Cross-border conurbations

What type of governance for cross-border conurbations?

At the political level

Cross-border conurbations thus face different everyday problems resulting from the lack of coherence between systems belonging to each side of the border. To overcome these problems, more or less formal solutions have been considered. In the experience of the MOT, only the establishment of a permanent structure of political governance within an identified space allows the definition of a territorial project, within which it is possible to make different levels of competent public authorities cooperate, the “higher” levels (regional, national) coming to support the local level, which must remain predominant. To do this, many legal possibilities exist, notably since the development of the EGTC (European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation) in 2008, which allowed a significant improvement in the governance of cross-border territorial projects. Member States consequently need to enable local authorities to participate in such structures and make the creative process more efficient.
This governance must involve equal numbers of representatives from the different countries concerned, and be transparent to citizens.
On France’s borders, several cross-border conurbations have chosen to establish themselves as EGTCs (Dunkirk-West Vlaanderen-Côte d'Opale, Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai Eurometropolis, Alzette-Belval, Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau). However, a number of dynamic cross-border conurbations carry out their cooperation on an informal basis (the twin cities of Newry-Dundalk or Haparanda-Tornio for example).

For further reading, consult the factsheets: "Governance" and "Legal instruments".

At the technical level

The establishment of a permanent and dedicated technical structure with its own budget, at the service of political governance, is the tool required to meet the challenges posed by the functioning of a cross-border conurbation, by coordinating within a single territorial project the different cross-border projects in the fields mentioned above (transport, public services, economic development and employment, housing, culture ...). It must consist of a team of qualified personnel, assigned uniquely to the project, either in direct employ, or made available by the various administrations involved, mastering the different languages knowing the different cultures involved, and operating on a permanent basis.
Spatial planning is critical to the structuring of a territory and its governance, and includes the development of a common vision, the coordination of planning documents, and more generally a certain number of policies, infrastructure (roads, public transport etc.) and/or services. This is also true for cross-border areas. The definition and implementation of the cross-border territorial project requires greater consideration of the cross-border dimension in the realisation of urban planning documents on both sides of the border. However, the cross-border dimension of conurbations is given relatively little consideration in the majority of territorial projects and urban planning documents, whether it be at the level of communes (for example, standard local urban planning documents (PLU in France)), intercommunal (for example the territorial coherence plan (SCOT in France)) or regional (general plan (schéma directeur)). It is therefore important for the competent authorities in urban development and spatial planning to give them greater consideration.
To do this we need to improve knowledge of urban planning and zoning documents, and the planning policies of neighbouring countries: most of the actors involved in cross-border cooperation in European conurbations struggle with their limited knowledge of planning policy and procedure conducted on the other side of the border. Actors would benefit from shared training courses (in law, urban development and spatial planning) and a consultation between border partners should be set up for the realisation of ‘national’ projects. (Consult the factsheets on: “Spatial planning” and “Urban planning”).

The functions of statistical monitoring, spatial planning, urban development studies, are indispensable for the definition and the control of territorial projects, and can be implemented through tools such as cross-border urban planning agencies (e.g. the AGAPE in northern Lorraine, Grand Est region). (See the factsheet "Observation".)

A dialogue with the inhabitants of cross-border conurbations

Democratic principles require that the elected partners of political governance maintain a structured dialogue with the population of the cross-border conurbation, as well as with the economic and social stakeholders. It is a condition of the population’s support for a territorial/local project that responds to its needs: beyond this, the development of a cross-border citizenship promotes European citizenship. This dialogue with the population could be based on communication/promotional activities such as the organisation of events around the conurbation project, use of different media (television, radio, newspapers), the development of student exchanges, joint cultural or sporting events, etc. In most cases, the best promotion is successful projects (cross-border infrastructure, public services, etc.).
Further information on this topic: the conference in Tournai as part of the URBACT "EGTC" project (involvement of civil society within cross-border conurbations).