Ayer y hoy, 12-13 de junio de 2008, hemos celebrado en Dundalk (Irlanda) una Conferencia sobre la aportación del Proceso de Paz en Irlanda a la Construcción Europea: Cross-Border Cooperation as part of the Northern Irish Peace Process: Some Lessons for Europe, organizado por el Centre for Cross Border Studies.
Aquí podéis ver el programa del evento, muy bien organizado, como todo lo que hace Andy Pollack, Director del CCBS y auténtico luchador de la Cooperación entre irlandeses:
Mientras nos reuníamos en Dundal, era el pueblo irlandés el que daba una auténtica lección a Europa. A pesar del extraordinario alcance del proceso de reconciliación y el protagonismo que ha tenido la UE, los ciudadanos irlandese no han entendido o no han querido entender la trascendencia del momento y han votado en clave interna, como suele suceder en estos casos. El resultado del referéndum irlandés para la ratificación del Tratado de Lisboa ha llenado de incertidumbre un proceso ya de por sí complejo. Ahora habrá que esperar qué se sacan de la chistera los líderes de la Unión.
A continuación, transcribo el texto de mi intervención durante la Conferencia de Dundalk, en la que me tocó responder al Sr. Dermot Ahern, Ministro de Justicia, Igualdad y Reformas Legislativas de la República de Irlanda, por aquello de la honrrilla, pero la sensación es francamente inquietante:
First of all, I would like to thank my dear colleague Andy Pollack and the Centre for CB Studies and Cooperation for the invitation to the AEBR to take part in this Conference. On the other hand, I would like to thank Minister Ahern for his words. Coming from a National State, the acknowledgment of CBC is of great importance for all of us.
Yesterday I had the chance to make the way from Dundalk to Newry and back, to meet with representatives of the East Border Region, the Newry and Mourne District Council, together with the Louth County Council, as we are planning to organize our General Assembly and Annual Conference 2010 here.
And I should say that I am extremely impressed at seeing how the border has disappeared. What one day was a real border, not only physical, but also psychological and many other things, is now a meeting place and a very important cluster for development. Some years ago, I was always talking with my Irish colleagues about peace, promotion of underdeveloped areas, measures to keep young people here, etc. Now we talk about infrastructures, new initiatives, strengthening of tourism and trade, etc.
When we listen to the Minister and the extraordinary agenda you are developing here together, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, we can see that we are in the middle of a crucial corridor Belfast-Dublin, but also of a crucial corridor for the flow of peoples’ lives.
As the Minister has said, this is also a very important day for Europe. And it could be even better after looking at the results of the referendum. So, it is not a bad day to talk about what the European Union can do for us. There are plenty of Programmes, but the AEBR’s main interest is Territorial Cooperation.
Today, CBC is on the top of the political agenda of the EU as one of the three priorities of the European regional development policy.
But, CBC has never been a national priority in many countries: anyway, it's a European task and political objective of the EU. This is justified as CBC contributes significantly to the European integration and to the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy.
When we talk about CBC in the whole Europe: old internal borders, former external borders, new internal and external borders… we realized that the diversity of Europe should be cultivated and promoted. This diversity is reflected in the social and cultural life of all states and regions of Europe. Over the centuries these various cultures and social systems have led to certain administrative structures and powers, fiscal and social legislations, and many other different areas of political activity.
Our citizens have grown up in these different social and cultural environments, and they will not always wish to sacrifice aspects of their everyday lives for the cause of European harmonization, particularly where this would result in the loss of Europe's diversity.
Despite the reduction of barriers along the EU's internal and external borders, these differences (including the various administrative structures and systems) will continue to exist for many decades, and will encounter each other at the borders. No state in Europe ─inside or outside the EU─ will alter its tried and trusted structures, systems and powers on account of the problems that arise in border regions.
Furthermore, no state is able to draft its laws in such a way that they harmonise with all the neighbouring states on its borders. The consequences will be felt for a long time: economic and social problems, and obstructions to cooperation affecting the population on either side of each border. Bilateral or trilateral CBC at regional/local level will therefore remain a necessity over the long term. That may not only prevent cross-border conflicts and overcome psychological barriers, but also improve the economic development on both sides of the border as it significantly contributes to the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy, and many other strategies.
How? Through CBC value added, which has been analysed by the AEBR in terms of European, political, institutional, economic and socio-cultural value added.
a) European value added: people living together in neighbouring border regions want to cooperate and thereby make a valuable contribution to the promotion of peace, freedom, security and the observance of human rights.
b) Political value added, making a substantial contribution towards:
- the development of Europe and European integration;
- getting to know each other, getting on together, understanding each other, and building trust;
- the implementation of subsidiarity and partnership;
- increased economic and social cohesion and cooperation;
- preparing for the accession of new members;
- using EU funding to secure CBC via multiannual programmes, and ensuring that the necessary national and regional cofinancing is committed in the long term.
c) Institutional value added:
- active involvement of citizens, authorities, political and social groups on both sides of the border;
- secure knowledge about one's neighbour (regional authorities, social partners, etc.);
- long-term CBC in structures that are capable of working efficiently:
- joint drafting, implementation and financing of cross-border programmes and projects; joint bank accounts
Jointly developed programmes and projects can be most effectively implemented and realised if the regional and local partners play a considerable role.
d) The socio-economic value added becomes apparent in the respective regions, albeit in different ways, through:
- the mobilisation of endogenous potential by strengthening the regional and local levels as partners for and initiators of CBC;
- the participation of actors from the economic and social sectors (for example, chambers of commerce, associations, companies, trade unions, cultural and social institutions, environmental organisations and tourism agencies);
- the opening up of the labour market and harmonisation of professional qualifications;
- additional development, e.g. in the fields of infrastructure, transport, tourism, environment, education, research and cooperation between SMEs, and job creation;
- lasting improvements in the planning of spatial development and regional policy (including the environment);
- the improvement of cross-border transport infrastructure.
e) Socio-cultural value added:
- lasting, repeated dissemination of knowledge about the geographical, structural, economic, socio-cultural and historical situation of a cross-border region (remarkably with the media's help);
- the overview of a cross-border region afforded in maps, publications, teaching material, and so on;
- the development of a circle of committed experts (multipliers), such as schools, youth and adult educational establishments, the conservation authorities, cultural associations, libraries, museums, and so forth;
- equal opportunities and extensive knowledge of the language of the neighbouring country, or dialects, as a component of cross-border regional development and a prerequisite for communication.
The main barriers to joint CBC are the different national structures of authority, administrative structures and legal systems. It must be said that CBC between regional and local authorities is of key importance.
CBC should not be seen primarily as a national foreign policy, but rather as a European domestic policy. Regional and/or local authorities used to have to engage in tough exchanges with their respective national authorities in a bid to ascertain whether or not cooperation was possible, and if so, under what circumstances and to what extent. But, nowadays, the willingness to engage in practical cooperation is firmly established.
Over the past 15 years, EU programmes designed to promote all forms of cooperation have been particularly instrumental in substantially boosting awareness of subsidiarity and partnership between local, regional, national and European players. Efforts are no longer centred on what cross-border activities local and regional authorities may engage in, but rather securing CBC in the long run, by providing both political and legal guarantees at national and European level.
This is the general framework for CBC in Europe. But then, we have the special case of Ireland. Usually, our main adversary is the National Government, but this is not the case, and I guess that Minister Ahern had something to do with this. As far as I know, he is part of our CB Family in Europe. And we can still feel it when listening to him.
But it is clear that the Irish case is a very singular one. Actually, when CBC began in this island, the main topic was Peace and Reconciliation. So, a Special EU Programme had to be implemented, in order to give a clear response from the EU to what was happening here. Many positive things were moving in Ireland, and they were moving so fast. With the implementation of the PEACE Programme, everything shows that the movement went even faster.
We have been listening carefully to the many economic advances to generate diverse activities in the economic, trade and community spheres… generating at the end of the day, a solution for another main obstacle in those days: employment.
CBC is nowadays generalized in Ireland, and many examples are used as best practises for others joining us, especially in the New Member States. In some parts of Europe, above all in Central Europe, the engagement between local and regional authorities across the border was being done as early as the Fifties. This supposed the creation of many CB structures (Euroregions), and they created afterwards the AEBR.
But, with the joining of the New Member States, at the Eastern part of Europe, we have to face very elementary difficulties once again: not only structural, economic, etc., but also regarding democratic, culture, citizens’ participation and overcoming of psychological barriers. The example of cases like the Irish one is a very important tool to design new procedures to tackle these challenges.
The experience of PEACE and INTERREG programmes in Ireland has given to us a lot of information on the many scenarios we can find. One of them is precisely the constitution of cross-jurisdictional bodies, like the Irish Special EU Programmes Body, another result of the Good Friday Agreement, one more, to show clearly the will (and the results) of this society to overcame something that, looking just some years back, seemed to take decades to be solved. There is a temptation to try to use the same procedure in other cases that can be considered similar, but they are not. In any case, we should use all available information to help processes.
There is another interesting message: “PEACE programme participants are generally more likely to have contact with members of the other community than the average population in Northern Ireland.”
The neutrality of European funding is a main topic and its internationality. People feel to be part of something bigger, ever when it is difficult for them the consideration of being part of a smaller community. Here I would like to mention that, when European Elections take place, the participation rate is generally smaller that in National, Regional or Local Elections: Low Rate of participation in European Elections is the norm. But, we have studied the participation in border areas: in most of the cases, border regions participate much higher than national averages.
What can we say about making Europe? We have always said that European integration is practised at the border areas in a daily basis. So, we can consider CBC as the Laboratories for European Integration. This can be seen in the new relations between Ireland and Britain, between Spain and Portugal, Germany and Poland (despite of the football), but also at the External Borders of the Union, we can see very interesting movements related to CBC between Greece and Turkey, Finland and the Russian Federation, and many other examples with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, etc.
The same feeling is to be translated to the Mediterranean. Similar frameworks and policies regarding Neighbourhood should be developed with the Southern Mediterranean countries regarding many fields, but always under the umbrella of a cooperation framework, in development, in trade, in economic advance, in democracy and human rights, …
And, I can even tell you that the African Union, or the Integration System for Central America are also in close contact with us in order to develop (at their level) framework conditions for real CBC cooperation in these areas of the world.
But coming back to our case, once again we use the Irish example when we have to explain practical results of CBC and European Programmes. And everyday we have some advances, the restored Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly is a fantastic reality, the relationships with the two Governments are growing and growing, on the basis of CBC, where Ministers from both sides can meet, discuss and cooperate on manifold issues, infrastructures, development of tourism potential in many areas, but also energy, sustainable development and specific CB topics (roaming, tariffs, CB workers, students, customers, etc.).
I also agree with Minister Ahern about the need of involving everyone in CBC, especially the local level, but also civil society, and this is a reality in Ireland, especially looking at the platforms created for CBC, like the North West Region CB Group, the Irish Central Border Area Network, or the East Border Region Committee.
This is a model that we would like to transfer to other areas in Europe, and we have found very active representatives when they come to our meetings. But, there is nothing like coming to the ground and talk to the real actors. I had the chance last night to do it and I also hope to have it today and tomorrow, listening very carefully to the speakers at the very interesting programme organized by the Centre for Cross-Border Studies.