Multilevel cooperation on overcoming trans-frontier obstacles

Tirana conference, 30/31 October 2012

Speech by Secretary General Andreas Kiefer, Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Council of Europe

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Ladies and gentlemen,

I welcome the thorough way to deal with different aspects of local and regional authorities’ tasks and activities in this high level conference and it is my pleasure to contribute to the key aspects of trans-frontier co-operation.

This very policy field is at the heart of the activities of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. The Congress discussed and adopted several Resolutions and Recommendations, the latest ones in 2009 on trans frontier co-operation and an opinion on the Protocol No 3 concerning Euroregional co-operation groupings, in 2006 on the Adriatic Euroregion and on inter-regional cooperation in the Black Sea Basin, in 2005 on regional media and trans-frontier co-operation, to name just a few.

In its priorities 2013-2016 the Congress states:

Inter-territorial cooperation

1. The Congress has many years’ experience in the field of trans-frontier and inter-regional cooperation.  The Seminar held in Innsbruck in May 2012 outlines the future framework of its activities on the subject.

2. In the follow up of the Seminar, the Governance Committee will prepare, in 2013, a report on trans-frontier cooperation, capacity building, knowledge sharing and networking, which will also establish the main thrusts of future activities.

3. The Congress will continue to promote the implementation of the 1980 European Outline Convention on Trans-frontier Cooperation between Territorial Communities or Authorities and its additional protocols, in particular Protocol No 3, which opens the way for trans-frontier cooperation between EU and non-EU local authorities.  It will also continue its discussions in this area with the EU Committee of the Regions, with which it has established an active cooperation.

The Congress will continue to contribute to the development of various forms of inter-territorial

Some characteristics for trans-frontier co-operation as preliminary remarks (also the term Cross border cooperation is used):

·         Crossborder areas are different in several respects:

o    Dimension

§  Large (Baltic, Danube,..)

§  Medium sized (ARGE ALP, COTRAO, CTJ, Working Community of the Pyrenees, Adriatic Euroregion, …)

§  Smaller (Eurodistricts, classic “Euregio”s)

o    Complexity

§  Simple: 2 countries, same language

§  Complex: incoherent political and administrative systems, different competencies: different authorities needed to solve problems, cultures, languages, political and administrative cultures, economic development, standard of living and salaries, historic tensions…

o    Type of borders

§   natural, geographic or historically and politically highly sensible border

o    European point of view:

§  Old internal borders

§  New internal borders

§  External border of EU

§  No direct link to EU countries (among CoE member states or with municipalities and regions from third countries: CoE Neighbourhood policy: Tunisia, Morocco, Kazakhstan …)

o    Relevance for citizens:

§  Only 7 % of the EU population is mobile within the EU, but 80% of this mobility is taking place in border regions

·         Typical phenomena of CBC

o    Decentralised cooperation, hierarchical steering not possible or at least not successful: ownership of local / regional actors indispensable

o    Many actors involved: LRA, private sector, civil society, national authorities or agencies, universities …

o    Decisions are taken voluntarily in decentralised systems of discussions, negotiations and agreements à sometimes need to be approved and/or validated by other levels

o    Cooperation has a concrete objective to be achieved: added value is the incentive (and often: regional, national and European funding for projects

o    Focus on the territory concerned: cross border region

o    Interaction and formal/informal co-ordination take place in a process

o    Mutual (will for) learning as engine for innovation

CBC: why and what for?

·         Environment:
rivers, lakes, mountains
à formerly separating, now linking and bringing people, LRA and MS together

·         History and culture:
common history although in different countries; sometimes same language

·         Socio-economic factors:
trade, work, natural resources, mining,


·         Political factors
after periods of mistrust of national authorities and with EU incentives: boom of interregional and cross border / trans-frontier cooperation

Territorial cooperation as a trend

Territorial cooperation has become more and more a European trend. European integration has fostered the development of numerous territorial cooperation projects and territorial cooperation is one of the three objectives of the European Union’s (EU) structural funds for the period 2007-2013.

The three objectives for 2007-2013 are: “convergence” (this objective covers regions whose Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is below 75% of the EU average and aims at accelerating their economic development); “regional competitiveness and employment” (this objective covers all regions of the EU territory, except those already covered by the convergence objective. It aims at reinforcing competitiveness, employment and attractiveness of these regions) and “territorial cooperation” (this objective is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and its aim is to promote cooperation between European regions, as well as the development of common solutions for issues such as urban, rural and coastal development, economic development and environment management). The territorial cooperation objective is furthermore divided into three strands: cross-border cooperation, transnational cooperation and interregional cooperation.

Territorial cooperation can adopt various forms and structures which differ in terms of size, regulatory span, fields of action and consolidation or institutionalization. The distinction between cross-border cooperation, transnational cooperation and interregional cooperation has been done essentially on the basis of different geographic scope. The term cross-border cooperation refers to a bi- or multilateral cooperation between adjacent local and regional entities situated in different but neighbouring states, whereas the term transnational cooperation covers a larger specific geographic area and involves both, regional and local, as well as national authorities situated in this specific area. Interregional cooperation is the collaboration between non-adjacent local and regional authorities.

Especially the field of cross-border cooperation appears to be diffuse due to many forms of collaboration. This type of cooperation has developed especially since the 1990s and interest in promoting it has constantly increased ever since. Most of these permanent cross-border structures call themselves Euroregions. The level of integration of these Euroregions varies considerably from case to case: In fact, some of them are quite consolidated and integrated, while others exist only formally with no significant substance. Some Euroregions are rather small, involving local and regional authorities from only two different states, while others are quite large, such as the Carpathian Euroregion, which involves regions of Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, and is, in terms of geographical size, even larger than Hungary and Slovakia.

Territorial cooperation in the EU

Following the initiatives for a regional policy of the European Communities (EC) as early as 1975 with the establishment of the ERDF in 1975, member states took a big step in involving the regional and local authorities formally in the Union's institutional framework by creating the Committee of Regions with the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. The subnational authorities were step by step recognized as key actors within the EU and its legal framework as well as in the shaping and implementing of policies.

However, the EU must not directly intervene in regional matters, because member states dispose of the exclusive competence on the internal organization. In addition, Article 4 of the EU-Treaty as amended by the Lisbon Treaty states clearly, that the Union shall respect the national identities of member states, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government.

The EU – which is in the end the governments of the 27 member states together with the European Parliament - undertook significant initiatives with regard to territorial cooperation – and mostly in the field of cross-border cooperation. Until 2006, the Union's most important initiatives and instruments concerning this issue have been the Community programmes Interreg, Phare, Tacis and Cards. The aim of these programmes was to establish common administrative and institutional structures in different areas, such as environment, economy, culture, education, urban development and so on. They also focused on assisting candidate countries in strengthening their public administration and fostering economic and social cohesion by initiating cross-border activities between them and regions of EU member states. Furthermore, the programmes also aimed at fostering cross-border cooperation among third countries, especially those of Eastern Europe and the Western Balkan countries.

Instruments for territorial cooperation in the Council of Europe

While the EU triggered cooperation by offering financial incentives, the Council of Europe began to promote cooperation between neighbouring local and regional authorities by offering a legal instrument for this purpose. During the 1970s it was the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) that called for a legal framework at European level: The local and regional authorities, in fact, found that the proximity of an international border considerably hampered them in their efforts to deal with practical local problems such as water supply and waste water treatment, regional planning, environmental protection, mobility and certain safety and public health services. The answer of the Council of Europe to these problems was the European Outline Convention on Trans-frontier Cooperation between Territorial Communities or Authorities, also called the Madrid Outline Convention. This convention was signed in Madrid on 21 May 1980 and entered into force in 1981. Currently, 37 of the 47 Council of Europe member states have signed and ratified it, while three others have signed it but not yet ratified.

Since the aim of the Council of Europe is “to achieve greater unity between its members and to promote cooperation between them”[1], the Madrid Outline Convention was adopted “to facilitate and foster trans-frontier cooperation between territorial communities or authorities within its jurisdiction and territorial communities or authorities within the jurisdiction of other contracting parties”. The Outline Convention provides local, regional and national actors with a general legal framework for trans-frontier cooperation; it consists of a set of 12 articles that define the main principles and minimum common standards, and of a series of appended model and outline agreements which are intended for guidance and have no binding character.

The Madrid Convention is a normative framework which has to be filled in with substance by bi- or multilateral agreements defining the concrete shape and legal nature of trans-frontier cooperation. It has, therefore, not produced a common legal basis immediately applicable for all 47 member states. In fact, conventions of the Council of Europe have to be ratified by the member states in order to become legally effective in the respective national state, but even after ratification, these instruments are not really legally binding, since there is no international or supranational authority that can control and enforce the actual compliance with a convention.


The differences between the two legal instruments, which will be fully complementary once the third protocol will be in force should not be obstacles but reasons to use one or the other instrument, depending on the given situation. The criteria of membership and the tasks are less restrictive in the third protocol than in the EC Regulation and could thus widen the scope of territorial cooperation by including also private law bodies and by not limiting the tasks of the grouping only to economic and social matters.

Besides legal instruments, cross-border, interregional and transnational cooperation also require other preconditions to operate well. This cooperation needs visions, objectives, strategies and concrete actions, which are defined in long, medium or short term. It requires organs with responsibilities and factual capacities as setting up a secretariat, recruiting staff and managing a budget. Structures, statutes and rules of procedures are as necessary as access to funds or legal personality in order to develop and implement projects.

The different traditions in European countries and the variety of responsibilities of local and regional authorities have lead different forms of cooperation. A look at hindering or supporting factors for cooperation shows, that many but not all problems can be solved by legal instruments.

Supporting factors are: a long tradition and experiences in cross-border cooperation; mutual trust and cooperation based on partnership and subsidiarity; geographic proximity; common structures for cooperation at local/regional level for strategies, programmes and projects; written agreements and regular stock taking; common cross-border development strategies or programmes; clear agreements and access to financial resources.

Hindering factors are: a lack of inclusion of actors (public, private, civil society) and of support of national politicians and administrations to eliminate existing obstacles by adopting national legislation or concluding international treaties; legal constraints for cross-border activities on local and regional authorities; incompatible responsibilities and administrative structures of different levels along the border(s); the lack of coordination between different EU instruments for support of cross-border cooperation along external borders and, finally, language barriers. Some of these factors are rooted in the motivation and in the expectations of the concrete cooperation and often can be influenced by the local and regional authorities involved. External factors, however, have to be changed by higher levels of government or at international level.

The Congress actively supports the improvement of all forms of territorial cooperation. In its latest report on trans-frontier cooperation in Europe presented by Karl-Heinz Lambertz on 16 September 2009 and in the Resolution and Recommendation based thereon[2] the Congress calls upon the Committee of Ministers and Council of Europe member states to further work towards improving the situation of citizens in border regions.

Not all problems can be solved by legal instruments. Therefore many successful Euroregions have been developed by different means of working together, sometimes without a formal legal basis, in informal networks with or without joint projects, incomplete solutions, when the associations of the countries concerned conclude agreements without any legal personality. Often bilateral agreements[3]  served as the basis for public law associations[4]. But in the long run, the increasing number of territorial cooperation schemes along and across-borders in more and more countries will need common legal instruments. Presently, the EGTC already provides for a legal instrument of the EU. Soon a second instrument of the Council of Europe will be available and, given the opportunities, it is worthwhile to promote the signature and the ratification of the third protocol by Council of Europe member states!

[1]        European Outline Convention on Trans-frontier Cooperation between Territorial Communities or Authorities, Preamble, in: 106.htm .

[2]        Report CG(17)5 by Karl-Heinz Lambertz of 16.9.2009; Resolution 286 (2009); Recommandation 270 (2009), adopted in the 17th Session of the Congress on 13.10.2009, in: (20.10.2010). 

[3]         For example: Benelux, Anholter Vertrag, Karlsruher Abkommen.

[4]         Öffentlich-rechtliche Zweckverbände.