Chaves-Verín Eurocity: Two countries, one destiny
by - Javier Luengo Moya
This project, created in 1991, is about achieving cross-border unity between the two towns and being a driving force for a future model of city in Europe.
At the start of the nineties, the cities of Chaves (Alto Tâmega, Portugal) and Verín (Ourense, Spain) decided to form what would become a new city model based on cooperation between two communities that, despite being officially separated by a border, while in reality this isn’t the case, joined forces to create the future model of the metropolis.
In 1991, the Working Community of Galicia-North Portugal (CRG-NP) took their first steps on the path that in 1992 would culminate in the institutional and operational delimitation of what’s now known as the Galicia-North Portugal Euroregion. Moving into the early part of the 21st century, specifically in 2007, the Galician municipality of Verín, which has about 13,889 inhabitants (2017, INE) and an area of 93.9 square kilometres, decided to make it territory available to the Eixo Atlantic Northwest Peninsular
The Government of Portugal together with the Xunta de Galicia and the County Council of Ourense were the three institutions that promoted this initiative politically. On 18 December, 2007, shortly after the inclusion of Verín in the project, from the Portuguese city of Chaves, what would be the new organisational model of the territory, the “Chaves-Verín Eurocity”, was presented to the world.
In 2008, the newly-appointed Institutional Working Group began its work to determine the profile of the new city and its role within the European Union. Although the project had existed on paper for more than a decade, it was in this year, 2008, that the dream of many of the area's inhabitants began coming true. All the social, political and economic organisations fully supported this dream. Not only was it considered a tourist attraction for the region — keeping in mind that tourism fuels the economy of the two major countries of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal — but it was also seen as a way to escape the emerging backwardness that rural areas in both countries were beginning to see as metropolises like Madrid, Lisbon, Barcelona and Porto take most of the resources while towns and hamlets are left behind, either crumbling with age, or abandoned to their fate due to a lack of opportunities.
The bridge over the Tâmega River is a unifying bond between these two communities. It’s the main symbol representing the union of the territories, their way of communicating. For Antonio Cabeleira, the mayor of Chaves for PT, the core of one of the key objectives for this pioneering model of communication is the need “to spend public money more efficiently”; for him, this eurocity is “a winning project” that symbolises the future of cities.
With an initial budget of EUR 1,333,578, of which EUR 1,000,183 were funds from the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), the project had a six-year implementation period between 2007 and 2013 and has now fulfilled its objective, namely, to improve the quality of life of these neighbours and transform the region into a new tourist enclave so that new life flourishes in the Luso-Galician mountains.
Thanks to this project, Chaves-Verín has become known as “the eurocity of water”, with one of the Iberian Peninsula’s largest concentrations of hot springs and medicinal mineral waters. This is now one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area with a wealth of opportunities that would not have existed without the integration of both cities, which, according to Gerardo Seoane, the current mayor of Verín for the Socialists’ Party of Galicia (PSdeG-PSOE),”have given a significant boost to the local economy and the development of SMEs” something that each municipality, independently, would simply have found impossible to achieve.
In order to improve the quality of life for residents in these two cities, the eurocity administration introduced the eurocity card, which enables residents of Chaves and Verín to cross the bridge and freely access services in their neighbouring municipality. The idea is to foster greater integration, participation and interest for residents of Chavez and Verín in everything related to the streets and squares in both locations.
On 10 February, 2014 the journey of this Eurocity would come to an end when it was registered as the 46th European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation in the European Register of the Committee of the Regions, acquiring with it the administrative rank it had been in search of for so many years. And being an example to follow for many other territories across the old continent that want their cooperation project to be similar to the one shared by Chaves and Verín, Portuguese and
Spaniards reflected under the same identity, under a European identity. In January 2018, the influence of Chaves-Verín Eurocity extended to the inter-municipal Portuguese community of Alto Tâmega as well as to the association of Verín, making this an ever-evolving project which involves a greater number of neighbours, expanding its range of services and facilities and defining a new strategic plan for the next ten years, making it possible to promote this peninsular north-west region.
It could be that this Eurocity project is the seed that needs to be planted in the current administrations of the Iberian Peninsula territory. Andorra, Spain and Portugal, leaving aside Gibraltar, are officially the three countries located in Iberian territory.
Throughout history, the boundaries have changed from one area to another, from one community to another; cooperation, however, was never one of the main ingredients when it came to promoting relations between the citizens of each nation.
The so-called Iberian Movements, which emerged at the beginning of the 19th century, sought to deepen socio-economic and cultural relations of the Kingdom of Spain, the Republic of Portugal and Andorra. The Chaves-Verín Eurocity is a great way to illustrate that this union is possible. Even with everything, not only taking into account the people of Spain and Portugal but also emphasising the extent of the different national sensitivities that have a place in the Iberian Peninsula.
And as the motto says, the motto of the Eurocity projects that the European Union has launched across the continent with the aim of deepening and improving the lives of all Eurocitizens, the Chaves-Verín Eurocity project is a clear ”union for the future” and in that future, we should all be able to see ourselves reflected because, as the popular proverb goes, ”Union is strength”.