CAIN Web Service

No Frontiers

North-South integration in Ireland

A borderline case

Rob Meijer

EUREGIO is a Dutch-German border region, of about 10,000 square kilometres and 3.2 million people. Founded in 1958, last year it enjoyed its 40th anniversary.

It is often said that EUREGIO is a laboratory for cross-border co-operation. But there is no model, self-sustaining system that could be established in every cross-border region, to make it a European region — there is no standard recipe to make European integration work.

EUREGIO lies between the rivers Rhine, IJssel and Ems — between, that is, the industrial Ruhrgebiet, the powerful Dutch Randstad with the harbour of Rotterdam and the area of northern Germany around Hamburg. As a region it has been very poor.

In the past it was ruled by the king-bishops of Munster and Utrecht. It was marked by the Thirty Years War — last year also saw the 350th anniversary of the Treaty of Westphalia. The area was variously German and Dutch, the people adapting themselves as best they could to the situation in which they found themselves.

The second world war was to separate them, setting them up as enemies. After the war, however, people discovered that it was no good to live as strangers in a border region, and took the initiative to help each other.

During the post-war boom, many textile plants were built on both sides of the border. Thousands and thousands found a job in this industry, but in the 60s and 70s it collapsed and unemployment soared in several cities to 30 or even 40 per cent.

This encouraged city councils in particular to work together. The aim was to co-operate and build a good society for everyone — not to take one’s own ideas across the border, not to make a Dutchman out of a German (or vice versa), not to change language or cultural traditions. The only goal was to work together as good neighbours, for the prosperity of the inhabitants on both sides.

As to how it was done, the first step was to establish a socio-cultural programme. With assistance from the governments of the Netherlands and Germany, a network was built up. In more than 100 cities, a EUREGIO ‘ambassador’ was designated, responsible for cross-border activities there.

The programme got under way in 1972 and grew to such a scale that now up to 150,000 people participate every year. Every sort of person in the cross-border society is involved: students, sportspeople, disabled people, senior citizens, musicians, journalists, politicians, civil servants and so on.

Thus, for students EUREGIO offers an exchange programme including financial support and assistance with the organisation of events; for music students, in particular, there is the chance of membership in the EUREGIO Youth Symphony Orchestra. For sportspeople, there are cross-border events in more than 15 disciplines. For artists, there is the opportunity to mount cross-border exhibitions … It is about bringing people across the border and finding a programme through which they can get to know each other.

In the 80s, what was then the European Economic Community began its ‘1992’ campaign — the disappearance of borders between the 12, later 15, member countries. EUREGIO, meanwhile, was developing its cross-border network.

If one is to be able to discuss all subjects important to a cross-border region, one needs a political framework, and Prince Klaus (husband of Queen Beatrix) of the Netherlands suggested a cross-border parliament. And this year has seen another anniversary — the 20th of the EUREGIG Council.

Its 80 members are elected by the EUREGLO city councils, the seats divided on the basis of regional elections. Co-operating through the council are thus the Christian democrats from the Netherlands and Germany, their social-democratic counterparts and other like-minded political groups.

Following the socio-cultural activities, socio-economic development in the region became very important. After 10 to 15 years of getting to know one other, the next step was to get work done. But at that stage financial support from the European Commission to the poorer regions was only given via the national government and institutions.

So, together with cognate cross-border regions, EUREGIO sought a special economic-development programme. And eventually it came — INTERREG. Through it, EUREGIO directly receives from the European Commission funding to build up the region.

Cities, chambers of commerce and other institutions are urged to work on cross-border development in several fields: infrastructure, environment, tourism, agriculture, technology, telecommunications and so on. The commission contributes 50 per cent of the cost of these projects and in many other cases the national or regional governments pay another 20 or 30 per cent. Between 1991 and 1995 the programme ran to 80 million guilders — about 40 million euros.

Another important aspect of EUREGIO is its citizens’ services office. Hearings are held in city halls and every year about 20,000 people present queries about cross-border issues. These concern finding a job, living across the border, social security and pensions, consumer affairs, establishing a business and so on.

As to organisational matters, EUREGIO has two buildings, one on the Dutch and one on the German side of the border-on the spot of a former customs checkpoint. Its 30 employees comprise German and Dutch staff, working together.

In 1992 ‘EUREGIO House’ was built, and it hosts the European Association of Border Regions. There are now about 70 ‘little EUREGIOs’ across the EU.

In sum, EUREGIO tries to involve the cross-border society as a whole. It brings politicians together. It seeks integration through socio-cultural exchanges. It pursues cross-border economic development. And it provides citizens with a central information bureau for their problems.

It is a structure that has taken 40 years to build, where no one, four decades ago, had a blueprint. It was a people’s effort-people who were engaged and who tried step by step to bring the idea of European society into the region, to promote the welfare of all.

[Report Contents] [List of Reports]

Democratic Dialogue {external_link}
53 University Street, Belfast, BT7 1FY Northern Ireland
Phone: -44-28-9022-0050 Fax: -44-28-9022-0051

Back to the top of this page