Little attention paid to cooperation with neighbouring countries in lead-up to elections in border provinces

The topic of cross-border cooperation plays only a modest role in the party manifestos for the upcoming provincial elections. Surprisingly, this is the case even in those provinces bordering a neighbouring country. This is one of the findings of a thematic analysis of 56 party manifestos from seven of the twelve Dutch provinces that share a border with another country. The analysis was conducted by researchers from ITEM, Maastricht University’s transnational expertise centre. The finding is particularly noteworthy given the issues with cross-border cooperation brought to light by the COVID pandemic.

Where the manifestos do mention the border area or cross-border cooperation, it is usually in connection with either the economy—especially mobility and employment—or culture. Organisational issues are almost entirely ignored, despite the fact that the COVID pandemic revealed a need for stronger cross-border cooperation. Coordination with neighbouring countries is not mentioned at all when it comes to crucial issues such as the sustainability of healthcare systems and the energy transition.

Although the manifestos raise the possibility of the installation of small nuclear power stations—a politically sensitive topic—they neglect to mention the necessary consultations with neighbouring countries. Nor do they mention plans for cross-border wind and solar farms or the participation of residents across the border.

Earlier research by ITEM showed that it is precisely a lack of cross-border consultation that tends to thwart such energy projects and give rise to frustration among residents of border regions.

Cross-border cooperation

The lack of attention paid to cross-border cooperation is striking, the researchers say. The party manifestos in Dutch provinces bordering Germany make no mention of the Borderland Agenda between the Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia, or the enhanced cooperation between the Netherlands and Lower Saxony. In January, the Netherlands and Flanders agreed on a strengthened cross-border structure to address obstacles and opportunities more effectively.

ITEM’s scientific coordinator Pim Mertens points to the recent discussions on paediatric surgery, a specialism set to disappear from the city of Groningen. “Maastricht, Liège and Aachen are looking for a joint solution in the form of a Euregional Centre for Paediatric Surgery. These are the kinds of cross-border solutions and opportunities in which provincial authorities can make a concrete difference.”

“The first Euregion in Europe was born on the border between the Netherlands and Germany, yet few manifestos even mention the concept,” says ITEM director Professor Anouk Bollen-Vandenboorn. “Studies conducted by ITEM have shown time and again that cross-border cooperation has to be well-organised and cannot be regarded as a given. The provinces have an important and proactive role to play in this, both in a Euregional context with neighbouring regions and in relation to the national government, the Benelux and Europe.”

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