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|30.07.2002 | author: Dorian Branea
|From Trans-Frontier Cooperation to European Integration. The Case of the Danube-Cris-Mures-Tisza (DKMT) Euroregion
The Euroregions are often called laboratories of the future European construction, as they are supposed to verify and strengthen the legitimacy of the great moral, political, economic, and cultural projects of a United Europe. This statement is especially true for the young democracies that emerged in Central and South Eastern Europe during the last decade of the 20th century. Indeed, cross-border co-operation in this region may prove to be a valuable indicator of the capabilities of the countries involved to fulfil the requirements of the pre-accession process.
Policies for Culture Journal, July 2002
Director of the Regional & Euroregional Policies Observatory of the Third Europe Foundation Timisoara, Romania
This article sets out some of the conclusions of the Civic Participation and Accountability policy research project conducted by the Observatory for Regional and Euroregional Policies, an institutional subdivision of The Third Europe Foundation Timisoara. The Third Europe Foundation has been committed for more than three years to taking up part of the research and analysis efforts of the local and regional public administration in the fields of regional development, de-centralisation, cross-border co-operation, and citizen participation. Civic Participation and Accountability is a pioneering work in the policy analysis of cross-border co-operation between Romania, Hungary, and Serbia. It provides a comprehensive analysis of cross-border co-operation within the Danube-Cris-Mures-Tisza Euroregion, followed by a set of recommendations aimed at furthering the process of development of the Euroregion. The analysis was completed by a pool of Romanian, Hungarian and Serbian experts in the domains likely to be the object of cross-border initiatives: politics, administration, economy, education, culture, media, and environment. A novel aspect of this research is that it projects a bottom-to-top image of cross-border co-operation, shedding more light on the expectations of the people, i.e. those who benefit directly from the policies promoted by the transfrontier institutions. Civic Participation and Accountability was part of a larger cross-border co-operation project entitled Regional Partnership for Democracy, implemented between 2000 and 2001 by America’s Development Foundation with the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development.
In Central and South Eastern Europe, cross-border co-operation makes sense – as it did in Western Europe after 1960 - mainly to the extent to which it facilitates the complex endeavour of political, economic and cultural integration.
Although the experience in this region, both at a conceptual and at a practical level, is far shorter than similar initiatives in the Euro-Atlantic area, the development of firm and institutionalised cross-border partnerships is instrumental for the regional stability and the speeding up of democratic processes, especially with respect to strengthening the local autonomy. Besides the symbolic function of the euroregional partnerships – that of facilitating the dissolution of negative national and regional stereotypes regarding one’s neighbouring countries –, the need for cross-border partnerships in this region arises from pressing problems that transcend the limits of national borders and that, by affecting larger areas, demand common, trans-national solutions. Furthermore, the reduction of economic discrepancies, the creation of certain harmonised development concepts, the facilitation of cross-border mobility, and the formation of an inclusive and non-discriminating cultural sphere are all difficult but unavoidable challenges looming on the horizon of European integration.
A Protocol of Regional Co-operation
The Danube-Cris-Mures-Tisza Euroregion, established in 1997, proves both the virtues and the shortcomings of cross-border co-operation in the region. Historically, the Euroregion’s embryo was the bilateral co-operation agreement signed by Timis County in Romania and the Csongrád County in Hungary in 1992. Two years later in 1994, the first version of The Protocol of the Danube-Mures-Tisza Regional Co-operation emerged. The document added three other partners to the original arrangement: Arad County in Romania, the Békés County in Hungary, and, unofficially at first, the Yugoslavian province of Vojvodina. In 1996 The Protocol underwent minor changes due to the recent affiliation of other two Romanian counties (Caras-Severin and Hunedoara) and two Hungarian counties (Bács-Kiskun and Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok) The current Protocol of the Danube – Mures – Tisza Regional Co-operation was signed on November 21 1997 by the presidents of all nine Romanian, Hungarian and Serbian regional authorities. The event took place after the signing of the Treaty between Romania and Hungary - which marked the elimination of certain limitations included in the Romanian local public administration law - and almost simultaneously with the introduction of the concept of regional development in Romania.
According to The Protocol, the primary aim of cross-border co-operation between Romania, Hungary and Serbia is to create a climate of trust that in its turn will facilitate the social and economic development of the regions involved, as well as of the entire area of co-operation. It also envisages “the development of the relationship between the local communities and the regional authorities in the fields of economy, education, culture, science, and sports, and the collaboration towards integration in the modern processes of Europe” (Art. 3). The co-operation functions by means of several political, administrative, and technical bodies. The centre of power of the partnership is the Forum of Presidents, made up of the nine presidents of the county councils and of the region of Vojvodina. This body has extensive powers, dealing with both deliberative and executive aspects. The consensus based decisions regard modifications of the Protocol, admitting new members, approval of co-operation projects and programs, election of the president, measures meant to increase the efficiency of the other cross-border bodies, and mediation of possible conflicts among members. The Forum makes its decisions based on the documents and suggestions provided by a so-called consultative – deliberative body, made up of leaders of authorities without regional responsibility (de-centralised territorial departments and services, local and regional agencies, etc.)
Normally, the executive functions belong to the current President, one of the nine forming the Forum of Presidents. The President is appointed by consensus and stays in office for one year. The presidency is taken up by rotation by the representatives of the Romanian and Hungarian counties, and the province of Vojvodina. Another body defined by The Protocol is the secretariat, normally the apparatus of the President, performing specific functions. According to The Protocol again, the common programs and projects are elaborated by the working groups appointed by the Forum of Presidents. They are made up of specialists and experts from different domains.
Unfortunately, the concrete objectives of cross-border co-operation, primarily the creation of a space of prosperity, have yet to be achieved. Due to the conflict in Yugoslavia, the functioning of the cross-border institutions was stalled for more than a year. This however cannot explain all the management and administrative problems the institutionalised forms of the DKMT regional co-operation are currently facing. Quite on the contrary, the reduced efficiency of these bodies seems to have more to do with both structural and managerial issues. The absence of a stronger juridical grounding is a feeble excuse. International jurisprudence has not yet come up with a set of provisions that would make the object of cross-border law. Nevertheless, this has not prevented the creation of successful cross-border entities. The ratification of certain European conventions, as well as the bilateral treaties signed between the three states offer sufficient legal grounding.
Professor Charles Ricq of the University of Geneve, a leading scholar in the research of cross-border cooperation, identifies five stages of transfrontier co-operation (Handbook of Cross-Border Co-Operation, Council of Europe Publications, 1997) according to the degree of development of the cross-national partnership. Besides the zero degree, the main feature of which is the absence of any kind of relationship, euroregional partnerships go through the following phases:
1. the information exchange stage, characterised by the existence of certain direct contacts materialised in unofficial or semi-official reunions of the central, regional, and local political and administrative authorities; they can also take the form of letters or written information exchanges
2. the concerted information stage. This is the phase when the information starts to circulate faster, and the decisions of the local and regional authorities are enforced only after consultations with the local and regional authorities on the other side of the border, since they might be affected by these decisions
3. the cooperation stage is characterised by the existence of certain consultancy and permanent cooperation border institutions whose suggestions are taken up by the local or regional authorities on both sides of the national frontier. It goes without saying that this phase requires the development of certain common projects with regional relevance.
4. the harmonisation stage implies the elaboration of certain common regional policies starting from common economic and social development concepts that would harmonise the tendencies existing in the economic and social environment of the participants in the cross-border cooperation.
5. the integration stage, which is the most elaborate, presupposes the dissolution of borders and the manifestation of an integrated regional development.
According to Professor’s Ricq divisions, the DKMT Euroregion is now at a stage that mixes the characteristics of the concerted information and co-operation stages. Although the information circulates more fluently, it is premature to speak of the existence of consultations, other than accidental, in the process of decision taking by the nine partner authorities. Even insofar as the circulation of information is concerned, the lack of a well-structured system leads to a deficient communication. On the other hand though, we can speak of initiatives and actions that relate to the co-operation stage. It should however be observed that, in the case of common cross-border partnerships, they do not come out of the cross-border institutions proper but are promoted by other centres of initiative. It has to be mentioned that there is a deficit of legitimacy and efficiency on the part of the Forum of Presidents, but also on the part of the other bodies that look more like purely protocol structures. Therefore, since the transfrontier institutions are weak and since there is no integrated concept of development, it would be risky to refer to DKMT Euroregion as a Euroregion in the classic sense, but as a collection of isolated partnerships set up within the territorial limits described by the Protocol.
Co-operation seems primarily stalled at the political and administrative levels, while the integration of the economic and commercial, as well as cultural and education levels have an irregular and accidental aspect. The expression of political willingness in favour of cross-border co-operation is very important but not enough. The development of cross-border co-operation can be achieved only if the economic, cultural, administrative, and institutional conditions are ripe.
The objectives of the cross-border co-operation can be achieved only if a set of energetic measures addressing all the factors responsible for the efficiency of such initiatives is taken. Therefore, the correction of the institutional imperfections, the elaboration of new procedures, the reduction of economic discrepancies, the adjustment of cultural differences, as well as the elimination of institutional inadequacies are goals that must be achieved. So there is a call for initiatives regarding:
• the modification of the legal frame of cross-border co-operation between Romania, Yugoslavia and Hungary, by amending the Protocol of Danube-Kris-Mures-Tisza Regional Co-operation.
• The solving of the internal management problems of the cross-border bodies. The reduction of the deficit in legitimacy and the improvement of the functioning of the DKMT cross-border institutions should become a priority. Besides, all the animosities based on political incompatibilities or local jealousy should be overcome to make room for unity of action.
• The neutralisation of the discrepancies at the level of regional and cross-border competencies of the Romanian, Hungarian, and Yugoslavian local authorities. Especially in Yugoslavia, the passing of certain laws on decentralisation and de-concentration is of utmost necessity. Insofar as Romania is concerned, although the legal background is mostly satisfactory, an enlargement of the set of responsibilities in the field, with special regard to the de-concentrated authorities, is urgent
• The achievement of a unity of action by identifying the common social and economic problems and priorities. Starting from a comparative analysis of parallelisms and from the identification of the common social and economic interests, it is necessary to define a concept of regional social and economic development, acknowledged and accepted by all the euroregional partners.
• The creation of a cross-border regional conscience. Enriching the feeling of belonging to a border area, abandoning the mutual negative stereotypes, as well as the development of a particular regional identity form the mental and affective premise of cross-border co-operation.
The efficiency of cross-border co-operation and the achievement of its explicit objectives ask for a set of essential transformations that engender juridical, institutional, strategic, economic, and cultural consequences, supported by specific actions, programs, and policies. These changes refer primarily to the medium and long-term institution and sector stakes of cross-border co-operation in the DKMT Euroregion. Therefore, they concern the consolidation of the concerted information and co-operation stages, and the preparation for the harmonisation and integration stages.
Firstly, the development of a cross-border regional culture, as a moral system and civilisation practice, is a decisive element from the point of view of the harmonisation of the social and economic integration. Laying a firm foundation for cross-border co-operation implies the abandonment of negative collective representations, of stereotypes, and mutual prejudice. To eliminate the mutual apprehension still present in the collective mind of the partner countries and the development of a regional identity and cultural formula, as a distinct and necessary step towards the construction of a European plural identity and culture, are primordial objectives.
Secondly, the legal support for cross-border co-operation needs refining. The cross-border institutions need to be adequate, accessible and used by all the citizens and not only by a limited group of experts. In this respect, The Protocol of DKMT Regional Co-operation expresses the aim and the needs of a certain moment. In the present context, it appears both restrictive and misdirected. Consequently, it asks for a series of amendments that would increase its receptivity to the changes of the euroregional equation and to the people’s expectations. The amendments should reformulate the aim of the cross-border co-operation, the make up, function and tasks of the transfrontier institutions, and the financial procedures of the Euroregion. A new regional agreement that will be able to code the current political and economical realities of all the three member countries of the co-operation constitute a priority. Only an updated, amended Protocol of the DKMT Euroregion would transform the DKMT regional co-operation from a closed political and administrative arrangement into an accountable and effective system that will guarantee the transition of the cross-border process from the exchange of information level to the levels of harmonisation and integration.
Third, it is also necessary to create certain permanent reflective and analytic structures that would precede decision taking in matters relevant for the cross-border co-operation. The presence of the civic society representatives in these working groups would lead to the strengthening of the links between the elected body and the people. Investigations should focus on common problems and should put forward analyses and studies accompanied by suggestions in all the fields of cross-border co-operation, from environment and infrastructure to telecommunication, tourism, and medical assistance. Strategic or normative decisions that cross-border institutions may take in any field will still be insubstantial if they are not grounded on serious research, discussed, and accepted by all the partners. Therefore, the role of researchers and of regional prospecting groups in various domains should become more important.
According to these strategic directions, the cornerstone of the future euroregional construction is the private-public partnership. In the absence of a legally grounded involvement of the potential partners, the moral, political, and economic promises included in the DKMT regional co-operation project will mostly remain unfulfilled. Comparative research indicate that in 2001 the major investor in cross-border activities is no longer the regional administration, but the private entities belonging to the civic sector and the profit community.
Although the engine of cross-border co-operation within DKMT Euroregion is represented by major stakeholders such as big NGOs or private enterprises, they do not take part in the decision-making process of the Euroregion nor are they allowed to send representatives in the coordinating body of DKMT, i.e. The Forum of the Presidents. Initiated by The Euroregional Centre of Democracy and The Third Europe Foundation, two prominent non-governmental or-ganisations from Timisoara, a coalition of more than 100 NGOs and of all the chambers of commerce and industry from the region was formed during January and June this year to push on the claim to adopt a new Protocol based on the public-private partnership principle. The negotiations between the representatives of the coalition, on the one hand, and of the public administration, on the other, have not reached a clear conclusion. The Forum of the Presidents is still reluctant to adopt a new transfrontier arrangement even though many of its members realise the need for structural and management improvement. It is true that that the transfrontier institutions of most of the Western Euroregions are made up of representatives of local or regional authorities. In respect to European good practice, to redefine the structure of the DKMT Euroregion may seem non-conformist and even revolutionary. In fact, it is just an attempt to capture the current reality into a more reasonable legal and political frame and to improve the management of the transfrontier entities.
The Euroregional areas reproduce and verify on a smaller scale the validity of the pan-European project. As in the case of the United Europe, the absence of institutions responsible in front of the citizens, efficient from the management point of view, and capable of offering quality service, democratic proceedings, an inclusive culture and identity, and intellectual structures that would keep decisions within reasonable parameters can turn cross-border co-operation within the DKMT perimeter in an undertaking that is not only insubstantial but also excessive from the point of view of the human and financial resources involved. As a result, the weaker the cross-border co-operation is the remote the European Union is for the country involved, and especially for Romania and Serbia.
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