At the crossroads of three borders

From the origins of INTERREG to the new European territorial co-operation objective, the genesis and challenges of an emblematic project: the “Agglomération transfrontalière du Pôle européen de développement”.

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The 'Telematic Support Centre' – the beginning of the Triple Point. The 'Telematic Support Centre' – the beginning of the Triple Point.

Context

For more than a century it was the iron and steel industry that determined the fortunes of the area lying within the Athus-Longwy-Rodange triangle, in the vicinity of the three borders. Hit by crisis in the 1960s, thousands of jobs were lost provoking a major exodus that reduced the area to an industrial wasteland. Until, in 1985, the three Member States signed a “Joint Declaration for a European Development Pole (EDP)”, adopting an industrial revitalisation programme designed to transform “three cul-de-sacs into a crossroads”.

The EU-funded Common Action Programme for the EDP (1985-95) resulted in the development of an international activities park, a cross-border venture capital company, a European college of technology embracing academic institutions in the three countries, and more than 6 000 jobs. Compared by Jacques Delors to a “miniature laboratory of Europe”, the EDP inspired and was subsequently supported by the INTERREG Community initiative.

Birth of a cross-border town

It was following this success that, in 1993, a Declaration of the Mayors and Burgomasters and a Joint Resolution by the National Authorities gave birth to the “Agglomération transfrontalière du Pôle européen de développement” (Agglo-PED) project. Extending beyond the perimeter of the Development Pole, this project covered 25 municipalities, four of them in Belgium, 18 in France and three in Luxembourg, with a combined population of around 123 000 inhabitants. The challenge was to develop a common spatial planning policy that would take on board all the factors - thus including human and cultural factors - with a role to play in developing the conurbation. In 1996 the “Association transfrontalière de l'Agglomération du PED” (ATPED) was set up as a management structure consisting of elected representatives of the local municipalities (three per country), six representatives of the national and regional administrations and various associated members. The political goals were laid down in an Agglomeration Charter (1999).

The years 1994-99 (INTERREG II) also saw the development of common tools such as a Geographical Information System (GIS), a database, an atlas, a cross-border cultural agenda and a local housing programme.

Co-operation at the turning point

Continuing under INTERREG III, the development of the Agglo-PED was not without its difficulties. These were linked to the very nature of a cross-border action in that it is inevitably dependent on disparate structures, laws and procedures, and in this case there was also the matter of unequal financial resources in the municipalities lying in the three countries. At the political level, where the initiative passed from the central governments to the regions, differences in the electoral timetables and local interests complicated the decision-making process.

"There is more to developing a cross-border area than projects alone. A continuous effort is required to establish the area’s identity and to ensure that the projects, which may be competing with others, are successful,” stresses Louis-François Reitz, director of the AGAPE planning office, one of the three “Agglo-PED” technical teams. For example, the "Triple Point" project (centre for advanced services) was abandoned due to the inappropriate route taken by a new rail link, while the Luxembourg Belval project (conversion of an abandoned steel site) will further encourage cross-border flows to Luxembourg, requiring a rebalancing of the urban area. Co-operation is thus at a turning point: "We need Europe to structure cross-border governance”.

Results

Despite these challenges, the “Agglomération transfrontalière du PED” has become a reality. It has provided lessons for other border areas while studies carried out over recent years with the assistance of INTERREG have made it possible to determine more precisely the conditions necessary for its development. Territorial activities have given rise to structuring planning projects. Crucially, there has been a change of mentality among citizens who are today aware that they belong to a cross-border urban community.

Finally, the experience assumes particular importance in terms of the Structural Funds’ new “Co-operation” objective that takes over from INTERREG for the 2007-2013 period. In particular, the new regulation making it possible to create common structures with a legal personality, known as European Groupings of Territorial Co-operation (EGCTs), is designed to help overcome precisely the kind of obstacles encountered by this project.

Draft date

01/09/2006