On 27 and 28 March 2024, the ‘Limburgse tweedaagse’ (two-day event) of the National Network Broad Prosperity took place in Maastricht, organised by NEIMED, the province of Limburg and the programme coordinators of the National Network. ITEM and NEIMED jointly hosted a workshop on broad prosperity in border regions during which the importance of steering for impact in the broad prosperity perspective was discussed. Moreover, the recommendation was made to better take into account the specific situation of border regions by creating a better picture of the border area in terms of numbers and interactions.

Pim Mertens, scientific coordinator at ITEM, and Inge Hooijen, research manager Brede Welvaart Limburg at NEIMED, gave this workshop, partly as a follow-up to the joint research in the latest ITEM Cross-border Impact Assessment. ‘Broad prosperity is actually still a blind spot in border region’ was the press release surrounding the publication of the ITEM Cross-border Impact Assessment 2023. Broad prosperity has a great deal of social, political and policy attention, but the study shows that we do not sufficiently take into account the specific situation of border regions. From a Broad Prosperity perspective, three dimensions are used in time and place, stemming from an international framework: ‘here’ versus ‘elsewhere’ and ‘now’ versus ‘later’. ‘Elsewhere’ refers to broad prosperity beyond national borders and the influence national and regional policies have on it.

Yet data collection in the field of Regional Broad Prosperity, for example, stops at the border. Even in policy terms, the intertwining of dimensions in border regions is still insufficiently taken into account. Steering for broad prosperity requires so-called ‘trade-offs’. Because more broad prosperity in one aspect or dimension usually also means less broad prosperity in another aspect or dimension – not everything is possible everywhere at all times – choices are necessary. Trade-offs can exist in time, space and thematically. A simple example is the realisation of a wind farm that on the one hand promotes sustainability and energy transition, but on the other may negatively affect the appreciation of the living environment. Applied to the case study of the protest in Winterswijk against German wind farms, the broad welfare perspective can be positive on the German side of the border but negative on the Dutch side. On the other hand, opportunities and growth potential can be found across the border, as several studies by ITEM and others have already pointed out. Concrete examples are the cooperation and coordination of sustainable energy, Euroregional cooperation in healthcare to maintain accessibility of care and specialisms (such as through the Euroregional Children’s Surgery Centre) and the stimulation of a cross-border labour market and economy where supply and demand can be better exchanged across borders. This requires an integrated and cross-border approach and consideration of advantages and disadvantages and more appropriate policies for the entire cross-border region.

Opportunity or threat
Integral and cross-border considerations are necessary, but can also be difficult to interpret. During the workshop, we discussed two more concrete cases in the Zeeuws-Vlaanderen border area, such as on cross-border care. For Zeeuws-Vlaanderen residents, it is equally easy to get care on both sides of the border, and sometimes it is even easier in Belgium. In an ageing and shrinking region where facilities are under pressure, the cross-border perspective can promote broad patient welfare. However, the more Zeeuws-Vlaanderen residents use care across the border, the more care in their own region comes under pressure. It is one of the examples where the border can represent both an opportunity and a certain threat to broad prosperity in the border region and requires specific trade-offs.

Inge and Pim’s study therefore also recommends several aspects in the broad welfare cycle to better take into account the specific situation of border regions. Starting with a better picture of the border region in numbers and interactions, because border region society cannot be separated into two separate dimensions of ‘here’ and ‘elsewhere’.

➡ Read the recap of the Limburgse Tweedaagse of the National Network Broad Prosperity

➡ Download the presentation of the workshop 

➡ Browse the full research report into Broad Prosperity in border regions

Broad prosperity conference 2024 photo collage