EU ON THE EVE OF ENLARGEMENT. Euro-regions as a Prospective Form of Cooperation between the European Union and Belarus

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Источник: Беларусь в мире, 2004-03-31

From the middle of the 17th century when nation states appeared, until the 1940s, European history can be called the history of wars. Bordering zones severely suffered from the destructive forces of aggressors, and occupation regime lasted here longer than in others. Therefore people tried to make their homes in central regions where the main industrial and cultural potential was concentrated. Borderlands were less populated and not as developed. Starting in the 1960s the situation began to change. One reason is that Euro-regions began to develop as integrated social and economic territories where administrative borders gradually lost their separation means, and efforts of neighbouring countries were aimed at solving common tasks: constructing roads, bridges, and objects of infrastructure, and developing trade, business and contacts.

European integration resulted in establishment of the European Union in its present form, which was significantly supported by more than two-hundred regional territories that existed then and exist now on the bordering areas of these countries. More than eighty have the word "euro-region" in their names.

For example, priority given to the regional development of the Iberian island territories contributed to considerable growth of social and economical development of outlying districts along the Italian and Portuguese borders, which are the least developed in Europe. The transboundary cooperation of France and Germany contributed to forming a successful model of German and French reconciliation and establishing close cooperation between these countries. Further, as it is well-known, these countries survived through many wars. A good example is the European University Viadrina on the German-Polish border in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder and Slubica, which at present, serves as a model for Europe.

Since 1993, after Austria, Sweden and Finland joined the European Union, the process of eliminating internal borders started. The admission of these countries into the EU significantly accelerated economic growth, contributed to strengthening regional individuality and created closer integration between these states.

Today the European regional and transboundary cooperation is based on a rather well-developed legal and institutional base. The fundamental document is the European framework Convention on Boundary Cooperation of Territorial Communities and Autho-rities adopted on May 24, 1980 in Madrid. A cor-responding structure stipulated by the Maastricht Treaty-Union of European Boundary Regions (at present - Association) was established on March 9, 1994 in Brussels. Transboundary strategies and support programmes were embodied in EU ini-tiatives "Interreg 1" and "Interreg 2".

However, not only external support programmes but also cooperation on the governmental, regional and local levels, cooperation and concentration of efforts for using natural peculiarities and resolving identical problems and more than forty years of experience of transboundary cooperation helped us to implement the thesis: "Europe is Europe of Regions".

The history of Belarusian euro-regions is seven years old. Undoubtedly it is not enough to talk about their significant contribution into the development of boundary territories. Five euro-regions were created during this period: "Neman", "Bug", "Lake Land", "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" and "Dnieper".

Euro-region "Bug" . Since May, 1998 the Brest region has taken part in its activity. From the Polish party it includes Lublin Voevodstvo, from the Ukrainian party - Volynsk region, and the Sokolsk district of the Lvov region. According to the basic directions of activity, seven working groups were formed: territorial planning, infrastructure,

Mikhail Masiukov , head of the department on coordination of research programmes at Belarusian State University?s International Research Centre, Minsk.

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municipality, transport and communications; protection and improvements of the environment; expansion of information and creation of databases; cooperation between institutions and various branches of economy; education, culture, sports and tourism; contacts of local administrations with population; and security, interaction of law-enforcement bodies, prevention and liquidations of consequences of emergency situations.

Euro-region "Neman". The agreement and its charter were signed on June, 6, 1997 in Suwalki (Poland). The euro-region structure includes: from the Belarusian party - Grodno region, from the Lithuanian party - Mariampolsky and Alytus regions, from Poland - Podliask Voevodstvo (since 1998), and from Russia - Cherniakhovsk, Krasnoznamensk, Ozersk, Gusevsk and Nesterovsk districts of Kaliningrad region. Among the main directions of activity are realisation of joint ecological projects; cooperation in the spheres of education, culture, tourism; and development of boundary infrastructure.

Euro-region "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" . The agreement was signed on May 25, 2002 in Gainuvk (Poland). From Belarus, participants of this euro-region are Svisloch, Pruzhany and Kamenets, and from Poland - Gainuvk povet. The basic purposes of this euro-region are preservation of unique natural complex of Belovezhskaya Pushcha; assistance in international tourism development; and creation of new opportunities for the labour activities of the population residing in boundary areas.

Euro-region "Lake Land" . This euro-region was established on January 29, 1999 in Ignalina (Lithuania) as a result of transformation of the Council on Transboundary Cooperation of Boundary Areas. The structure is as follows: from the Belarusian party - Braslav, Miory, Verhnedvinsk, Glubokoye and Postavy districts of the Vitebsk region, from the Latvian party - Daugavpils, Rezekne and corresponding regions, Kraslavsk and Prejlsk, and from the Lithuanian side - the Ignalina, Shvenchensk, Utensk, Visaginsk and Zarasaisk regions. In order to keep up with the basic directions of activity, working groups were established. There are groups on education, NGO and sports; the social sphere; culture; nature and tourism protection; frontier problems; planning of region development; and business and infrastructure.

On April 29, 2003 the agreement to create Euro-region "Dnieper" was signed, which included territories of the Gomel region from the Belarusian side, Bryansk from Russia, and Chernigov from the Ukraine. The main directions of euro- region activity are: economic development; regional planning; communications, transport; education, health care, sports and tourism; protection and elimination of the consequences of emergency situations and acts of nature; expansion of contacts between inhabitants of frontier territories; and development of cooperation between establishments, organisations and economic entities.

A preliminary analysis of the first experience of Belarusian euro-regions is required, first of all, to define the opportunities and prospects for their development in view of the forthcoming expansion of the European Union. The past period can be called a formation period. Basic organisational, administrative and legal issues were solved, steering bodies were established, and structures and directions of activities were defined. In addition, training projects for experts and managers engaged in development and realisation of regional development programmes were implemented.

The common feature of the Belarusian euro-regions is ecological projects, primarily educational and instructive in nature. This is rather important since ecology is presently a vital topic for Europe, Belarus, neighbouring countries and specific regions. Moreover, it is a global problem. Not only Chernobyl, but also Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Polesye, the rivers Neman, Dnieper and Dvina, and Belarusian woods and bogs are unique natural complexes of importance to all of European. And they are all of worthy international cooperation.

One more rather important common characteristic of the Belarusian euro-regions is activation of the role of regional authorities and their cooperation with local governmental institutions of neighbouring countries. For Belarus the concern over regional self-management structures in the social sphere is rather important. Therefore, euro-regions should be considered also as a mechanism of familiarising local authorities with the European experience. The main goal for Belarus is gradual, consecutive realisation of a subsidiary principle through strengthening regional and local structures by means of moving jurisdiction to the lower administrative level. It is impossible to immediately achieve serious changes in this direction. This is needed not only because of weak financial and other resource bases of local governments (rural, village, city and regional rural councils and their executive committees), but also due to historical tradition. Besides, Belarusian law on local self-management, as of 1991, did not give regional authorities enough power, having preserved in many respects the decorative role that prevailed in the Soviet times.

Active implementation of various euro-region projects related to representatives of local administrations is also of big importance because it allows them to learn from European experience,

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comprehend European standards, and better under-stand the essence of concepts like civil society and democratic values. Besides, the participation of regional authorities in euro-region activities in-creases their efficiency, making them more administratively important, which is so necessary in present conditions.

One more common feature of the Belarusian euro-regions is their aspiration to assist the development of small businesses. And in this sense they serve as tools for the formation of the "middle class" in Bela-rus. All euro-regions contain projects on business support and creation of conditions for labour activity of the populations of boundary areas. The potential of euro-regions in this respect is realised not to the full extent. This happens not only due to insuffi-cient efficiency of euro-regions as a whole, their "noninlineness" in the system of social relations, but also because the country lacks an effective sys-tem to support entrepreneurial initiatives.

Nevertheless euro-regions today are used as "proving grounds" for various practical measures aimed at developing frontier areas with the purpose of achieving all-European social and economic standards. Their experimental character is explained, first of all, by additional opportunities for local self-management and development of entrepreneurship that appear as a result of new know-ledge and experience of cooperation and assistance from foreign partners.

The main form of support for these projects are realised within the TACIS programme. Efforts involving only local financial sources are a bit less effective. Speaking about effectiveness, an intermediate position is being taken by projects state participation using funds and resources from more centralised sources.

Thus, euro-region problems seem to be on three-level - All-European, intergovernmental and institutional.

Taking into account the expansion of the European Union, the first level (EU-states - euro-regions) undoubtedly will be most important. Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with boundary regions on four of five existing euro-regions, will become full EU members in May 2004. The programme on cooperation with EU candidate countries - PHARE - is drawing to a close. The EU is going to start development of a new plan regarding its new neighbours, including Belarus. It is considered to be very important that, while developing the "eastern direction" of EU foreign policy, mechanisms of euro-regions be seriously taken into consideration not only from the point of view of transboundary cooperation, but also as structures that, according to status, hold a position between the organisation of civil and state societies. Application and reporting procedures require simplification. It would also be more efficient to place major EU mechanisms on realisation of different programmes related to cooperation with new neighbours in Warsaw, the capital of the EU member country closest to the people behind the EU eastern border not only geographically, but mentally as well.

Programmes related to transport communications development and roads reconstruction, in particular (their implementation is not connected directly with euro- regions, but these topics are interrelated and are of all-European importance), can be referred to the all-European model of versatile cooperation. It is a question of highways in terms of the fifth Pan-European transport corridor: Triest-Ljubljana- Uzhgorod-Lvov-Kiev and its continuation to Minsk; the ninth: Kiev - Minsk - Vilnius-Klaipeda; the second: Berlin-Warsaw-Brest-Moscow, and also the Kiev- Gomel-Mogilev-St. Petersburg route.

The availability of modern automobile highways on the territories of our countries means not only cargo transportation and European service, but also a new image. Roads provide the first impressions of a country. In the 21st century roads should be modern.

On the level of intergovernmental relations, additional incentives can be given to euro-regions. Adopting the corresponding state programme - on the basis of Ukraine?s experience - could contribute to proper organisation of system work over the whole complex of frontier problems, including ecological problems, prevention and elimination of consequences of emergency situations, simplification of customs and visa procedures, frontier, check-points, roads, objects of infrastructure and construction of after-sales services, creation of new simplified check-points across the frontiers for inhabitants of frontier areas, cooperation of border, customs and rescue services, justice, and authority in domestic affairs in the struggle against illegal migration, trans-national organised crime, smuggling, drug trafficking and human trafficking.

Due to new neighbourhoods the state border acquires particular importance. On the one hand it should not become an "iron curtain", an impenetrable dividing line. At the same time the border should be modern and well-equipped. The EU pays much attention to this issue. Under EU financial support, reconstruction of "Kamennyi Log" check-point at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border and "Varshavsky Most" at the Belarusian-Polish border, were carried out. Reconstruction works are currently being carried out at "Kozlovichi-2" while reconstruction of three more check-points ("Bruzgi", "Berestovitsa" and "Domachevo") is planned for the current year. Due to EU assistance equipment

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for frontier posts at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, and for demarcation of the borders between Belarus and Lithuania, and Latvia, was purchased. The simplified check-point in Belovezhskaya Pushcha for tourists travelling on foot and by bicycle was put into operation.

The main challenge for transboundary cooperation, successfully solved in Europe in the 1990s, is the liquidation of boundary barriers. However, for Belarusian euro- regions, in terms of EU-members, this issue is still rather premature. Nevertheless, in frontier relations with the Ukraine and Russia Belarus manages to keep a European level.

While studying euro-region activities, we cannot omit visa concerns and questions of perfection of simplified admission across the border. Some time ago Poland offered Belarus and Russia the so-called "Ukrainian variant", when the Ukraine did not introduce a visa regime for Polish citizens, and Poland, in its turn, made visas free for Ukrainian citizens. As a result, Belarus and Poland agreed not to charge citizens under 16 and over 65, those who visit the tombs of relatives on the territory of the neighbouring country, students participating in educational exchange programmes, and participants in cultural, sport, scientific and other events. The recent agreement between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Belarus and Poland about the essential decrease of visa costs is an important step in the right direction. Justified self-defence of the European community against illegal immigration across eastern borders should not result in a decrease of opportunities for human contacts, tourism, business, culture and sport.

Speaking about the institutional aspect of euro-region activities, the importance of development of local authorities and legislative grounds that provide this process should be emphasised once again. The topic of civil society formation and creation of conditions for realisation of private and public initiatives in all spheres is acute for Belarus. Euro-regions could become quite efficient mechanisms for intensifying human contacts, enabling human resources for mutual cultural enrichment, bringing to life cultural and educational programmes, and developing sports and tourism. The most vivid examples of euro-region activities in this direction can be the exhibition of Polish painters in Svisloch, children holiday "Dvina-Dzvina-Daugava" in Verhnedvinsk, a folk arts holiday in Braslav, and sporting games.

Culture deserves particular attention, first of all, due to the polyethnic structure of the population of boundary areas because administrative borders practically never coincide with ethnic ones and consequently, the national minority problem will never disappear. For Belarus, at first sight this problem is not so topical. But nevertheless we should not forget about it and not only because of potential explosive risks, but also due to the self-importance of cultural traditions, even of small Diasporas. Thus, for euro-regions it is highly important to realise the ideas of "cultural society" on their territories based on preservation and development of national cultures built on values common to all mankind.

However, it is necessary to take into account the complicated social and cultural background formed during the nineties at the borderland. The culture there, which can actually be called provincial, suffered greatly as a result of the collapse of the USSR, which caused the break-up of the economic links and cultural substance of the common state that existed in former times. "Cultural capillaries" connecting outlying areas with the centre have become very narrow. The "mirror" of Soviet culture was broken and its sharp fragments - closed clubs and libraries in old villages, drunkenness, and poverty of rural intellectuals - severely damaged the cultural substance. Concerns about the Belarusian language and the revival of the national self-consciousness that excited society at the beginning of the nineties were removed from the forefront.

Different cultural exchange programmes, national cultural festivals, folklore holidays, exhibitions, concerts, creative meetings, assistance to regional television development, cooperation between journalists of local mass media, and possibilities for easy Internet access all will inspire the provincial culture, make cultural substance healthier, give new breath to traditional culture, assist the rebirth of the Belarusian language and develop cultural links.

These efforts will make populations of bordering areas think in a European way. The true example of neighbouring countries will create better impressions since their choices will result in a considerable growth of the living standard.

Thus, there are well-grounded reasons to believe that additional attention to euro- regions on all three levels (all-European, national and local) will give them a chance to occupy a decent place in the system of public relations as efficient mechanisms that can assist in bringing ethnic, psychological, political, economic, ethno-confessional, ecological and cultural balance to boundary areas. In the future, administrative borders will have only geographical functions.

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© MIKHAIL MASIUKOV () Источник: Беларусь в мире, 2004-03-31

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