IEP Lunch Debate with Karl-Heinz Lambertz: “The Border Regions as Laboratory and Engine for Continental Development in Europe”
Europe is characterized by a multitude of borders and can only remain strong through intensive cooperation in border regions. Regions within Europe will therefore gain greater importance, explained Lambertz, Minister-President of the German-Speaking Community of Belgium. Europe must be conscious of this in the face of global challenges. Lambertz stated that borders are the seams of the community and their importance must be appreciated, since a society is as only as strong as its weakest seam. He stressed that cross-border cooperation is a complicated matter and that intercultural skills, including language skills and an understanding of diverse mentalities, cultures and management structures, are of critical importance.
In his introduction, Matthias Petschke, Director of the Delegation of the European Commission in Germany, noted that the importance of regions has been reinforced by the Treaty of Lisbon. The treaty sets forth that economic and social solidarity will be strengthened, that the principle of subsidiarity will be related to local and regional levels, and provides for EU expenditures nearly doubling those during the period of 2000–2006. Furthermore, transnational cooperation provides additional benefits for the EU. The Meuse-Rhine Euroregion was cited by Petschke as a positive example for European integration and economic cooperation. The regions are also important to the “Europe 2020” growth strategy, as policy areas such as energy and transportation know no borders.
Lambertz stated at the beginning of his talk that Europe was not as exciting to the general public as it had been in the past, as evidenced by the voter turnout in the last election. He posed the question of whether border regions could become a catalyst for Europe. This can only come about if one recognizes that close cooperation is inevitable. A strong Europe can only exist through cooperation. In times of growing globalization, regions of growing importance are recognized.
The establishment of the European domestic market has been an important step in reducing the divisiveness of existing borders and in transitioning to virtual borders. As there are a great number of borders in Europe, their significance must be acknowledged. The goal is not a Europe without borders, but rather an intelligent way of dealing with them. Every transnational collaboration involves underlying considerations like size, complexity (of language, culture, administration, etc.) and type of border (including political impediments).
Lambertz, who has also been President of the Association of European Border Regions since February 2010, furthermore distinguished between old EU internal borders, for which the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion was an important test, and the new internal borders following EU expansions in 2004 and 2007, the development of which provided an example for Europe. The new borders of the EU following those expansions posed a new and important set of problems for the future of the EU. Other borders outside the EU, for instance between Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, will also play a role for the EU. In all of these border regions, political changes are taking place and will therefore provide an immediate laboratory and engine function for Europe. The strengthened focus on regions, according to Lambertz, is also reflected by the increasing importance of the Committee of the Regions.
Diversity in Europe is a trump card that can only be played when one makes the effort to understand one’s neighbors; this is not always easy. Intercultural communication skills and the gradual cultivation of trust are critical factors in harnessing the value of diversity in Europe.