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Procedure : 2018/2054(INI)
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Document selected : A8-0266/2018

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PV 10/09/2018 - 29
CRE 10/09/2018 - 29

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PV 11/09/2018 - 6.10
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Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - Strasbourg
Boosting growth and cohesion in EU border regions

European Parliament resolution of 11 September 2018 on boosting growth and cohesion in EU border regions (2018/2054(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Articles 4, 162, 174 to 178 and 349 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006(1),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1299/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on specific provisions for the support from the European Regional Development Fund to the European territorial cooperation goal(2),

–  having regard to Regulation (EC) No 1082/2006 on a European grouping of territorial cooperation (EGTC)(3),

–  having regard to Directive 2011/24/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 March 2011 on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare(4),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 20 September 2017 entitled ‘Boosting growth and cohesion in EU border regions’ (COM(2017)0534),

–  having regard to the Commission staff working document of 20 September 2017 accompanying the Commission communication entitled ‘Boosting growth and cohesion in EU border regions’ (SWD(2017)0307),

–  having regard to its resolution of 13 March 2018 on lagging regions in the EU(5),

–   having regard to its resolution of 17 April 2018 on strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU: the 7th report of the European Commission(6),

–  having regard to its resolution of 13 June 2017 on building blocks for a post-2020 EU cohesion policy(7),

–  having regard to its resolution of 13 June 2017 on increasing engagement of partners and visibility in the performance of European Structural and Investment Funds(8),

–  having regard to its resolution of 18 May 2017 on the right funding mix for Europe’s regions: balancing financial instruments and grants in EU cohesion policy(9),

–  having regard to its resolution of 16 February 2017 on investing in jobs and growth – maximising the contribution of European Structural and Investment Funds: an evaluation of the report under Article 16(3) of the CPR(10),

–   having regard to the opinion of the Committee of the Regions of 8 February 2017 on Missing transport links in border regions(11),

–  having regard to its resolution of 13 September 2016 on Cohesion Policy and Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3)(12),

–  having regard to its resolution of 13 September 2016 on European Territorial Cooperation – best practices and innovative measures(13),

–  having regard to its resolution of 10 May 2016 on new territorial development tools in cohesion policy 2014-2020: Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) and Community-Led Local Development (CLLD)(14),

–  having regard to the conclusions and recommendations of the High Level Group monitoring simplification for beneficiaries of ESI Funds,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Regional Development and the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education (A8-0266/2018),

A.  whereas the EU and its immediate neighbours in the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) count 40 internal land borders and EU internal border regions, and these regions cover 40 % of the Union’s territory, account for 30 % of the EU’s population and produce almost one third of EU GDP;

B.  whereas border regions, especially those with lower population density, tend to face worse conditions for social and economic development and generally perform less well economically than other regions within the Member States, and their full economic potential is untapped;

C.  whereas physical and/or geographical barriers also contribute to restricting economic, social and territorial cohesion between border regions, both within and outside the EU, particularly in the case of mountain regions;

D.  whereas, in spite of the efforts already undertaken, obstacles – consisting of mainly administrative, linguistic and legal barriers – still persist and hamper growth, economic and social development and cohesion between and within the border regions;

E.  whereas it was estimated by the Commission in 2017 that the removal of only 20 % of the existing obstacles in the border regions would bring about an increase in their GDP of 2 %, or around EUR 91 billion, which would translate into approximately one million new jobs; whereas territorial cooperation, including cross-border cooperation, has been widely acknowledged to bring genuine and visible added value, in particular to citizens of the EU living along internal borders;

F.  whereas the total number of cross-border workers and students active in another EU country is approximately 2 million, of which 1.3 million are workers, representing 0.6 % of all employees across the EU-28;

G.  whereas in the current multiannual financial framework (MFF), 95 % of Trans-European Transport Networks (TEN-T) and Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funds go to the core corridors of the TEN-T, while small projects on the comprehensive network and interventions linking up with the TEN-T network, although essential to solving specific problems and to the development of cross-border connections and economies, are often not eligible for co-financing or for national financing;

H.  whereas the Commission also intends to present its stance on the internal maritime border regions;

I.  whereas multiple challenges faced by the external border regions of the EU, including the outermost regions, rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition and regions in the Union which suffer from remoteness, insularity or other severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps as per Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), would also merit a stance being adopted by the Commission;

1.  Welcomes the Commission communication entitled ‘Boosting growth and cohesion in EU border regions’ which, as the result of two years of research and dialogue, provides a valuable insight into the challenges and obstacles faced by the internal EU border regions; underlines, in this context, the importance of using and publicising good practices and success stories, as this Commission communication does, and urges a follow-up with similar analysis regarding external EU border regions;

Targeting the persistent obstacles

2.  Points out that access to public services, in line with their development, is crucial for the 150 million-strong population of internal cross-border areas, and is frequently hampered by numerous legal and administrative, including linguistic, barriers; calls, therefore, on the Commission and the Member States to maximise their efforts and step up cooperation to remove these barriers and to promote and establish the use of e-government, especially when related to health services, transport, construction of vital physical infrastructure, education, culture, sport, communications, labour mobility, the environment, as well as regulation, cross-border commerce and business development;

3.  Underlines that the problems and challenges faced by the border regions are common to some extent, but also vary from region to region, or between Member States, and depend on the particular legal, administrative, economic and geographic specificities of a given region, which makes an individual approach to each of these regions a necessity; acknowledges the shared development potential of cross-border regions in general; encourages tailor-made, integrated and place-based approaches, such as Community-Led Local Development (CLLD);

4.  Underlines that the differing legal and institutional frameworks of the Member States can lead to legal uncertainty in the border regions, which results in an increase in the time needed and the cost of implementing projects, and constitutes an additional obstacle for citizens, institutions and enterprises in the border regions, frequently hindering good initiatives; stresses, therefore, that greater complementarity, better coordination and communication, interoperability and willingness to tackle barriers between the Member States, or at least at border region level, are desirable;

5.  Recognises the special situation of cross-border workers, who are most seriously affected by the challenges present in the border regions, including, in particular, the recognition of diplomas and other qualifications obtained after retraining, healthcare, transport and access to information on job vacancies, social security and taxation systems; calls, in this context, on the Member States to step up their efforts to overcome these obstacles and allow for greater powers, funds and sufficient flexibility for regional and local authorities in border regions to better coordinate neighbouring national legal and administrative systems in order to improve the quality of life of cross-border workers; underlines in this context the importance of the dissemination and use of best practices all over the EU; stresses that these problems are even more complex for cross-border workers to and from non-EU countries;

6.  Points to the challenges related to business activities carried out in the border regions, in particular when related to the adoption and implementation of labour and commercial law, taxation, public procurement or social security systems; calls on the Member States and the regions to better align or harmonise the relevant legal provisions with the challenges posed by cross-border areas, and promote complementarity and achieve convergence in regulatory frameworks, in order to allow for more legal coherence and flexibility in the implementation of national legislation, as well as to improve the dissemination of information on cross-border issues, e.g. by creating one-stop-shops to enable workers and companies to honour their obligations and to realise their rights to the full extent, as demanded by the legislative system of the Member State where they provide their services; calls for the better use of existing solutions and the guaranteeing of funding for existing cooperation structures;

7.  Expresses disappointment that the Commission’s communication did not include a specific assessment of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), including extra support which can be provided to them; believes that SMEs face particular challenges when it comes to cross-border interaction which includes, but is not limited to, those related to language, administrative capacity, cultural differences and legal divergence; stresses that meeting this challenge is particularly important as SMEs employ 67 % of workers in the EU’s non-financial business sectors and generate 57 % of value added(15);

8.  Points out that in cross-border regions, especially those with lower population density, transport, particularly with regard to cross-border public transport services, is still insufficiently developed and coordinated, partly because of missing or disused links, which hampers cross-border mobility and prospects for economic development; stresses, furthermore, that cross-border transport infrastructure is also particularly adversely affected by complex regulatory and administrative arrangements; underlines the existing potential for developing sustainable transportation, primarily based on public transport, and in this regard awaits the forthcoming Commission study on missing railway links along internal EU borders; underlines that any such study or future recommendations should be inter alia based on information and experience from local, regional and national authorities and take account of any proposals for cross-border cooperation and, where this is already in place, for better cross-border connections and calls on cross-border regional authorities to propose ways of bridging existing gaps in transport networks; recalls that some existing railway infrastructure is falling into disuse due to a lack of support; emphasises the benefits that further development of waterways can deliver for local and regional economies; calls for a CEF axis, with an adequate budget, to be dedicated to filling the missing links in sustainable transport infrastructure in border regions; stresses the need to tackle transport bottlenecks, which hamper economic activities such as transport, tourism and citizens’ travel;

9.  Takes note that the attractiveness of cross-border areas for living and investment depends heavily on quality of life, the availability of public and commercial services for citizens and businesses and the quality of transportation –conditions which can be met and maintained only through close co-operation between national, regional and local authorities as well as businesses on both sides of the border;

10.  Regrets the fact that different and complex procedures of prior authorisation for healthcare services and the methods of payment and reimbursement used, administrative burdens for patients in dealing with cross-border consultations with specialists, incompatibilities in the use of technology and in the sharing of patients’ data as well as a lack of unified accessible information not only limit accessibility from both sides of the border and therefore hamper the full use of healthcare facilities, but also impede emergency and rescue services in carrying out their cross-border interventions;

11.  Emphasises the role EU border regions can play concerning the environment and its preservation, as environmental pollution and natural disasters are often cross-border issues; supports, in this context, cross-border projects on environmental protection for EU external border regions, as these regions often face environmental challenges caused by different environmental standards and legal regulation in the EU’s neighbouring countries; calls also for better cooperation and coordination on internal water management to prevent natural disasters such as floods;

12.  Calls on the Commission urgently to address the problems arising from the existence of physical and geographical barriers between border regions;

Enhancing cooperation and trust

13.  Considers that mutual trust, political will and a flexible approach among multi-level stakeholders, from local to national level, including civil society, are vital to overcoming the abovementioned persistent obstacles; believes that the value of cohesion policy for border regions is based on the goal of boosting jobs and growth and that this action must be initiated at Union, Member State, regional and local level; calls, therefore, for better coordination and dialogue, more effective exchange of information and the further exchange of best practices among authorities, particularly at local and regional level; urges the Commission and the Member States to enhance such cooperation and provide funding for cooperation structures in order to ensure adequate functional and financial autonomy of respective local and regional authorities;

14.  Underlines the importance of education and culture, and, in particular, the opportunities to step up efforts to promote multilingualism and intercultural dialogue in border regions; emphasises the potential of schools and local mass media in these endeavours and encourages Member States, regions and municipalities along internal borders to introduce the teaching of neighbouring countries’ languages into their curricula from preschool; stresses, moreover, the importance of promoting a multilingual approach at all administrative levels;

15.  Urges the Member States to facilitate and encourage the mutual recognition and better understanding of certificates, diplomas and vocational and professional qualifications between neighbouring regions; encourages, therefore the inclusion of specific skills in the curriculum with the objective of increasing cross-border employment opportunities, including validation and recognition of skills;

16.  Encourages various measures aimed at combating all forms of discrimination in border regions and at breaking down barriers for vulnerable people in finding employment and becoming integrated into society; supports, in this regard, the promotion and development of social enterprises in border regions as a source of job creation, in particular for vulnerable groups such as young unemployed people and people with disabilities;

17.  Welcomes the eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020(16) as a tool to achieve an efficient and inclusive public administration, and recognises the particular value of this plan for simplification measures in the border regions; notes that interoperability of existing e-government systems is needed at the national, regional and local administrative levels; is concerned, however, by the patchy implementation of the plan in some Member States; is also concerned about the often inadequate interoperability of authorities’ electronic systems and the low level of online services available for foreign entrepreneurs to start doing business in another country; calls, therefore, for Member States to take measures to facilitate access, including linguistic tools, to their digital services for potential users from neighbouring areas, calls on the authorities in cross-border regions to set up electronic portals for the development of cross-border business initiatives; urges Member State, regional and local authorities to step up their efforts on e-government projects that will positively impact the life and work of border citizens;

18.  Notes that some internal and external border regions face serious migration challenges that often go beyond the capacity of the border regions and encourages the appropriate use of Interreg programmes, as well as the exchange of good practices between local and regional authorities in the border areas, in the framework of the integration of refugees under international protection; underlines the need for support and coordination at European level, as well as the need for national governments to support local and regional authorities in addressing these challenges;

19.  Urges the Commission to present its insights on coping with challenges that the internal maritime as well as external border regions are facing; calls for additional support for cross-border projects between EU external border regions and the border regions of neighbouring countries, in particular regions of those third countries that are involved in the EU integration process; reiterates, in this context, that the features of and the challenges faced by all border regions are common to some extent, while requiring a differentiated, tailor-made approach; stresses the need to give special attention and adequate support to the outermost regions along the external borders of the EU;

20.  Stresses that future cohesion policy should take adequate consideration of and provide support to the EU regions most impacted by the consequences of the UK’s exit from the European Union, in particular those that will, as a result, find themselves situated on EU (sea or land) borders;

21.  Calls on the Member States to improve the complementarity of their health services in border regions and ensure genuine cooperation in the cross-border provision of emergency services such as healthcare, policing and fire service interventions, in order to ensure that patients’ rights are respected, as provided for in the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive, as well as increasing the availability and quality of services; calls on the Member States, regions and municipalities to conclude bilateral or multilateral framework agreements on cross-border healthcare cooperation and, in this context, draws attention to so-called ZOAST areas (Zones Organisées d'Accès aux Soins Transfrontaliers) where residents of border territories can receive healthcare on both sides of the border in designated healthcare institutions without any administrative or financial barriers and which have become benchmarks for cross-border healthcare cooperation across Europe;

22.  Calls on the Commission to explore the possibilities of enhancing cooperation and overcoming barriers to regional development at the external borders with neighbouring regions, in particular, with regions of those countries preparing for EU accession;

23.  Emphasises the importance of small-scale and cross-border projects in bringing people together and in that way generating new potential for local development;

24.  Underlines the importance of learning from and further using the potential of success stories from some border regions;

25.  Underlines the importance of sport as a tool for facilitating the integration of communities living in border regions and calls on the Member States and the European Commission to allocate appropriate economic resources to territorial cooperation programmes to finance local sport infrastructure;

Exploiting EU tools for better coherence

26.  Underlines the very important and positive role of European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) programmes, and in particular cross-border cooperation programmes, in the economic and social development and cohesion of border regions including maritime and external border regions; welcomes the fact that in the Commission’s MFF proposal for 2021-2027, ETC is preserved as an important objective, with a more distinct role within cohesion policy post-2020, calls for a significantly increased budget, particularly for the cross-border component; underlines the perceptible European added value of ETC and calls on the Council to adopt the appropriations proposed in this regard; underlines at the same time the need to simplify the programmes, ensure better coherence of ETC with the overall goals of the EU and give the programmes the flexibility to better address local and regional challenges, reducing the administrative burdens for beneficiaries and facilitating more investment in sustainable infrastructure projects through cross-border cooperation programmes; calls on authorities in cross-border regions to make more intensive use of the support provided through these programmes;

27.  Calls on the Commission to regularly deliver a report to the European Parliament on a list of obstacles that have been removed in the field of cross-border cooperation; encourages the Commission to enhance the use of existing innovative tools which contribute to the ongoing modernisation and deepening of cross-border cooperation, such as Border Focal Point, reinforced SOLVIT, as well as the Single Digital Gateway, aimed at organising expertise and advice on cross-border regional aspects, and to further develop new ones; calls on the Commission and Member States to make public administrations digital by default insofar as possible, to ensure end-to-end digital public services for citizens and businesses in border regions;

28.  Underlines the importance of the Commission collecting information on cross-border interaction for a better and more informed decision-making process in cooperation with the Member States, regions and municipalities, and of supporting and financing pilot projects, programmes, studies, analysis and territorial research;

29.  Calls for better use to be made of the potential of the EU macro-regional strategies in addressing challenges related to the border regions;

30.  Believes that cohesion policy should be more geared towards investment in people as border regions’ economies can be boosted by an effective mix of investments in innovation, human capital, good governance and institutional capacity;

31.  Regrets that the potential of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation is not being fully exploited, which could be due partly to regional and local authorities’ reservations, and partly to their fear of a transfer of competences and an ongoing lack of awareness of their respective competences; calls for any other possible causes of this situation to be swiftly identified and addressed; calls on the Commission to propose measures to overcome the obstacles to the effective application of this instrument; recalls that the primary role of the Commission in ETC programmes should be to facilitate cooperation between Member States;

32.  Urges consideration to be given to the experiences of the numerous Euroregions that exist and are operating across internal and external border regions of the EU in order to further the opportunities for economic and social development and the quality of life of citizens living in border regions; calls for assessment of the work of Euroregions in the area of regional cooperation and their relationship to the initiatives and work of EU border regions, in order to coordinate and optimise the results of their work in this area;

33.  Underlines that the Territorial Impact Assessment contributes to a better understanding of the spatial impact of policies; calls on the Commission to consider giving Territorial Impact Assessment a stronger role when EU legislative initiatives are proposed;

34.  Strongly believes that a European cross-border convention (ECBC), which would allow, in the case of a territorially circumscribed cross-border infrastructure or service (e.g. a hospital or tramline), the application of the national normative framework and/or the standards of just one of the two or several countries concerned, would further reduce cross-border obstacles; welcomes in this context the recently published proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context (COM(2018)0373);

35.  Awaits the prospective proposal for a regulation from the Commission on a cross-border cooperation management tool, in order to assess its usefulness for the regions in question;

o   o

36.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Commission, Council, national and regional parliaments of the Member States, the CoR and the EESC.

(1) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 320.
(2) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 259.
(3) OJ L 210, 31.7.2006, p. 19.
(4) OJ L 88, 4.4.2011, p. 45.
(5) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2018)0067.
(6) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2018)0105.
(7) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0254.
(8) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0245.
(9) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0222.
(10) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0053.
(11) OJ C 207, 30.6.2017, p. 19.
(12) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0320.
(13) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0321.
(14) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0211.
(15) Annual Report on European SMEs 2016/2017, p.6.
(16) Commission communication of 19 April 2016 entitled ‘EU eGovernment Action Plan 2016-2020 – Accelerating the digital transformation of government’ (COM(2016)0179).

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