Should there not be an exclamation mark instead? Is the air not filled with complaints about state governments not doing enough for their territories and citizens? But my argument is not against fiscal stimuli nor state investments and border controls. Rather, in ’Considering Border Issues’ on this website I compared them to flood gates to be opened and closed as and when needed. No, my complaint is against – quoting Balibar (2009) – the sacralisation of, in particular state borders, as if a state’s territory was an oganic whole where in fact it is a – malleable – historic construct. Mind you, ‘green lanes’ have already been opened up to let heavy goods vehicles through, and there is an outcry about the dependence of the agricultural sector on seasonal workers. Otherwise keen to be seen to control its borders, in Austria there is a realisation also that care for the elderly relies on health workers from Central and Eastern Europe. There is a well-established pattern of, mostly women taking turns in providing 24-hour care. Clamp-downs at the border threaten such symbiotic relationships.
But now more than ever, cross-border regions are under stress, as my blogs on the Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Orthenau and on the mother of all cross-border cooperation areas, the EUREGIO show. So there I asked: would it not better to let them make there own, tailor-made arrangements?
Consider two more examples: The clothing store straddling the Dutch-Belgian border in Baarle-Nassau, a unique formation featuring a jumble of jurisdictions. The Guardian reports on a store right on the border being open for business on the Dutch side whilst being obliged to close the part in Belgium where a curfew is in place. So, as the Dutch mayor, or burgomaster (a government appointee) says on radio: “The square metres in Belgium just follow the Belgian measures. The square metres in the Netherlands follow the Dutch measures.” ( The Dutch-Belgian border having a history of smuggling, it may be a question of time, though, before the clothes from the Belgian side become available for purchase. Which is already the case at Koewacht where the same border also cuts through the village: Belgian shops are closed, but the Dutch master baker just across the border delivers. Depending on how flexible the border guard is, Belgian shoppers cross through the newly erected barrier. If he is less flexible, helpful Dutch hands – sometimes the master baker himself – reach across the barrier. (
But would it not have made sense to leave it to the locals to make their own arrangements, for instance posting the police at the entrance of the villages from the Belgian side?
Of course, this might produce national anger: Giving away sovereignty? No way! So, territorialism is in the way.
This whereas sensible arrangements might help, also in the Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Orthenau. So, rather than yet again dividing an area that has learned to be together, why not leave the decision as to where to execute required measures to the locals (well, the administration of the Eurodistrict I suppose).
The same in the EUREGIO. Thus, if liberal shopping hours in Enschede gives German shop owners across the border the itch, why not allowing them to do the same?
Part of the legislative package for Cohesion policy 2021-2017, a ’Mechanism to Resolve Legal and Administrative Obstacles in a Cross-border Context’ is on the table of the Council of Ministers representing EU member states. But already before the present crises, chances of their giving up, as this would have meant, specific of their sovereign powers in cross-border areas have been slim. Now that we see the, apparently triumfantp return of territorialism they may be non-existent.
Balibar, E. (2009) ‘Europe as borderland’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27, 190-2015.
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