The border at the centre

“With the report ‘every region counts’ and the region deals, this administration is making it clear that the Netherlands is only really thriving when it’s thriving everywhere, the border regions do have opportunities, but you have to be prepared to look beyond the borders both literally and figuratively and to also see the region much broader than its location on the edge of the Netherlands, because then you limit yourself.”
Kees van den Burg Director-General Mobility Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management


Anouk Bollen: “See the inhabitant of the border region as an independent position when it comes to policy-making, legislation and regulations because if you keep that in mind you can really help border regions move forward”

On 22 November, the Netherlands was once again called upon to vote for the Lower House and Government. In the lead-up to this, the Next ITEM – Nieuwspoort event took place, during which four candidate MPs discussed with each other and with ITEM whether the border regions are sufficiently in focus and what can be done about it in the context of cross-border cooperation. Central to this discussion was the ITEM Reflection on the party programmes. The focus on (border) regions is increasing, in line with ‘Every region counts’, but “the border region needs to be more top-of-mind”, the candidates for the Lower House concluded. The (border) region check is mentioned as a priority in a number of party programmes, which is important on paper but practical implementation is even more important. There is much to be gained in this. The ITEM Reflection makes the parties face the facts, regardless whether they are left wing, centre or right wing. Therein lies also directly the assignment I give the new MPs, first for the coalition negotiations and afterwards in the Chamber: take your responsibility and use the instrument of the border effects check and see the resident of the border region as an independent position in assessing and making policy, laws and regulations.

Annual conference

During our subsequent ITEM Annual Conference in The Hague, DG Mobility of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Kees van der Burg – speaking on behalf of Minister Mark Harbers – also recognised this importance and referred to the border as a front door to Europe. In North-West Europe, our border regions are not a remote corner of the countries involved, but are at the heart of Europe. This annual conference focused on mobility and infrastructure and the question of the extent to which transnational and cross-border objectives and approaches can go hand in hand. Cross-border transport corridors are often characterised by their transnational nature, train connections, inland waterways and port connections through a corridor across Europe. But too often the focus is on the national agenda, not always to the benefit of the border region, while even within those corridors you encounter the border. For cross-border tasks to succeed, dovetailing with the challenges and approaches of and in the border regions is essential. Make use of cross-border governance structures and deploy instruments, only then can you make transnational tasks and cross-border cooperation go hand in hand and come to reinforcement. The call by DG Mobility, Kees van der Burg, to have and keep more eye for border regions also underlines this and I am therefore happy to bring it forward. After all, in the European context, these are the core regions with enormous opportunities and (as yet) untapped potential.

Kees van der Burg: “Good infrastructure and good public transport are essential links when it comes to that broad prosperity, which applies to all regions in the Netherlands and our neighbouring countries in particular.”

Broad prosperity

In that context, broad prosperity will also have to be taken into account more heavily in investment decisions, this applies to regions and in particular to border regions. The development of broad prosperity is not bound by national borders, our ITEM Cross-Border Impact Assessment endorsed in response to the report ‘Every region counts’. The question “How are we going to do it?” deserves more attention from all levels. In line with the ITEM concept of ‘Horizontal Integration’, we note that structures, capacities and instruments are needed and currently insufficiently recognised. There are opportunities and possibilities, but this requires political leadership as the Commissioner of the King in the province of North Holland and chairman of the House of Dutch Provinces in Brussels, Arthur van Dijk, so eloquently put it. Political leadership: daring to deviate from the rule in order to achieve transnational and cross-border objectives. Dutch ambassador to Germany Ronald van Roeden underlined the importance of making room for exceptions. Regional minister Jeannette Baljeu, chair of the EGTC Rhine Apline Corridor, marks that it is needed from both sides; bottom up within the legal EGTC instrument, bottlenecks are tackled locally, but where that does not work it is necessary to be able to deviate from the top down.

Arthur van Dijk: On seamless connections: “…then you see that those connections in Europe are not yet so seamless at all…of course you have to do a lot at the national level but I think also in Brussels we have to make sure that we take up that discussion at a different level”

A day earlier, we heard the candidates endorse similar calls, such as supporting the European proposal BridgEU. In the previous newsletter, MEP Gozi explained this BridgEU proposal in the ITEM guest column. These are the tools that must be embraced and accepted if transnational and cross-border objectives are to be achieved together. Let everyone take responsibility in their own role and show political leadership so that we stop talking about it and start doing it!

Save the date 2024

We thank you for your attention and involvement during the ITEM Annual Conference 2023 and cordially invite you to the next ITEM Annual Conference hosted by Governor Carina van Cauter of the province of East Flanders, on 22 November 2024 in Ghent!

Prof. Dr. Anouk Bollen-VandenBoorn
Director ITEM


Also see:

Publication Cross-border Impact Assessment

Press release: Broad prosperity is still a blind spot in the border region

Re-watch the live stream of the Annual Conference 2023

NEXT ITEM – NIEUWSPOORT: House of Representatives elections, are border regions in the picture? Read the news item and re-watch

ITEM Reflections: House of Representatives elections from a cross-border perspective (PDF)


Foto collage ITEM Jaarconferentie 2023