How to create opportunities for business development at EU external borders

European border regions provide specific opportunities for business development through cross-border exchange and mobility of customers, employees, services and goods. This includes the exchange of capabilities, knowledge and ideas which form preconditions for innovation. These opportunities are, however, less pronounced in EU external border regions. In many cases, border interactions are limited due to political, physical, economic or socio-cultural differences.

Moreover, most regions at EU external borders can be described as peripheral, both from a European and national perspective. More than others, these regions lack the critical mass for business development, have to cope with negative population developments and are perceived as lagging behind. Still, business development can be stimulated and thrive in EU external border regions.

Targeted approaches and place-based strategies can make a contribution if they address the specificities of EU external border regions. Four elements are important in this regard.

Understanding the border region and needs for business development

Regions at EU external borders are diverse but also share some commonalities. Knowing and understanding border realities and specificities is pivotal for developing place-based business development strategies in regions at EU external borders.

Adapting to change and new realities

Regions located at EU external borders have to deal with specific challenges that have a direct impact on businesses and their future development perspectives. They face more uncertainties than other regions and are more sensitive to these uncertainties. Changes in geopolitical relations are an example of an external factor that entails uncertainty and significantly affects border realities and development perspectives. To develop a stable environment for business development, these uncertainties shall be considered.

Defining a strategy for business development

The actual strategy shall reflect on the first two points. For some border regions, this implies directly introducing policy instruments for business development. For others, it requires first focusing on various preconditions that need to be fulfilled for business development to thrive. Such preconditions concern territorial assets that indirectly support business development, for example, awareness of shared values across the border, entrepreneurial skills, available infrastructure, border crossing points and smooth checks at these border crossings. Such elements can function as enabling factors in a strategy for business development.

Stimulate trust, ownership and engagement

Throughout the process of developing place-based business development policies, local and regional players need to cooperate. Close cooperation ensures that policies and instruments for business development fit the realities of EU external border regions. This implies a need to identify different public and private partners for policy development and implementation and to provide a framework for cooperation in which each player’s contributions can excel. This can contribute to overcoming and compensating for a lack of human capital and building trust and stimulating ownership and engagement.

Processes to develop place-based business development strategies can start with any of the four points above, depending on the present business environment and specific needs for development. 

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