooperation through a single body, and notably the mutualisation of management and development of cross-border infrastructure. This merging and mutualisation is intended to help halt population loss in the area, through the development of agriculture and new technologies.
- Principality of Andorra
The Principality of Andorra is a territory in its own right that nestles between Spain and France. It is only linked to France by only one 2000 metre-high pass (on the border between the Ariège and Pyrénées-Orientales departments), while a valley at an altitude of 800 metres connects its territory to Spanish Catalonia.
Densely populated (73,105 people in 2016, 151 inhab/km2), Catalan-speaking and with an economy that has long been founded on commerce (the sale of duty-free goods) and tourism, Andorra has embarked on a wide-ranging modernisation programme that is both economic (diversification of its economy, opening-up to foreign investors, introduction of a tax regime, etc.) and political (institutional opening-up to Europe, joining the Interreg POCTEFA programme, participation in the Working Community of the Pyrenees, renewed partnerships with the French side of the border, etc.). This desire to give new impetus to cross-border cooperation was also reflected in an amendment of the Treaty of Bayonne in 2010 to mark Andorra’s participation (see section on legal framework).
- Two dynamic coastlines
Culturally and linguistically speaking, only the two coastal regions, which are also much more urban, display a degree of continuity through the Catalan and Basque communities. The latter community shares a true cross-border space in which exchanges take place on a daily basis.
- The Basque coastline
The historic Basque Country is located on either side of the French-Spanish border: the French part, called Iparralde, corresponds to the western half of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department; to the south, the Spanish part comprises the Autonomous Basque Community (Euskadi) and part of Navarra. The close cultural ties between the areas on either side of the border give rise to many cultural cooperation initiatives, notably in the linguistic field.
The greatest amount of functional cross-border activity is seen along the coast in the urban areas, with Spanish nationals living on the French side (where property is less expensive) and working in Spain, as well as there being commercial activity (Spanish ventas along the border) and healthcare and leisure activities.
The Nouvelle Aquitaine-Euskadi-Navarre Euroregion has developed the “Empleo” project, which initiated a study published in 2017 providing a full diagnostic survey of cross-border employment in the Euroregion. The figures presented relating to worker flows show weak cross-border integration in this field: only 3863 persons cross the border daily to work on the other side, within the territory of the Euroregion. Of these 3863 cross-border commuters, 87% are Spanish, the majority resident in France and making a north-south commute.
Legal, cultural and fiscal issues are the principal obstacles to the hiring of cross-border workers, representing respectively 33%, 29% and 27% of the difficulties encountered.
The study shows a predominance of the services sector in cross-border employment, this sector representing 79% of cross-border workers coming from Nouvelle-Aquitaine, 69% of those coming from Euskadi, and 48% coming from Navarre. Yet the construction sector is over-represented in the south-to-north flows, representing 19% of cross-border workers commuting from Euskadi and 24% of those coming from Navarre.
The study also presents general economic data, such as concerning commercial relations between France and Spain. Spain is the second destination for exports from Nouvelle-Aquitaine and the first for imports, and France is the main destination country for exports from Euskadi and Navarre, and the second for imports in the two cases.
Regarding territorial cooperation, numerous cross-border structures exist at different levels (see the topic “Cross-border governance”). However, their large number does not always mean that there is optimal coordination between the different initiatives.
- The Catalan coastline
While there are not continuous urban settlements on the Catalan side, cross-border exchanges are however very plentiful (concerning commercial, cultural and economic activities and family ties, etc.). The opening of the high-speed line between Perpignan and Figueras, which is being extended towards Gerona and Barcelona, has reinforced these links and the potential for interaction.
The cross-border Catalan territory, which is situated between the French department of Pyrénées-Orientales and the Generalitat of Catalonia in the south, is the subject of numerous cooperation initiatives, notably within the framework of the Catalan Space Eurodistrict project. Located within the Catalan territory, Cerdanya is also the focus of active territorial cooperation in different fields (see the topic “Cross-border governance”).