2024: ITEM commits to strengthening European border regions in policy

The year 2024 is an important year for border regions in several aspects. Rarely do so many elections take place in the world as in 2024, with some 70 countries sending people to the polls. On 9 June, for instance, Belgium will hold elections for both the European Parliament, the Chamber of Representatives and the Regional and Community Parliaments. It is an important moment for the direction and future of the development of border regions and cross-border cooperation. The status quo is not enough, the various ITEM studies have shown. On the one hand, opportunities and border obstacles cannot be adequately addressed and facilitated in policy, and on the other hand, policy does not sufficiently take into account the position of border regions. This is also recognised by the European Commission: the Eighth Cohesion Report and the Better Regulation Communications identify shortcomings for border regions.

To this end, initiatives have also been deployed that will be put on the agenda under the Belgian presidency of both the Council of the European Union and the Benelux Committee of Ministers to move forward. The ninth Cohesion Report will follow in the first quarter of 2024. This will present substantial reform options for the future of cohesion policy, including cross-border cooperation. This discussion will be tabled from 2024 onwards, with the European elections in the summer as an important starting point. European cohesion policy gives substance to the European treaty objectives of promoting social, economic and territorial cohesion. Territorial cohesion also explicitly includes cross-border cooperation. In the period 2021-2027, for instance, 8,050 million euros were made available to Interreg. With the European Social Fund, investments have been made in setting up cross-border employment services, among other things. Cohesion policy therefore matters, cross-border cooperation does not come naturally but deserves structural investments in time and money.

But cohesion policy is broader. On 12 December 2023, the European Commission published an adaptation of the proposed Regulation for a European Cross-Border Mechanism, under the new name “Regulation on Facilitating Cross-Border Solutions“. The proposal aims to strengthen cross-border cooperation and solve border obstacles by introducing ‘Cross-Border Coordination Points’ and creating a voluntary ‘cross-border facilitation tool’. Central to this are the Cross-Border Coordination Points, which should serve as a central coordination point for stakeholders with border obstacles and be able to coordinate them between different national authorities. This proposal is also linked to the treaty objective of increasing territorial cohesion.

This puts the development of border regions at a certain crossroads. On the one hand, reinforced cooperation and instruments to promote horizontal integration are being steadily developed. On the other hand, the various elections may influence this development for better or worse. Here, the future of cohesion policy in Europe is open to debate. For the further development of border regions and cross-border cooperation, it is very important to go beyond the status quo. As the European Commission has recognised in its own Territorial Agenda, COVID-19 has been able to hit border regions disproportionately hard. And the ECBM proposal’s own Impact Assessment predicts large GDP gains if border barriers can be lowered more effectively: 20% fewer border barriers equals 2% growth in border regions.

2024 also marks ITEM’s 10th anniversary and 10 years of commitment to a better functioning cross-border region and society. Also in 2024, ITEM is fully engaged in the debate about the future of cross-border cooperation and the development of border regions in Europe. Herewith, we proudly present some of our plans for 2024 in which we want to contribute to the deepening of horizontal integration in Europe with our Cross-Border Impact Assessment, events and analyses.


Facilitating border solutions

When the initial Regulation European Cross-Border Mechanism was published in 2018, ITEM was heavily involved in the policy discussions and need for tools for cross-border cooperation. In 2023, the ITEM & Benelux Union Conference in Brussels was specifically dedicated to the renewal via the European Parliament Resolution.

In 2024, ITEM is fully committed to the development of the Facilitating Cross-Border Solutions proposal. Together with the Landesvertretung Noordrhein-Westfalen, ITEM is organising the NRW/ITEM meeting on the Commission proposal and the central question of whether it is the solution to border obstacles in European border regions. This NRW/ITEM meeting will bring in perspectives from different border regions and discuss the necessary link between policy, expertise and practice.

The NRW/ITEM meeting marks the start of the broader Border Impact Study that ITEM is initiating together with partners within the TEIN network of border institutes. In doing so, ITEM is investigating the border effects of the Commission proposal for different border regions in Europe: what is the expected impact and differences between border regions?


Border impact assessment in Europe

The debate on the future of cohesion policy will be opened and shaped in 2024. ITEM is closely following the publications and discussions surrounding the ninth Cohesion Report and is making additional efforts for better border impact assessment in European policy. In the Cross-Border Impact Assessment 2024, a specific dossier study will be conducted into the better embedding and design of border impact assessment in Europe. This study will form the basis for the annual HNP/ITEM Side-Event during the European Week of Regions and Cities with the House of Dutch Provinces (HNP) in Brussels on 11 September 2024. This will focus on the discussion around the future of Cohesion Policy and border impact assessment.

The European elections between 6 and 9 June 2024 will have an impact on the shape of cohesion policy reforms in general and the functioning of border regions and cross-border cooperation in particular. As with previous important elections, ITEM will analyse the European political group programmes for the European elections and issue an ITEM Reflection from a cross-border perspective and inform you accordingly.

We would be happy to take you through these developments throughout the year and share and discuss our results and findings with you.


Prof. Dr Anouk Bollen-Vandenboorn

Director ITEM – Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross-border cooperation and Mobility

Research ITEM Border Impact File 2024: Regulation on Facilitating Cross-Border Solutions
ITEM Border impact opportunity analysis 2024: Border impact assessment and cohesion policy for European border regions
ITEM Reflection: European elections from a cross-border perspective
Dissemination NRW/ITEM meeting with Landesvertretung NRW: Solving Cross-Border Problems with the ‘Cross-Border Facilitation tool’? – 26 March 2024
ITEM & HNP Side-Event – September 11, 2024
ITEM Annual Conference 2024 – East Flanders – 22 November 2024