In their current election campaigns, almost all political parties stress that ‘every region matters’. Party manifestos are full of plans to promote broad prosperity in all regions of the Netherlands. Broad prosperity comprises not only material wealth, but also well-being, including issues such as living environment, social cohesion, crime prevention and health. An analysis in the annual Cross-Border Impact Assessment by the ITEM expertise centre (part of Maastricht University) shows that the border regions in particular remain a blind spot in the pursuit of broad prosperity. The ITEM report will be presented today during a conference in The Hague.

Border region
Regional broad prosperity in the Netherlands is measured and monitored by Statistics Netherlands (CBS), and this data is also used as the basis for so-called Regional Deals. But the CBS’s Regional Monitor of Broad Prosperity is currently limited by national borders. In measuring objective indicators such as nature reserves per inhabitant, or distance to cafés, restaurants or sports clubs, the CBS takes nothing into consideration beyond the border. Yet the residents of border regions most certainly do. Aspects such as language, culture, differences in legislation or accessibility by public transport can be major determining factors in whether or not residents cross the border for work or a visit to the theatre. ‘We need more insight into where opportunities and amenities lie, and also where there are existing cross-border interactions,’ says ITEM researcher Pim Mertens. ‘And also ask ourselves the question: if there is an amenity, is it actually being used, in the light of legislation, culture and the like? This data is currently available only incidentally, or not at all. The CBS’s Border Data initiative does nevertheless provide an interesting basis on which to expand.’

A special characteristic of border regions is that policy may have a negative impact on one side of the border, but a positive effect on broad prosperity in the cross-border region. National policy with neighbouring countries is not necessarily favourable for the border region, ITEM research shows. The researchers therefore advise Dutch politicians and policymakers to make much more frequent use of partnerships and consultation bodies in which neighbouring countries are also represented. ‘The cross-border region has to be viewed in context,’ says Mertens. ‘The pursuit of broad prosperity always involves making choices and weighing up the effects on different issues and areas of policy. In a cross-border context, this decision-making and prioritisation is not yet sufficiently established. The sectoral political system also hampers integrated thinking about broad prosperity.’

Traditionally, the presentation of the annual Cross-Border Impact Assessment takes place during the ITEM annual conference, held this year on Friday 17  November in the provincial government building of South Holland in The Hague. The conference is an opportunity for participants to share experiences in order to make progress on issues such as transnational and cross-border infrastructure and mobility projects, and support crime prevention, healthcare and the energy supply in border regions. Sustainable mobility and infrastructure is one of the cornerstones of the global challenges, but between neighbouring countries and border areas, not only are the impediments of the border at play, but also different interests are at stake. The aim is to achieve a permanent cross-border structure in which a variety of topics can be put on the agenda for analysis, leading to genuine results.

ITEM, the Institute for Transnational and Euregional cross border cooperation and Mobility, is part of Maastricht University and conducts research on cross-border cooperation and mobility. This year’s Cross-Border Impact Assessment considers not only the cross-border effects of broad prosperity, but also those related to public transport in border regions, as well as health care and large-scale infrastructure projects. All research files can be downloaded here.