The Importance of Transnational Cooperation for German Spatial Planning Policy

by Welf Selke | Christian Hitterloher

By supporting balanced spatial development, the Community Initiative INTERREG III B constitutes an important instrument for overcoming existing economic disparities and for better integrating the new EU members. Partners from 25 EU member states cooperate in transnational projects on economic, social, ecologic and cultural issues for (re)shaping their living space and economic area. The EU is awarding financial support of 50 to 75 % of project costs which normally amount to 1 to 2.5 Million Euro; projects mostly gather 8 to 15 partners from 3 to 5 different countries.

The German Spatial Planning Policy supports project partners in raising national co-financing. The Federal Ministry for Transport, Building and Housing participates in INTERREG III B projects that strengthen European skills and capacities of municipalities and regions, especially if projects are linked to economic development and to the preparation of investments. The primary aim of the federal programme "Transnational Cooperation" is to promote the cooperation between the new German Länder and the new EU member states, candidate and neighbouring countries. Experience shows that this form of transnational cooperation creates forerunner projects for deepened economic contacts on European level.

Moreover, the ministry wants to stimulate a close cooperation between public sector and private investors. This represents a new approach of transnational public private partnerships (PPP), as spatial development policy relies more and more on private commitment. In this context the close cooperation between municipalities and regions as well as with other regional institutions and NGOs from different countries in common projects plays a special role. Since this is a very important way to let Europe grow closer together from the bottom up.

In which spatial development policy context is this transnational cooperation to be seen? The huge structural challenges require international cooperation of all stakeholders involved in regional development. Especially economically weak regions are in need of developing broad contacts to the growth regions of Europe. The national borders are becoming more and more open for the exchange of goods and services as well as the mobility of people and capital. The advantages of location and thus regional development opportunities do not only depend on infrastructure, economic structure and geographical location, but increasingly on the ability to work on common European projects. European skills are becoming a new location factor.

Germany participates in five transnational cooperation areas: Baltic Sea, CADSES, North Sea; North-West Europe and Alpine Space. These programmes aim at harmonising national, regional and local concerns with European territorial interests and thereby facilitating territorial cohesion. In all cooperation areas important spatial development projects are initiated: for instance river basin management, eco friendly transport logistics and integrated management of coastal zones. Concrete results are among others development and marketing concepts, know-how transfer, transnational networks in the field of economy, culture and environment, development and education. Numerous projects provide a basis for subsequent investments.

Each partner in an INTERREG III B project realises very quickly that the European cooperation is still a quite difficult process. There are considerable obstacles for planning and implementing development projects forming a uniform and integrated whole. This is due to diverse competences between political institutions, administrative systems and procedures as well as to differing technical norms and economic standards; not to forget the language barrier and varieties in administrative cultures.

Nevertheless, German partners can take a positive stock of the transnational cooperation. Actually there are approximately 600 German participants working together with around 2,400 foreign partner institutions: local and regional authorities, ministries, professional institutes, associations, universities and enterprises. Thus, INTERREG III B really helps Europe growing closer together. Analyses and mid-term evaluations prove that the transnational funding shows important integration effects and achieves an improved involvement of structurally weak regions in European networks - especially in relation to the small financial volume. Territorial cooperation in larger European areas enhances the transfer of advanced experiences. This effectively contributes to approach working methods and procedures in preparing investments, promoting economic development or spatial planning and therefore can contribute to grade up regions lacking behind.