Cross-border cooperation: North Sea Port

On 12 July 2019, Dutch State Secretary Knops of the Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK) sent a letter to Parliament containing information on the progress of cross-border cooperation. The progress of cross-border cooperation is explained in this letter in four themes: cross-border initiatives, preconditions and border barriers, governance and EU & Benelux. ITEM has made several scientific contributions that make a solid basis for some of the different themes. For example, after an initial inventory conducted by ITEM, the Dutch and Flemish governments decided to follow-up by investigating possible solutions for border barriers for the cross-border North Sea Port.

Building cross-border cooperation and information
The Dutch government is committed to cross-border cooperation in which obstacles are removed by means of tailor-made solutions, European resources are deployed in a targeted manner and good preconditions are created.

Several cross-border initiatives, such as youth events, (academic) collaborations and Regio Deals, will be actively supported. At the governance level, structural cooperation is also being worked on by means of, among other things, an annual Border Country Conference between North Rhine-Westphalia and the Netherlands, with the associated Border Country Agenda. This will explore the possibilities for physical cooperation within a one-stop shop or network cooperation between border regions and expand the provision of information and advice on the valuation of diplomas and professional qualifications. The latter is done within the B-solutions project, financed by the European Union and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 'Roadmap and fact sheet for the recognition of qualifications for promising professions'. ITEM is the project leader for this project, which will be completed this autumn.

North Sea Port
Despite a 'borderless Europe', border barriers can still be experienced many times over. This also applies to North Sea Port, the combined port of Ghent and Terneuzen as of 1 January 2018. Commissioned by the Province of Zeeland and the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, ITEM has made an inventory of bottlenecks for the cross-border port area between the Netherlands and Belgium. The border bottlenecks arise from differences in legislation and regulations in various policy areas.

In its research, ITEM found, for example, that a border worker has to administer his or her own working hours to avoid double charges; there are differences in national pension schemes, dismissal protection and health insurance that make it difficult for the employer; and the harbour masters in the two countries have different powers, despite the fact that it is one port area. These obstacles are hampering economic growth and hindering day-to-day work. Attempts to make it more sustainable are also thwarted by the fact that, for example, cross-border railway lines and pipelines are subject to different procedures, permits and provisions relating to the environment and urban planning.

ITEM's inventory forms a solid basis for solving these cross-border bottlenecks, which will happen after the report has been delivered. In his letter, Knops states that both the Dutch and the Flemish sides are willing to pass legislation to address these obstacles. In the next phase, an upcoming analysis of the bottlenecks will be provided under supervision of the Governor of the Province of Antwerp, Mrs. Berx, and the former Vice President of the Council of State, Mr. Donner, after which a system will be developed that will offer a solution.

Conclusion: Preconditions and border barriers
The Parliamentary letter shows that many projects and studies are already underway to remove border barriers and create the right conditions for cross-border cooperation. These include the Knops statements that Border Infopoints (BIPs) will continue to be supported by structural funding, that German fast-tracked teachers will be able to work as teachers in the Netherlands more quickly and, finally, that future legislation and regulations will better accommodate border regions. After the summer of 2019, the Border Effects Guide will be added to the Integrated Assessment Framework (IAK) as a tool for policymakers and legislative lawyers, so that the effects of policy for border regions and border barriers can be detected and prevented at an early stage.

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