• The borderless European Union (EU) created by European integration is, in truth, still characterised by numerous borders of various kinds. Whilst EU Member States’ boundaries have undoubtedly changed their meaning and function, from lines of separation to bridges, national borders have de facto never disappeared.

    To date, 40% of EU territory is constituted of border regions, i.e., sub-national entities located along or very close to land borders between Member States and/or EFTA countries. Moreover, almost 30% of the overall EU population resides in these areas, accounting for 30% of the EU’s GDP. One of the most tangible signs of cross-border relations is the number of cross-border commuters, which amounts to nearly 2 million. Although this data suggests that EU internal border regions cover an important portion of the Union’s territory and are actual living areas, these regions are often treated as peripheries by their respective states.

    The border-bridging capacity of these territories is acknowledged, particularly by the European Commission, which defines them as living laboratories of EU integration and supports their demand for a new legal tool for cooperation. National authorities, however, are more reluctant to provide these regions with a new cooperation instrument under EU law. So, what is next for EU cross-border regions?

    A failed attempt

    The existing EU initiatives – like Interreg A and the tool “European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation” – have value on their own, yet they are not fit to overcome the legal and administrative obstacles resulting from differences in national laws and hampering cross-border cooperation in various sectors. For instance, conflicting rules on internships between The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany discourage Dutch students from doing an internship in neighbouring Germany or Belgium, because they would not be provided with health insurance, thereby making the cross-border labour market less attractive. To mention another example, the Portuguese urban centres of Elvas and Campo Maior and the Spanish one of Badajoz cannot develop a cross-border public transport system because their competencies in the sector stop at their national borders, making it impossible for them to arrange shared buses.

    In 2015 a discussion at the EU level began about these so-called ‘cross-border obstacles’. As a result, the European Commission proposed a regulation on the European Cross-Border Mechanism (ECBM) in 2018, which was welcomed by the European Parliament. As originally foreseen by the Commission, the ECBM Regulation would have enabled “the application, within a given Member State and in relation to a common cross-border region, of the laws of a neighbouring Member State if the laws of the former were a legal obstacle to the delivery of a joint project”, as summarised by the EPRS.

    However, national authorities suspended the negotiations on the ECBM in the Council, mainly due to concerns about territorial sovereignty, subsidiarity, and the legal basis of the instrument. Ironically, this decision was officialised in July 2021, i.e., in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, which emphasised precisely the negative effects that the closures of national borders had on citizens living and working in these areas.

    Widening the EU toolbox for cross-border cooperation

    Although it is understandable that such a legal tool may raise some initial concerns, stopping its discussion only makes the list of cross-border obstacles longer. Another example comes from healthcare. In some places, the nearest hospital is the one located on the other side of the border. Setting up a cross-border ambulance service, however, requires complex agreements between states, which could be simplified precisely with a tool along the lines of the ECBM, as argued by MEP Pascal Arimont (EPP/BE). A mechanism, as stressed by MEP Herbert Dorfmann (EPP/IT), whose activation should remain voluntary to not undermine the sovereignty of Member States. 

    Overall, cross-border obstacles showcase the need for a more polycentric Europe, especially in the field of territorial cooperation. We need an EU that does not cancel states’ territorial boundaries or national identities but prioritises people-based and place-based solutions. This would also go hand-in-hand with strengthening horizontal coordination between sub-state actors across state borders, thus reinforcing the EU multilevel governance system more broadly.

    This vision would also allow Member States to prevent a political risk. Indeed, overlooking cross-border obstacles may lead to EU discontent and unattractiveness of the European project in EU borderlands. Conversely, cross-border regions must remain living laboratories of European integration.

    Moreover, it was estimated that existing cross-border obstacles lead to a loss of 3% of total EU GDP and 8.8% of total GDP produced in land border regions, with a loss of employmentof over 6 million jobs. Addressing cross-border obstacles would yield some of the EU’s untapped economic potential.

    A glimpse of hope for cross-border regions

    Following the active role of the European Parliament in relaunching the ECBM, the Commission in December 2023 adopted an amended proposal for a Regulation on Facilitating Cross-Border Solutions. The proposal is said to preserve the original objective of resolving cross-border obstacles while taking into consideration the concerns and recommendations previously made by the European Parliament and the Council. The legislative procedure will therefore restart.

    It remains to be seen whether the new proposed tool will address the unsolved questions. While the European Parliament’s support seems clear, it is now up to national authorities to end the centre-periphery cleavage and transform their border regions from peripheries of their states into the core of Europe. Fewer cross-border obstacles would also mean a more integrated and better-functioning EU.

    Alessia Setti Economy EU Member States Regionalisation

    Alessia Setti

    Trapped in an EU of Central Governments? The Future of EU Cross-Border Regions


    28 Mar 2024

  • ‘Staying Subsidiary, Getting Stronger’ with Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (Germany) and Political Academy of the Austrian People’s Party (Austria)


    – Elmar Brok, former MEP, EPP, Member of the National Board of CDU

    – Franz Schausberger, former Governor of Salzburg, Member, CoR

    – Ingrid Steiner-Gashi, Brussels Correspondent, Kurier

    – Tomi Huhtanen, Executive Director, Martens Centre – Moderator

    Tomi Huhtanen European Union Regionalisation

    NET@WORK Day 1 – Panel 2

    Live-streams - Multimedia

    25 Nov 2020

  • Federico Ottavio Reho Regionalisation

    Crisis in Catalonia: the rise of the Europe of regions?

    Europe out Loud

    21 Dec 2017

  • I say Europe, you say…?


    Hans-Gert Pöttering’s question to you was: How do you see the relations between the regions in Spain and the Spanish state in the framework of the EU?

    The Autonomous Communities and the Autonomous Cities of Spain count on a wide variety of institutional solutions, such as the Conference of Presidents, together with the Conference for Matters related to the European Communities. They serve as a valuable platform to coordinate and represent the interests of the regions at the EU level.

    Likewise, the Committee of the Regions provides for a framework within which local and regional authorities can make their voices heard at the European level. In this sense, the relations are dynamic and can be incremented anytime there is a special issue or concern on either side.

    What was the most interesting myth about the EU you needed to bust in your career?

    Some think MEPs are always flying first class, with the most renowned airlines. Well, I am an MEP and I can tell you that, 90% of the time, we fly economy class or use low-cost companies.

    What is your strategy to improve the way in which the EU is being communicated?

    The European Parliament efforts towards engaging millennials through apps such as Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook are indeed remarkable.

    However, many citizens still use printed media, radio and the vast majority still gets its information from the television, so we have to make sure that we keep providing both with the sufficient high-quality content. We have to focus on translation: not all citizens speak English or French, and therefore more effort should be put on making information available for them in their own language.

    Simultaneously, in times when fake news are the new propaganda technique, the EU should not just focus on unmasking the so-called “alternative facts” but also on offering a resilient counter-narrative. We have a myriad of good stories to tell, of success examples to share. So let’s all tell them, let’s all share them!  

    What was the last book you borrowed from the Parliament’s library?

    It was Resolving Cyprus: New Approaches to Conflict Resolution. I borrowed it in December and I have already renewed it twice. Achieving a comprehensible solution for the Cyprus issue would benefit not just the population of the entire island, but also the EU as a whole. It is something we all need.

    Tell us a not-that-good movie that is a “guilty pleasure” for you. 

    A Man for All Seasons is definitely my favourite movie. But I would like to draw the attention to the films of “Paco” Martínez Soria, as they are emblematic of post-war Spanish cinema.

    I am referring to the genre of the 50s, 60s and 70s that was endearing, warm, considerate, homey. These movies never won Oscars, but have always accompanied us, Spaniards, in our path to reconciliation, peace, democracy and prosperity.

    What was your first job?

    At the young age of 20, when I was still in university, I opened my own art gallery in my hometown, Murcia. I did not have money, but I was lucky enough to share a passion for art (I’m an Art History graduate) with a friend who did. He put the money and I put the knowledge. Our gallery, which we called ‘Mica’, eventually became one of the most prestigious in the region.

    Which should be, in your opinion, the main targeted areas in which the European Structural and Investment Fund should create jobs and growth?

    At the core of this policy are the Smart Specialisation Strategies. By fine-tuning our regions’ specialisation priorities –encouraging local, regional and national authorities to pursue evidence-based policy strategies- we improve the efficiency of the way in which public money is spent.

    If I had to pick two flagships for job creation, I would go for SMEs and youth. As well as boosting our SMEs’ competitiveness, effectively responding to the high levels of youth unemployment in Member States is vital to enhance a sustainable and inclusive model of growth.

    If you would need to participate in a karaoke contest which song would you sing? Which MEP would you pick for a duet?

    Singing is not my strongest point. But if I had to pick someone to sing with, that person would definitely be my colleague Carlos Iturgaiz. He is a real music master. And we would go for something from It’s happening! featuring Diana Ross and Neil Diamond.

    Why should defence research be a strategic priority for the Union, in your opinion?

    In a world constantly evolving, where change comes rapidly and in which uncertainty is now a commonplace, advancing in research and technology in all areas but especially in Defence and Security is of vital importance for the EU to remain autonomous, to maintain independence from third actors. Strategically speaking, research should be a priority in all areas but especially within the EU’s defence package.

    What is your life moto?

    Call it a life moto, call it a way to face life on a daily basis. When someone asks me how I am, I always respond: “I’m good, and feeling signs of improvement”. Looking at the bright side of life has always worked out to be the best possible approach.

    How did you manage to make it on the Kremlin’s blacklist?

    The reason for me being (still) on Putin’s blacklist is pretty simple: standing with the people of Ukraine and not with those who were giving orders to kill them. In 2014, at the beginning of the Euromaidan movement, I travelled to Kyiv in my role of President of the Committee of the Regions, the post that I held at that time. The official programme of my visit included a meeting with government representatives, but the dramatic events that happened at the Maidan while I was there changed the course of things.

    What should the EU’s strategy in tackling the situation in Eastern Ukraine be?

    The European Union is with the people of Ukraine. It is at their side. And it remains committed to trying to make sure that the conditions in the country improve. The EU has repeatedly called for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements in order to provide for a real beginning of the peace process.

    The role of the EU is to actively engage in supporting and assisting Ukraine in its remarkable reform effort, while trying to achieve a better security situation for its people, especially in the East.

    Sailing or cycling?

    Sailing. Just for the sake of feeling as free as a drop in the ocean.

    Gazpacho or Paella?

    I could not possibly choose one. It would be like asking a parent to choose his favourite child. So I would say gazpacho for starters and paella as main course.

    Analogue or digital camera?

    As a photography lover, I go with both and decide on the spot depending on the situation. Analogue works better for portraits, probably. But when it comes to editing, digital photography is a must.

    Which EPP Group colleague would you suggest for our next interview? What would be your question for her or him?

    Eva Paunova. First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate her on her recent marriage. And second, I would like to ask her how she thinks the EU could better contribute to equipping our youngsters with the digital skills needed to thrive in the digital context. 

    EU Institutions European People's Party Leadership Regionalisation

    I say Europe, you say…? Interview with EP Vice-President Ramón Luis Valcárcel

    I Say Europe

    23 Mar 2017

  • Regional and local authorities already promote their own policies and actions in the international arena for humanitarian, political, commercial, cultural and institutional reasons. From cross-border to decentralised cooperation, under the concept of City diplomacy, local authorities often move independently and actively, both in the international arena and in the EU’s decision-making processes.

    They act during conflicts, providing peace-building and dialogue opportunities, and take action in post-conflict regions or regions in need. This form of diplomacy complements traditional diplomacy and is mostly activated when the latter is frozen or required to remain low profile for contingent, political reasons. These new actors, with strong devolved powers at home and strong political leadership, deserve more attention from international players such as the European Commission and some of the United Nations’ agencies.

    The current scheme of international cooperation is overly rigid. There is a need for more flexibility so that support—including financial support—can be better targeted to meet specific needs. This could lead to regional and local actors becoming direct recipients of international financial support for planning and running decentralised or bottom-up forms of cooperation, partnership and political dialogue.

    Read the full article in the December 2016 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Filippo Terruso Development Foreign Policy Regionalisation

    Filippo Terruso

    Complementing traditional diplomacy: regional and local authorities going international


    07 Nov 2016

  • An article dealing with the meaning of European federalism may appear untimely and anachronistic to many contemporary readers. It comes at a moment when the European ideal is under great strain, when only a handful of dreamers still have the temerity to call themselves ‘federalists’, and almost none of them would dare to do so in public. The EU has been mired for years in an economic crisis of unusual length and scope, the legitimacy of its institutions is being questioned and anti-EU forces are on the rise in many countries.

    Besides, the claim to be offering a reappraisal of such an important topic may appear presumptuous, coming as it does after more than 60 years of European integration and many profound appraisals of this historical process.

    However, very little systematic analysis has been carried out so far on the meaning of European federalism. This article, far from conclusive and all-encompassing, is a contribution in the direction of such an analysis. It reflects on the meaning of European federalism and argues that the values and policies it implies could offer answers to many contemporary challenges and change the EU and its member states for the better.

    The first section deals with the ideals and institutional structure underpinning federalism. The second sketches the economic constitution of a federal polity. The third section briefly illustrates how this federalism can help meet certain contemporary challenges.

    The meaning of federalism

    Whereas the US founding fathers gathered in Philadelphia to draft the original constitution of the United States, the European founding fathers never fully articulated their political vision of an integrated Europe in a constitutional document. Therefore, the origins of European integration contain no grand federalising moment comparable to the US Constitutional Convention. European integration developed as a process for which ‘ever closer union’ and federalism were simply regulative ideals and not elements of a precise constitutional blueprint.

    Today, a long way down the path of integration, this ambiguity seems less and less tenable, as it leaves all pro-Europeans open to the accusation that they are ultimately struggling to unify the continent within a state-like polity similar to those that unified the various European nations in previous centuries. 

    Read the full FREE article published in the June 2015 issue of the European View, the Martens Centre policy journal.

    Federico Ottavio Reho Integration Regionalisation Values

    Federico Ottavio Reho

    Did we get it wrong? The true meaning of European federalism


    09 Sep 2015

  • The tenth anniversary of the EU enlargement to countries in Central and Eastern Europe offers an opportunity to take stock of the Visegrád Four, a grouping of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. What has EU membership meant for the Visegrád Four? Should the group have been dissolved when its members entered the EU, as some were suggesting at the time of accession?

    In my opinion Visegrád cooperation has its justification even inside the EU. However, its potential remains unfulfilled.

    The Visegrád Four has rarely functioned smoothly. The initial Czech boycott in the first half of the 1990s was followed by a paralysis caused by Mečiar’s authoritarian political regime in Slovakia up until 1998.

    High-level disputes over the so-called Beneš decrees created rifts between Slovakia and Czechia on one hand, and Hungary on the other hand. Disagreement continues between Hungary and Slovakia regarding the Hungarian citizenship law that affects the Magyar minority in Slovakia.

    In foreign policy each of the four countries, including Poland, pursue their narrow national interests even in situations where pulling together would be more effective.

    Position in areas such as agricultural policy are far from unified and there is often precious little policy coordination even when it would be beneficial to all.

    So is it all negative between the lands of Visegrád? Thankfully, there are positive developments, too.

    A closer look reveals that membership in the EU is indeed providing a new raison d´être for the Four: the Visegrád countries do sometimes coordinate their positions in intergovernmental negotiations on different EU policy areas. Energy, defence and security are cases in point. The governments of the four countries have been working especially closely in these areas in response to the evolving Ukrainian crisis.

    The group has also jointly supported democratisation processes in Eastern Europe and advocated further EU enlargements.

    When it comes to economic policy, the members share the commitment to responsible public budgeting. They have, through joint efforts, made sure that the EU’s banking union will remain open to those countries which currently do not have the euro as their currency.

    What is sometimes forgotten, is that the Four have succeeded in creating the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) to increase mutual trade. The CEFTA has succeed beyond expectations. Whilst its founder countries have left CEFTA on their entering the EU, this free trade area now includes now a number of countries in Western Balkans that aspire to the EU membership.

    And separately from the national level, non-governmental organisations, churches, researchers, business and regional and municipal governments cooperate closely on a daily basis. To some extent, this is thanks to the government-funded International Visegrád Fund. Collaboration is stronger today than it was ten years ago.

    Nevertheless, scope for improvement remains large. For example, the Visegrád Four could more forcefully advocate keeping the EU an open trading economy averse to government protectionism.

    The degree of integration in the Visegrád Four is far less than, for example, integration between the three countries of the Benelux. A common parliamentary assembly, such as exists in the Benelux, is a distant dream. Also the Nordic Council could serve as a model of cooperation based on shared values.

    It is up to enlightened politicians in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Czechia to work together more constructively. Here is hoping that they will use the next ten years of EU membership to fulfil the potential of cooperation between the four countries.

    Vít Novotný EU Member States Integration Regionalisation

    Vít Novotný

    The Visegrád Four: working together better thanks to EU membership?


    09 May 2014