There are Euregios and there is EUREGIO. Consisting of 129 municipalities, homes to 3.4 million inhabitants, two thirds of whom in the Federal Republic and one third in The Netherlands, EUREGIO has been the first of its kind. European Territorial Cooperation, better known as INTERREG is a success. Testimony to its value, German fire engines came in droves to the assistance in the aftermath of an explosion of stored fireworks at Enschede in the Netherlands. The event made it to my TV screen at Harvard where I happened to be spending three months when this happened, in May 2000.
Now it is year zero of the Corona pandemic. At last count, fourteen states in the European Union (EU) experience near-complete shutdowns. Not so The Netherlands where many shops are still open even, as is usual, in the weekend. German politicians in the region see this as more problematic than ever. Writing to no less than Chancellor Merkel (cc to one of her potential successors, the chief of the government of the most populous federal state North Rhine-Westphalia) politicians they see the situation as unsustainable. It is not quite clear where the shoe pinches: shoppers importing Corvit-19, or yet more business leaking away. The angry mention of an invitation on its website – now rescinded – to come shopping in Enschede suggests the latter to be at least one factor taken into account. Anyhow, Merkel should intercede with Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, presumably to make him emulate the German example of tough measures in the whole of the country.
The above is symptomatic for territorialism being faced with a virus disregarding borders. Nonetheless, under pressure to be seen to be acting, closing them is an options at the disposal of governments. Emulating the most stringent measures taken by any other government is another.
I am not saying that any measures taken are useless. How could I? But they reflect as much the features of state territorialism – governments being called upon to take measures with strict reference to their territory – as it does the nature of the present threat. Without territorialism, closures, if indeed closures are the right strategy, could be targeted purposefully, for instance to agglomerations. In an earlier blog, I pointed out that the closure of the German-French border between Kehl and Strasbourg cuts right through the highly integrated Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Orthenau. Would it not be more to the point to isolate that agglomeration rather than cutting right through it?
Another effect of state territorialism is that governments are driven by other governments to take measures that in their situations and/or at that moment in time may not be the most suitable. Being held accountably to their voters – and only to them – governments can be at the mercy of complicated party political games. So, rather than handling uncertainties as best as they can, they may be forced to go for single-minded measures taking account neither of uncertainties nor cross-border effects. The most well-meaning may of course opt for taking such measures together: close the whole of EU space, guard its external borders! Maybe so, but is this not territorialism writ large?
The map is from the EUREGIO website
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