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PUBLICATIONS, Structural and Cohesion Policies

Thirty years of European territorial cooperation

Written by Christiaan Van Lierop,

entry into France through the Italian Alps

© darioracane / Adobe Stock

Established in 1990, the first European territorial cooperation initiative, Interreg I, focused on cross-border cooperation. Action in this area has expanded over the years to cover broader initiatives such as trans-national cooperation, involving countries from wider geographical areas, and inter-regional cooperation, which brings together regions from across the whole EU. These three strands together make up European territorial cooperation (ETC), which is one of the two main goals of cohesion policy today and which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

With the removal of many of Europe’s frontier posts, travelling freely across borders has become second nature for millions of EU citizens. European territorial cooperation has brought Europeans closer together, strengthened connectivity and improved the natural environment, supported by EU mechanisms such as the European groupings of territorial cooperation, and macro-regional strategies. Yet despite these achievements, numerous obstacles to closer cooperation still remain, such as divergent national rules in the areas of employment, healthcare and social security. Recent years have witnessed increased calls to address these hurdles, with the 2015 Luxembourg EU Presidency launching discussions on a new instrument for cross-border projects, leading to the 2018 European Commission proposal for a cross-border mechanism, and the Commission rolling out initiatives such as the cross-border review and the b-solutions project, which aims to identify and find solutions to remaining bottlenecks, helping to boost growth and cohesion in EU border regions.

With negotiations under way on post-2020 cohesion policy, there is broad agreement among many stakeholders on the importance of strengthening Interreg beyond 2020. Yet the budget for ETC has been significantly reduced under the current Interreg proposals despite the many achievements of this policy, not least in recent months during which cross-border cooperation has provided a lifeline for many border regions. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed that territorial cooperation arguably needs protecting more than ever, with the sudden closure of EU internal borders a stark reminder that European territorial cooperation cannot be taken for granted.

This is a further updated edition of a briefing from March 2018.


Read the complete briefing on ‘Thirty years of European territorial cooperation‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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