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What can help to improve the interregional cooperation in Europe?

Europe is only possible if a community of the European folk is re-established, in which each nation makes its irreplaceable, unacceptable contribution to the European economy and culture, to western thinking, poetry and creativity.”.[1] This quote by Konrad Adenauer, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, states already the core conditions that make the European Union work. Today, almost 68 years after the establishment of the first international organization which ultimately led to the European Union – the ECSC[2] – we are on our best way to fulfill these above mentioned conditions and make Europe work the way it should. In this present essay, I will introduce the Interreg initiative that assists governments to make the EU work on regional and local level. Furthermore, I will mention my personal experience with Interreg programs that are aligned in the cross-border cooperation. Moreover, I will shed light on the possible obstacles in interregional and cross-border corporation and find possible improvements.

 

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In the past years, economic integration has increased among the European member states. This integration has not only a strong influence on the development and coordination on national and international level but has as well affected the individual regions throughout the EU. To this progress contributed Interreg, also known as ETC – European Territorial Cooperation – launched in 1990 by the European Regional Development (European Commission, 2020a). Interreg consists of a panoply of cooperation programs, in which all EU regions can equally collaborate, exchange their knowledge, tackle common problems and learn from each other in order to improve their region’s and people’s lives. This integration on regional level has become more and more important, especially since the enlargement of the EU of 2004 and 2008 by accepting new states that might have a higher number of underdeveloped regions. As for some problems, the European Union might be too big and the respective Member State too small, the interregional and the transregional programs find their place by finding cross-border and cross-regional solutions. The main objective of Interreg is to support growing activity within regions by providing an effective economy and promote social and territorial development. It is divided into 6-years periods in which it determines the objectives of its programs and realizing specific projects. The current period – Interreg V – is based on 11 investments priorities (European Commission, 2020b), regarding sustainable development, research and innovation, and social issues, to which the respective cooperation programs are required to adhere. It is built around three strands of cooperation: cross-border (Interreg A) that consists of programs between neighboring countries, transnational (Interreg B) that involve regions from several countries of the EU forming bigger areas, and interregional (Interreg C) working at pan-European level (Interreg, 2020).

Coming to my personal experience in interregional cooperation, I have to say that I merely had experience with cross-border cooperation – the Interreg A alignment. To get out from the busy city in the west of Germany, my mum sent me every summer holiday to my grandmothers cabin, located in the lush forests of the Euroregion Krušnohoří / Erzgebirge that is situated along the border between Germany and Czech. In the mid 1990’s this area was indeed beautiful, but underdeveloped. The ski resort was small, and there were no real hiking- tracks or tourist information’s. Thanks to the cross-border cooperation, the “Funding of cross-border cooperation between the Free State of Saxony and the Czech Republic[3]” these border regions started to develop with their cultural diversity as spaces that grow together, which is supported within the framework of the EU Community Initiative INTERREG, Strand A – Cross-border Cooperation (Sachsen.de, 2020). The program of this strand, the SN-CZ 2014-2020 Ahoj soused.Hallo Nachbar. is providing European Union funding in a three-digit million range to further reduce the border barriers between Saxony and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, its mission is to improve the quality of life in the border regions, to further develop sustainable economic and living space and increase the competitiveness of the Saxon-Czech and Saxon-Lower Silesian border region (SN-CZ, 2020). Its transnational projects range from cooperation in rescue services and fire brigades, education, culture, sport, nature conservation and tourism, and strategic, institutional cooperation. This progress is becoming visible in the last decade. Forests in this area got now various hiking trails with information boards written in Czech, German and English and mountain towns and villages opened various museums and galleries concerning the history of the Montanregion. The number of tourists significantly increased (Beneš, 2018). One of the realized projects is for instance the “Montanes cultural heritage” (Montánní kulturní dědictví)  between the German Breitenbrunn and the Czech Jáchymov with the aim of preserving cultural monuments and their surroundings. This project financed in Jáchymov the restoration of the Latin library, and in Breitenbrunn the revitalization of the narrow-gauge railway museum. These actions will strengthen tourism, which is an important economic factor in this region (Boží Dar.cz, 2020). A further significant example from my personal experience are the border towns Vejprty, in Czechia and Bärenstein in Germany in the Ore Mountains. After the take-over of the Nazis, the annexation of Vejprty to German Reich, and the subsequent expulsion of the German population from Vejprty (the former Sudetenland), the dark part of history reached the two communities and the region. The following years as a border region between the GDR and the CSSR left only little space for exchange. In 2005 the borders between this two communities reopened after 60 years. Where once were border installations is now a shared center with a showroom, tourist information and a culture hall for possible events that is available for both communities – all funded by the European Union. Besides this, joint small-scale actions between Bärenstein and Vejprty such as the 25th Anniversary of the border opening or common exhibitions are promoted and funded by the Kleinprojektefonds Interreg V A, 2014 -2020. Although, the cross-border cooperation between the respective regions and states makes considerable progress, there are still various aspects that could be ameliorated. Talking about the cross-border cooperation between the Czech Republic and Germany, it has to be mentioned, that there are only a few people, that work and live in the border regions that are proficient in German or Czech.  Especially for Czech people in these areas, but also in general, it may be a major advantage to have knowledge of the German language and vice versa. Certain events, even in small-scale projects are spending considerable sums of money for interpreting and translation services. It would be a more suitable way to spend this money on language courses in institutions and departments. Furthermore, I noticed that departments that provide these cooperation’s, require more people that are shaped for this labor market – people who are experts in EU bureaucracy. A certain number of the application for funding, especially for small-scale project, are submitted by small communities. People who submit them are mostly unexperienced mayors and other people who are not experts.  For this reason, it is a huge asset that study programs, that are focusing more on regional and European development are coming into being. The European Union and this type of cooperation is becoming more and more an integral part of our life’s. Furthermore, the entrance of the Czech Republic into the Eurozone would contribute to the uniformity and efficiency of processes and EU’s actions.

In the present essay I have introduced the major ideas and missions of the Interreg initiative that consists of an extensive network of programs assisting regions to develop and to attain a better quality in social issues, environment and research, and innovation. In the recent decades we observed an enormous progress in many different regions all around Europe and its countries. The above presented developments that I witnessed myself in my home demonstrate that the principle of interregional cooperation, to transfer and exchange knowledge and to cooperate proves to be successful. Interregional and cross-border cooperation definitely develop excellent practices that contribute to the quality of this Union. Thus, there are still the above mentions aspects that we – as Europeans – need to work on. Talking as a half Czech and half German citizen, I have to admit that I am highly surprised how these two countries, and the EU in general are building bridges and intertwine after such a tumultuous past.

 

Sources:

Beneš, J. (2018). Do Krušných hor přijíždí více turistů než v minulých letech. Láká je příroda i cyklostezky. Retrived July 23.07.2020, from https://sever.rozhlas.cz/do-krusnych-hor-prijizdi-vice-turistu-nez-v-minulych-letech-laka-je-priroda-i-7584310

Boží Dar.cz (2020, July 17). Montánní kulturní dědictví. Retrieved July 23.07.2020, from http://www.bozidar.cz/cs/projekty-eu/667-montanni-kulturni-dedictvi.html

European Commission (2020a). Interreg 30 Years. Retrieved July 22.07.2020, from https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/policy/cooperation/european-territorial/interreg30years/

European Commission (2020b). Interreg: European Territorial Co-operation. Retrieved 22.07.2020, from https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/policy/cooperation/european-territorial/

Interreg (2020, July 22). About Interreg. Retrieved July 22.07.2020, from https://interreg.eu/about-interreg/

Sachsen.de (2020, July 16). Grenzüberschreitende Regionalentwicklung. Retrieved 23.07.2020, from https://www.landesentwicklung.sachsen.de/2344.htm

SN-CZ (2020, July 18). Überblick. Retrieved July 23.07.2020 from https://www.sn-cz2020.eu/de/foerdergrundlagen/programminformationen/basisseite_1.jsp

Adenauer (24.3.1946) Orig.: „Europa ist nur möglich, wenn eine Gemeinschaft der europäischen Volker wiederhergestellt wird, in der jedes Volk seinen unersetzlichen, unvertretbaren Beitrag zur europäischen Wirtschaft und Kultur, zum abendländischen Denken, Dichten und Gestalten liefert.“

[2] European Coal and Steel Community

[3] G.: Das Kooperationsprogramm zur Förderung der grenzübergreifenden Zusammenarbeit zwischen dem Freistaat Sachsen und der Tschechischen Republik 2014-2020

CZ: Program na podporu přeshraniční spolupráce mezi Českou republikou a Svobodným státem Sasko 2014–2020