Interreg has more to offer to cross-border public service development

Working towards a cross-border public service (CPS) provides local and regional authorities with opportunities to explore differences and similarities in public service provision of a certain policy field. It also provides a common objective and concrete results that are directly visible and beneficial either for the general public of the territories or certain target groups. Hence working towards a CPS contributes to establishing a common identity in the border area and increases integrated territorial development.

National and European level authorities should pave the way for CPS and according to the findings of the ESPON project Cross border Public Services (CPS) Interreg is among the most important access points for EU level support to CPS development.

Stakeholders in border regions are familiar with Interreg funding as a source for cross-border initiatives. It can be used at various stages of CPS development and implementation. This includes exploring the needs for CPS development, proposing measures to analyse and overcome challenges for effective CPS provision or setting up a governance structure for CPS provision ensuring sufficient engagement and ownership of all stakeholders. Moreover, Interreg funding that supports CPS development is an action that should lead to a concrete and long-term result.

But, the CPS project concluded, EU level authorities could create more possibilities for Interreg to support CPS development. The new cross-border mechanism proposed in the regulatory framework for European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) 2021-2027 is a step in this direction, though more can be done. CPS related actions could be explicitly mentioned in the regulations, for example as expected or eligible activity. In such an approach the focus should be on actual practices rather than formal mentioning CPS in programmes. To further encourage this, EU authorities could ensure adequate funding for Interreg and propose complementary measures to reducing legal and administrative barriers. Subsequently, the Interreg regulation should provide sufficient flexibility to local and regional authorities to address specific local challenges.

In addition, the benefits and added value of CPS provision could be better marketed at EU and national levels. The ESPON project Cross border Public Services (CPS) identified 579 CPS along the European borders and provided a first compilation of good practice examples providing food for thought for CPS development.

More examples could be developed and shared on European platforms, such as the European Commission’s FUTURIUM platform. These initiatives could be supported by ensuring possibilities for regions to exchange experience and explore possibilities to transfer good practices, likewise the practices of the current Interreg Europe programme. Collecting and sharing additional territorial evidence supports finding relevant partner regions for learning.

In the eye of the current crisis, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic it became evident that cross border cooperation is important not only for the border areas but to ensure an efficient reaction to new territorial challenges. 

EU and national authorities should set the scene for supporting CPS development wherever useful and beneficial for border areas. Offering space for CPS development in regulations and creating awareness provides local and regional authorities with possibilities to explore the added values of developing and implementing CPS. Consequently working towards a CPS strengthens the cross-border cooperation. Promoting and encouraging CPS development and provision supports integrated territorial development in Europe.

Article edited by Nicolas Rossignol and Nikos Lampropoulos, Project Expert Press and Media Activities