Cross-border maritime cooperation


Definitions and concepts in the area of maritime cooperation

Local cross-border maritime cooperation can be defined as a relationship between cross-border maritime local authorities regarding common activities. It comprises an important “territorial” dimension which differs from the cooperation undertaken in larger maritime spaces, which is the subject of the transnational component of the territorial cooperation objective of cohesion policy and/or macro-regional strategies. The boundary between these cross-border and transnational components is not however watertight. For example, the Channel forms part of the Atlantic macro-regional strategy. Coastal regions can be covered both by the local cooperation level and the transnational cooperation level (for example the Channel coastline is concerned by the two cross-border maritime programmes and by the transnational North-West Europe programme).

In light of the “classic” definition of cross-border cooperation as proposed by the Council of Europe (neighbourly relations between local authorities on either side of a national border), at first sight, the maritime space (except in the case of a shared coastline) constitutes a natural barrier that creates a territorial separation. However, local authorities on either side of maritime spaces have launched cooperation initiatives that help to turn this obstacle into a common territory or at least into a space in which there are exchanges on common issues.

The maritime space thus constitutes both a natural barrier and a link that strongly impact cross-border cooperation. The two main obstacles to this cooperation relate to accessibility and the lack of a cross-border culture. The development of cooperation is therefore strongly connected to the existence of permanent maritime links (bridges and tunnels) which constitute veritable “portals” to the territory and which generate the flows and exchanges that are indispensable for the construction of a common “territorial project” or at least a common strategy for the spaces concerned.


In this context, we can cite the example of the development of an integrated maritime strategy (IMS) for the Channel space which has been implemented within the framework of the CAMIS project (Channel Arc Manche Integrated Strategy).



While governments are the primary players involved in maritime cooperation on topics relating to the environment, maritime traffic and security, over the past few years local maritime cooperation initiatives between coastal local authorities have emerged in Europe.

The players involved in this type of cooperation are coastal local authorities whose territory, organisational structure and competences vary from one country to another. Port towns, public institutions, regions, departments, provinces and other sub-regional levels have developed local maritime cooperation initiatives.

The main challenge facing these players is to demonstrate that the maritime border is indeed a space for cooperation, as historically the emergence of nation states often undermined earlier cooperation between border coastal areas.

Border maritime areas are interdependent and form spaces of existing or potential joint development. The aim of cooperation is to spur the initiation of joint projects that enable these areas to go from being “peripheral maritime territories” to become “shared maritime territories”.

While maritime security is first and foremost the responsibility of national governments, the local authorities in border coastal areas have developed joint projects in areas such as:

  • protection of the marine environment (e.g. the International Marine Park of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia1)
  • economic development (maritime clusters)
  • tourism and cultural cooperation
  • renewable energies
  • integrated management of coastal areas through the preservation and enhancement of coastlines (see the issue of sustainable development below)
  • the creation of maritime links (passenger and freight transport)
  • the improvement of port and urban areas
  • prevention of risks of maritime pollution
  • sustainable development of maritime straits (see the NOSTRA project2)

Several questions need to be addressed: how can the implementation of local cross-border maritime projects be improved? How can it be ensured that these areas and their specific features are taken into account at EU level? How can it be ensured that local maritime cooperation is recognised as being a necessity in order to integrate maritime regions into the European territory and that it continues into the future? What role should cross-border cooperation have in the integrated management of coastal areas? How should this connect with the larger frameworks of cooperation?

  1. The creation of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation - International Marine Park of Bonifacio was formalised on 7 December 2012.

  2. The NOSTRA project, which came out of the European Straits Initiative, is co-financed by the ERDF (Interreg IVC) between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2014. It aims to study the cross-border governance tools needed for the sustainable development of straits in order to preserve their biodiversity and natural heritage. The project involves 16 partners from 10 countries (France, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Italy, Albania and Romania).



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