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The future needs more territorial cooperation

Feburary 2024

The future needs more territorial cooperation

In the EU, every place exists in an intricate and profound interconnectedness. What happens in one place has implications for the development prospects of other places, and vice versa.

High levels of interdependence and integration in the EU imply that economic, social, environmental, security challenges and potential cannot be fully addressed in individual countries or territories. This concerns not at least border regions, which consitute an important part of the EU. In fact, EU internal border regions

  • cover 40% of the EU territory,

  • account for 30% of the population – 150 million people,

  • produce 30% of the EU's GDP, and

  • host almost 2 million cross-border commuters.

Border areas are an important part of the EU and come with their own challanges. There is a substantial number of studies on administrative and legal barriers to cross-border cooperation, showing that EU integration across national borders is often anything else but smooth.

There are considerable policy statements that border obstacles need to be overcome. Among others, the Territorial Agenda 2030 (Opens in a new window) casts a spotlight on this interconnection, emphasising the need to simplify the lives of citizens navigating the diverse tapestry of national borders within the EU. Along the same lines, the 8th Cohesion Report (Opens in a new window) emphasises that addressing today’s cohesion challenges requires better governance in border areas, stronger coordination of services, infrastructure and investments, and exchanges of experience supported by pan-European research. Shouldn’t internal EU borders become obsolete?

Borders are costly barriers

EU internal borders are a paradox: they serve as both gateways and barriers. To flourish, the EU needs seamless cross-border integration to mitigate the economic repercussions and job losses attributed to these barriers.

Despite all progress and goodwill to boost EU integration and overcome cross-border obstacles, national borders between EU countries – and between EU and EEA/EFTA countries – create barriers to development and integration. Cooperation between places inside and outside the Schengen area is especially affected as national borders remain hard borders that still represent barriers for the mobility of people, goods, and services. Moreover, borders between EU (and EEA/EFTA) countries and other external countries create even stronger barriers restricting mobility and commercial exchanges and creating uncertainty in the current highly volatile geopolitical environment. Deficiencies in cross-border integration remain costly.

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Topic Cohesion (policy)


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