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Switzerland offers regional experience

AIR, water, ideas and crises: ways to resolve difficulties do not stop at state borders.

AIR, water, ideas and crises: ways to resolve difficulties do not stop at state borders.

Cross-border cooperation has always been very important for Switzerland. While the a majority of its population has rejected the idea of joining the European Union, cross-border connections have become ever more vital for the country, said the Swiss ambassador to Slovakia, Josef Aregger.

Aregger believes that the Swiss experience of cross-border cooperation is worth sharing since it can serve as both an inspiration for other European regions and also initiate contacts beneficial to all the parties involved.

Cross-border cooperation has produced excellent results, not just in terms of economic progress but, even more importantly, through the impact it has had on people on both sides of the borders, Aregger told an international conference on October 6 in Bratislava. He said that borders were no longer separating people, but instead serving to link them.

The conference, entitled Chances and Challenges for Cross-border Cooperation in Europe – the Example of the Basel-Upper Rhine Region, was organised by the Swiss Embassy in Slovakia, the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Swiss-Slovak Chamber of Commerce.

The event was intended to present the experiences of the tri-national Basel-Upper Rhine region where the borders of Germany, France and Switzerland come together.

The region, which has also been dubbed “mini-Europe on the Upper Rhine”, has a thriving economy, with Basel being the world capital of pharmaceuticals.

“Since this instrument of Swiss foreign policy has involved sophisticated solutions for all kinds of very practical and down-to-earth problems arising in a cross-border region it might be interesting for the quickly developing area between Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest to become acquainted with this practice,” Aregger told the conference.

However, the Central European region has already given birth to cross-border cooperation initiatives.

Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia are part of Centrope, a Central European region which is home to about six and half million people. The region exhibits the strongest growth dynamics in the European Union.

“Centrope has the potential to grow into a strong central and strategic point in Central Europe; the challenge for representatives of economic policies lies in how to use this potential,” said Tatiana Mikušová, the Centrope's coordinator for the Slovak side.

As for the region’s challenges, Mikušová listed the aims of strengthening comparative advantages such as the location and development of existing cross-border supplier networks and boosting the attractiveness of the region to foreign investors. Support for cross-border innovation systems, investment into public infrastructure and networking the main players in cross-border cooperation are also among Centrope’s must-dos, she added.

President of the Executive Council of the Canton of Basel-Stadt Guy Morin believes that the region shared by communities in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia face a common question with Basel-Upper Rhine: “How can we successfully work together in a tri-national region?”

To have successful cross-border cooperation the communities need to have some proper decision-making power on both sides of the border, Morin told The Slovak Spectator.

In order to achieve successful cross-border cooperation you need good synergy between central governments and local administrations, Morin said.

As to the question of whether the tri-national model, which works so well in the Basel-Upper Rhine region, could serve an inspiration for other regions, Morin said the regions could learn from each other and that the Bratislava international conference would serve as a good opportunity to make contacts.

However, nationalistic tendencies re-emerging across Europe could affect cross-border cooperation.

“Of course, people have a need to identify with their national states, but I think that regional identities too are gaining importance with more and more regions giving people an identity they want to share,” Morin said. “In the well-functioning regions it is no longer important whether you are French, German or Swiss, because you are a member of the region of Basel, the region of Upper Rhine.”

Morin added that in regions that function well, people can vote about everything - on every infrastructure project, for instance - which he said gives people a reason to identify with the region.

He believes that the regionalisation of Europe should be a way to counter some of the more nationalistic tendencies. Speaking about Switzerland’s ties with the European Union, Morin said that urban regions are more open to cooperation with the union, while rural regions are becoming more nationalist. The state of Basel, for example, is enthusiastic about Europe, with 70-80 percent of the population wanting to join the EU, but the rural regions of Switzerland aren’t, he explained.

Martin Weber, external relations adviser at the Department of Justice of the Canton of Basel-Stadt said that there is a general tendency towards regionalisation in several part of Europe.

“Regionalisation can be done in two ways: it can involve giving more powers to local regional authorities, but it can also include giving more local competencies to state authorities,” Weber told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Weber, very often the question is not so much who has the competencies but whether all the partners are actually involved in a given project and whether they share a common goal.

“If you have a good common objective I am convinced you can always find a solution, along with or separate from a more centralist system,” Weber said.

One of the areas where cross-border cooperation can make a considerable impact is environmental protection, which in the light of climate change has been gaining significance.

Weber has confirmed that the Region Basel-Upper Rhine has many environmental projects at different levels.

There are areas, such as the sewage system, which are covered by local taxes but there are also problems which need to be treated in a more global way, Weber said.

“Ground water and air do not stop at the frontier,” Weber said. “For example, we are legally bound to screen air purity but in all three countries we have different national legislation and different methodologies for measuring air pollution. In our cross-border cooperation, we started to harmonise our approach in order to monitor the effect of air pollution and develop a common approach to measurement.”

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