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IEP Lunch Debate with Karl-Heinz Lambertz: “The Border Regions as Laboratory and Engine for Continental Development in Europe”

Karl-Heinz Lambertz

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.