Last 13 October marked the start of the first joint ITEM/HNP side event during the European Week of Regions and Cities at the House of the Dutch Provinces in Brussels. Multilevel governance in practice was on the agenda and it became so. An animated discussion between different layers of government such as provinces, the Flemish representation in the Netherlands, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Secretariat of the Benelux Union and the knowledge institute ITEM.
What have we learned in the corona period and in what ways can current cross-border cooperation be further improved; how strong should multilevel governance be? The President of the Committee of the Regions emphasised in his video message that in these difficult times, cross-border regions have shown their crucial contributions. The crisis has shown the incredible resourcefulness and mentality of the people of Europe. Born of necessity because, after all, it is essential to the lives of people living in border regions. However, it cannot just come bottom-up.
During this pandemic, it showed how important mutual cross-border networks are to immediately achieve operational coordination and activities. According to King’s Commissioner in the Province of Overijssel Andries Heidema, a script for a crisis situation does not work, as every crisis is unique. What does work, according to him, is a well-maintained relationship based on agreements, such as those laid down in the Netherlands-North Rhine Westphalia region in a borderland agenda. Decades of cooperation then allows for quick reactions in a crisis situation.
The initially awkward cooperation on the Dutch-Belgian border was mainly caused by national action by the Netherlands. Resulting in a border closure and, initially, a nationally focused response from national administrators. Mr Filip d’Havé of the Flemish representation in the Netherlands subsequently saw the Dutch border regions gaining more weight in The Hague and subsequently also in Belgium. He saw this as a positive development and stressed that the voice and impact of the border regions should become greater at the national level. Adding to ITEM director Anouk Bollen’s plea that the resident of the border region should be an autonomous category in public administration, ‘d Havé argues that border administrators on both sides of the border should also become more autonomous.
It stresses that this improved cooperation should also be effective in day-to-day life. Jeroen Lenaers, MEP, agrees that in The Hague this has been talked about for a long time, but it is still not an intrinsic part of policy-making. Hence the pilot proposal ‘Cross-Border Crisis Response Integrated Initiative’ from the European Parliament to see in practice where the barriers and obstacles were at the time of the corona crisis and what action plan could be developed in response. The European Commission has embraced this proposal. So did Frans Weekers, Deputy Secretary-General of the Benelux Union, who suggested using Benelux as a testing ground. The Benelux, as a forerunner of Schengen, has had this exemplary role before. Weekers’ reaching out was welcomed by the representatives present.
Another helping hand came from the European Commission. Pascal Boijmans underlined that in addition to the usefulness of cross-border impact reports, the space offered by INTERREG should certainly be used to further organise multilevel governance. Applying the border effects methodology, as developed by ITEM for instance, can help administrators and policymakers take steps based on the right insights. The Netherlands can be mentioned as an example in this respect, now that new laws and regulations since spring 2021 require a mandatory test for border effects using the Guideline on Border Effects.
Chairman of the House of Dutch Provinces, also the King’s Commissioner in the province of North Holland, Arthur van Dijk reflected on the afternoon and indicated that focusing on border residents, livability and opportunities for innovation in border areas is in the interest of the member states involved and of Europe as a whole. The pandemic has shown that it needs continued attention and maintenance.
Van Dijk indicates that the joint organisation of this seminar by ITEM and HNP will not remain a one-off event. After all, border issues are not a new problem, but are about being able to connect seamlessly says Van Dijk. This has to come together in The Hague; not all departments a bit, but together. You will have to look at the impact side. In such an impact team, border officials would fit in perfectly, using practical examples and studies. This again ties in directly with ITEM’s core values: knowledge – connecting – cooperating.
In short, cross-border cooperation is on the agenda again next year during the European Week of Regions and Cities, all attendees have put it on the agenda; multilevel governance in practice!
Prof Anouk Bollen-Vandenboorn, ITEM
Jacqueline de Groot, ITEM