Reading Estelle Evrard (2021) about legal geography and spatial justice in borderlands evoked memories of Edward Soja speaking about the relation of society and space – also described as spatiality, or the relationship between people and things, including other people – at Radbout University Nijmegen maybe twenty years ago. Evrard is from the University of Luxembourg – the place to learn about cross-border cooperation. She publishes in German and English, but I encountered her discussing the European Cross-Border Mechanism (ECBM) in French (Evrard 2020) and before that with a colleague also in English. (Engl, Evrard 2019)
It is no accident that the ECBM draws attention in Luxembourg. The topic had come up during its 2015 Presidency and is virulent also along the French-German border, with the so-called Aachen Treaty of 2019 including a chapter on regional and transnational cooperation allowing regulations of one country to be applied in the other, thus foreshadowing the ECBM.
Evrard’s French paper invokes legal geography in casting light on the ECBM. Their facing special challenges justifies special attention for cross-border territories, and the ECBM is to give them the means to improve the management of their development. INTERREG has done so before by means of financial, and the European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) of administrative arrangements, but the ECBM is to engage national and subnational administrations in the service of cross-border areas. The intention is to make their geographic imperatives the bases for adapting their administrations:
’The ECBM is thought to enable the de-facto appropriation of cross-border spaces. ECBM and EGTC do not institutionalise a new, exclusive territory under the law. Nor are they simply functional but have been created for the purpose of implementing cross-border strategies. What is at stake is the introduction of transnational territoriality founded as much on supranational territoriality (for instance the objective of territorial cohesion) as on the modernist territoriality of the member states and their territorial subdivisions.
Which is important for two reasons. Firstly, it represents a means of allowing cross-border regions to implement their projects and to give meaning in a material sense of the word to cross-border areas. Secondly, conceived as rendering territorial cohesion in border areas more concrete, smooth and continuous, the proposed regulation implies national legislation extending its spatial reach (extra-territoriality). One sees here the realisation of European territoriality in border areas contributing to increasing the porosity of the state territory.
This draft regulation requires all levels of administration to take a fresh look at border regions, to appreciate them in an eminently geographic sense so as to consider their dynamics and to think of them as linch-pins in European integration. It is in this sense that European law proposes to adapt the borders.’ (Evrard 2020, 62; translation AF)
Evrard (2021) goes more into discussing legal geography in terms of two types of spatiality: that of the EU and that of borderlands which, to function properly, require amongst others to adjust the law to space, of ‘folding’ it with space. More specifically, ‘…this mechanism would allow us to define a body of law applicable to a specific cross-border activity. Secondly, this instrument would allow the use of a single law in a cross-border area … (Which is why – AF) this element is crucial in the EU’s aspirational smooth space. It is in this sense also that this regulation can be analyzed as closer to the Ethics of the EU.’ (p 10)
Which is why in the present climate of more and more ‘push-backs’ of claims arising from that same ethics I am not optimistic about the ECBM gaining approval from EU Members ever more protective of their unadulterated territoriality.
Engl, A., Evrard, E. (2019) ‘Agenda-setting dynamics in the Post-2020 Cohesion Policy Reform: The pathway towards the European Cross-Border Mechanism as possible policy change’, Journal of European Integration (7): 1–19.
Evrard, E. (2020) ‘Comment le droit européen déplace les frontières ? La proposition de règlement visant à lever les obstacles juridiques et administratifs à la coopération transfrontalière‘, in L. Bony, M. Mellac (eds.) Le droit : ses espaces et ses échelles (Special Issue) Annales de Géographie, No 733-734.
Evrard, E. (2021) ‘Reading European borderlands under the perspective of legal geography and spatial justice’, European Planning Studies, https://doi.org/10.1080/09654313.2021.1928044