When the European Commission adopted its Communication “Boosting Growth and Cohesion in EU Border Regions” (the 2017 Communication), little did anyone know that three years later, we would become acutely aware of the existence of internal borders when many crossing points closed and unprecedented measures were taken that limited our freedom of movement and impeded cross-border life.
The 2017 Communication highlighted that border regions have a vital role to play in the European integration process. Many border regions’ representatives see their regions as “laboratories of European integration” because they are hot spots of intense cross-border interaction, where many people carry out daily activities on both sides of the border. They are regions where the advantages of the single market and freedom of movement are very visible, and where new ideas and solutions for European integration are often tested for the first time.
The 2017 Communication also highlighted persistent difficulties affecting many aspects of cross-border life: the lack of cross-border public transport, difficulties with the recognition of skills and diplomas, limited access to nearby public services, frequent absence of genuine cross-border governance systems to jointly manage shared resources, challenges and opportunities. The ambitions of cross-border regions have often been impeded by diverging national rules due to differences in implementing the EU’s legal framework, for instance EU directives.
In 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic emphatically demonstrated how interdependent EU Member States and regions are. Sadly, it also demonstrated at times how fragile our internal borders can be and how quickly we can lose the benefit of an open space with freedom of movement, albeit temporarily. In many Member States, some of the first measures taken were to bring back internal border controls and ban access to their territories for neighbours who, in normal times, cross borders frequently for multiple reasons. The negative impact of these measures quickly became very visible in many border regions . It paralysed services, including healthcare facilities, because cross-border workers could not access their workplaces. Impediments to the free movement of goods disrupted supplies of much-needed medical equipment. The public echoed these negative effects: in the public consultation on overcoming border obstacles carried out by the Commission in 2020, 65% of respondents stated that border closures increased their perception of the border as an obstacle. Therefore the recently adopted Strategy for an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice without internal borders takes due consideration of the experiences and lessons-learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the Commission is in the early stages of preparing an amendment to the Schengen Borders Code which should address the identified shortcomings in the current system.
But decades of good neighbourly relations and constructive cross-border cooperation have also resulted in remarkable acts of solidarity. Member States less seriously affected by extremely high numbers of patients in need of intensive care offered help by taking on in their facilities patients from neighbouring countries with greater needs. Along some borders, established cross-border structures coordinated crisis response and proved a precious source of reliable information for people often puzzled by changing and inconsistent rules. And we saw regular demonstrations of simple human empathy among neighbouring communities.

COVID-19 solidarity in cross-border regions
The Greater Region (LU-BE-FR-DE) created a Pandemic Task Force to coordinate a response to the pandemic on multiple levels (e.g. monitoring the availability of intensive care beds).
The neighbouring towns of Görlitz (DE) and Zgorzelec (PL) ran joint emergency exercises (e.g. on action to take when faced with a mass outbreak of measles) and used this experience to set up a cross-border information exchange system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bánát Triplex Confinium European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (BTC EGTC) brings together local authorities located on the Hungary-Romania-Serbia trilateral border region. The EGTC got together to deliver urgently needed face masks and hand sanitisers from Hungary to the 37 Romanian authorities involved in the EGTC.
On the Austria-Italy border, the Süd Tirol region sent protective equipment to the autonomous provinces of Bolzano and Trentino; hospitals in the Tyrolean towns of Innsbruck, Hall and Linz took care of Italian patients in need of intensive care.

The European Commission reacted swiftly within the limits of its legal mandate, by rapidly opening up ‘green corridors’ for the transit of essential goods and adopting two sets of guidelines on the free movement of workers and emergency assistance in cross-border healthcare .
In addition, based on a Commission proposal, Council Recommendation (EU) 2020/1475 , and its amendment (EU) 2021/119 , took a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The amendment provides special provisions for residents of border areas who cross the border frequently to work, go to school, seek medical care, or take care of family. They should not be required to quarantine when crossing borders for essential purposes. In addition, if a testing requirement on cross-border travel is introduced in these regions, its frequency should be proportionate. If the epidemiological situation on both sides of the border is comparable, no travel-related testing requirements should be imposed.
However, the crisis demonstrated that the degree of resilience of border areas depends largely on the institutional set up and on the level of preparedness, which is often designed and decided at national level. This would merit further reflection.


Work to implement the 2017 10-point action plan, coordinated by the Border Focal Point, has now been ongoing for just over three years. A detailed assessment of each action is presented in the table at the end of this report. The 2020 public consultation carried out to understand the impact of these actions and the current situation in cross-border regions gathered 453 responses, which provided input to this report.
Several outcomes are of particular importance and are therefore highlighted separately below. They have been significant in several ways: some of them contributed to improving our understanding of persisting difficulties faced by people living in border regions; others created fresh impetus in developing joint initiatives across borders. Globally, these responses provided a positive contribution to the Report.

An enriched tool box for cross-border interaction
In 2018, the Commission adopted the ‘European Cross-Border Mechanism’ (ECBM) legislative proposal to offer a legal tool for practical solutions to overcome cross-border obstacles of a legal or administrative nature . In 2019, to pioneer work to overcome these obstacles, the Commission launched b-solutions , an innovative initiative that provides legal support to public authorities in border regions to identify the root causes of legal or administrative obstacles affecting their cross-border interactions and to explore potential solution(s). This has been a successful process, which has resolved 90 cases of border obstacles. The cases covered 27 cross-border regions in 21 Member States and tackled obstacles mainly in employment, public transport, healthcare and institutional cooperation.

The key lessons learnt from the ‘b-solutions’ initiative show that:
1) solutions must be tailored to each specific context, though experience in handling similar obstacles in other border regions can often be useful;
2) implementing solutions is typically a complex and lengthy process, only possible with the involvement and political commitment of multi-level decision-making authorities;
3) a range of tools can be used to identify solutions; some may be European, others may already be available at national level. But these solutions frequently require changes in the legal framework.

Overall, the success of b-solutions is also due to the fact that it paves the way for longer-term agreements between Member States and regions to definitively remove barriers, as illustrated in the box overleaf. These pilot projects also show the potential of the ECBM. In 13 of the first 43 cases for b-solutions (30%), participants and experts clearly expressed the view that an EU legal tool such as the ECBM would have made a difference to resolving recurring border obstacles had it been available . The ECBM is still being discussed in Council, after the European Parliament established its broadly positive position in 2019. The Commission remains convinced of the positive benefits that the proposal would bring.

Good practice: emergency medical services along the French-Spanish border
Despite the existence of the first European bi-national Hospital de Cerdanya, doctors were until recently prevented from responding to medical emergencies on the other side of the border due to the lack of automatic mutual recognition of their status as doctors. A b-solutions project identified the way to overcome this administrative barrier in 2019. In 2020, the local bodies in charge implemented the solution. Following the Franco-Spanish summit of 15 March 2021, there is now a new political commitment to further develop a common framework for cross-border healthcare in the cross-border region.

Developments in cross-border healthcare
The healthcare sector has been the subject of increased attention over the past few years. As a result, there is now a much better understanding of cross-border health services, their added value (for example by offering facilitated access to cross-border health services in the proximity of the patients) and the recurring problems they face (often linked to reimbursement of treatment costs). Policy developments and financial support, including under Interreg cross-border cooperation programmes funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), work hand in hand to facilitate the development of cross-border health services that often can save lives (e.g. by providing to cross-border population much faster access to specialised care or to emergency services).

Good practice: HealthAcross project
After years of preparation and collaboration between Austria and Czechia, a brand new joint medical centre has opened in the Austrian town of Gmünd, where Czech patients can also receive in- and out-patient treatment.


Cross-border regions need tailor-made solutions and policies that can maximise their potential, remove existing barriers and boost their economic recovery and resilience. This was also the view expressed by Europeans in the 2020 public consultation. 79% of respondents reported that “European action in favour of border regions is important because it contributes to trust-building among individuals and organisations and because it highlights that national legal frameworks frequently do not take into consideration the territories across the border”. Furthermore 42% agreed that action taken by the European Commission over the past five years had stimulated cross-border regions as never before and should continue. Lastly, 65% of respondents disagreed that Commission action should be limited to the provision of Interreg funding.
Based on the lessons learnt since 2017, including those from the COVID-19 crisis, in particular the need for more and deeper institutional cross-border cooperation, and on the urgent challenges facing Europe and the world in terms of climate change, the Commission proposes to refocus the actions along four clusters:
i. Resilience through deeper institutional cooperation
ii. More and better cross-border public services
iii. Vibrant cross-border labour markets
iv. Border regions for the European Green Deal
Action in these clusters must enable border regions to test innovative solutions in the cross-border context, enabling them to continue to act as hot spots and laboratories of European integration. Cross-border territories make both the benefits of European integration and the shortcomings visible and real to the general public. Therefore, the Commission and the Member States must work with these regions in the joint development of innovative approaches to deepen their integration and increase cross-border exchanges. The approaches and solutions to increase European integration developed and tested in cross-border regions could then also be used more widely in other regions.
Innovative actions to develop cross-border regions can be implemented when, in different fields of work, public institutions and other organisations look at the cross-border region as a whole instead of the sum of two separate parts. This can be achieved by using new policy and 2021-2027 financial tools. Innovative solutions are being deployed in several policy areas, for example:
• European Digital Innovation Hubs (EDIH) as well as a reinforced interoperability policy, funded by the Digital Europe Programme can stimulate increased cooperation between neighbouring countries and provide support for digital innovation of public services and companies in cross-border regions.
• Coordinated administrative processes for public procurement can boost business links across borders. Cross-border projects on ‘Connected public administration’ under the flagship initiative ‘Modernise’ of the Recovery and Resilience Facility could deepen cooperation amongst administrations of neighbouring regions. The 2014 Public Procurement Directives created specific provisions on occasional joint procurement and on procurement involving contracting authorities from different Member States, in particular by joint legal entities, including European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation.
• The SME strategy provides a framework for border regions to explore solutions to solve cross-border issues faced by SMEs.
• The Connecting Europe Facility for the TEN-T network includes targeted action on cross-border connections to integrate transport networks on both sides of the border and digital infrastructures and services .
• The focus on sustainability and the impact of the pandemic are shaping a new generation of consumers, who seek opportunities to go on low-carbon or plastic-free holidays. This offers new scope for cross-border cooperation, in terms of joint tourism and local networks of smart and sustainable tourism destinations.
The Commission will support cross-border regions in innovating when planning future developments, making it attractive for border communities to not only stay where they are but also to thrive by maximising the potential of their home regions.
Young people too have an important role to play to boost border regions. Their keen interest in cross-border cooperation is demonstrated by the high take-up of the Interreg volunteering scheme set up when the European Volunteer Service was created. Since 2019, over 500 young people have volunteered in Interreg programmes and projects. Some also co-authored the Youth Manifesto for Cooperation .
Most of the aspects outlined in the four clusters below can be supported financially along all EU internal and external borders by the new Interreg Cross-Border Cooperation, the IPA Cross-Border Cooperation, and the Interreg Next programmes. In particular, the new objective ‘A better cooperation governance’ introduced in the Interreg Regulation was designed specifically for this purpose. Of the 65 cross-border cooperation programmes due to be implemented in 2021-2027 along EU internal and external borders, at least 50 will use this objective to strengthen cross-border governance. For instance, the programmes could envisage setting up small project funds to resolve obstacles or invest in co-designing development strategies or joint spatial planning mechanisms. Financial support could also be dedicated to explore the need for joint public services or to invest in developing robust cross-border statistics, as has recently been recommended by the European Court of Auditors .

Resilience through deeper institutional cooperation
Any action taken to support cross-border regions needs to be underpinned by robust governance mechanisms to ensure the sustainability and durability of the action and to ensure it does not depend on individual goodwill only. There is much scope to further develop the joint management of our cross-border regions, from organising joint public consultations on future investments, to considering joint land use planning and joint public services based on proximity. In the 2020 public consultation, 56% of respondents indicated that the main obstacles linked to legislative processes were linked to institutional cooperation.
EU tools for cooperation are already available, most notably in the shape of European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) which provide a stable legal framework for joint initiatives and investments. The 80 existing EGTCs cover a wide range of activities, including the management of public services. However, to step up cross-border cooperation, it is necessary to work more closely with the national authorities in charge of implementation. Together with the EGTC Platform hosted by the Committee of the Regions, the Commission will work to promote their use across the EU. Other forms of cooperation supported by the EU budget, such as the European Universities Alliances under the Erasmus+ programme or the EDIH, can use the EGTC legal tool to sustain cross-border cooperation, thereby expanding its impact beyond cohesion policy.
The European Cross-Border Mechanism (ECBM) proposed by the Commission in 2018 also offers ways to unlock the potential of cross-border regions by putting in place a legal framework to resolve border obstacles. Where established cooperation already provides this framework, the ECBM is an additional option. Where there is no institutionalised mechanism to resolve obstacles, the ECBM provides an off-the-shelf solution.
At Member State level, existing formal agreements facilitate cooperation by providing a joint, agreed legal framework in which to operate. Regional groupings such as the Benelux Union or the Nordic Council of Ministers have a key role to play in providing a seamless framework for interaction. Bilateral agreements such as the Treaty of Aachen between France and Germany or the Estonian-Latvian Intergovernmental Commission have similar objectives. More could be achieved by for example exploring possibilities of jointly performing border-proofing tests when developing new legislation or transposing European directives. The Territorial Impact Assessment tool currently used by the Commission via its Better Regulation Toolbox provides a useful basis for this. In bilateral contacts, Member States should also consider ways to facilitate cross-border interaction, notably by making it possible to derogate from national rules or by enhancing mutual recognition based on mutual knowledge, standards and trust.
The Commission is ready to support the development of stronger governance systems for cross-border regions. This can be achieved in several ways, some listed in the box below. Member States and regions are encouraged to participate in this process, notably by using the next generation of Interreg CBC programmes to invest in sustainable cooperation systems that are tailored to their specific circumstances.

• The Commission will extend the b-solutions initiative introduced in 2019 to cover the 2021-2027 period and to cover pre-accession border regions. The results will be shared on the online platform Border Focal Point Network , and on other channels.
• To achieve a greater awareness of the added value of cooperating across borders, the Commission will develop a self-assessment method to analyse both the intensity of cross-border cooperation and its contribution to European integration in border areas.
• The Commission will continue to support the work of statistical offices in producing and analysing cross-border data for evidence-based policy making: one current pilot project seeks to define cross-border cities and functional urban areas with the aim of collecting data on them over the medium term. It will continue to support the work carried out by the European Cross-border Monitoring Network .

More and better cross-border public services
People living in border regions often find themselves located far away from services within their national boundaries and digitally insufficiently connected, but close to proximity services on the other side of the border. Some border regions already have a long tradition of sharing public services or even of pooling resources to offer proximity services to all residents living on both sides of a national border. In the 2020 public consultation, respondents identified difficulties in accessing reliable public transport as the main obstacle to using cross-border public services, closely followed by the lack of joint digital services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made visible two aspects of cross-border public services in the health sector . On the one hand, the sudden introduction of restrictions on cross-border movement has prevented patients, but also medical staff, from accessing healthcare facilities. Paradoxically, these restrictions made the importance of daily cross-border flows highly visible. On the other hand, the acute need for medical services has fostered displays of solidarity across borders and demonstrated that border regions’ resilience to crises is dependent on working with each other across national boundaries.
Similar conclusions have been reached for access to education, culture and leisure services, without forgetting the need to enable physical access to the services via low-carbon transport systems such as trains, trams, and buses. For instance, the EU strategy for energy system integration identifies the persistent lack of cross-border interoperability of charging services for electric vehicles, which stands in the way of developing greener transport services across borders.
A recent study financed by the Interreg programme European Spatial Planning Observatory Network compiled information about 580 cross-border public services along EU internal borders. Currently, most of these cross-border public services deal with environment protection, civil protection, disaster management and transport. Future trends show new cross-border public services are expected especially in the fields of spatial planning, economic development, tourism, and culture. Many regions are exploring the scope to provide cross-border public services in healthcare and the labour market. The pandemic has also put the spotlight on the importance of digitalisation. Supporting border regions means ensuring that digital public services are interoperable and cross-border by default, in line with the vision and principles set out in the European Interoperability Framework and the EU’s eGovernment action plan .
The Committee of the Regions (in an opinion it issued in 2020 ) and the European Parliament (as part of the pilot project ‘Cross-Border Crisis Response Integrated Initiative (CB-CRII)’ ) have both highlighted the need to provide a stronger and more stable framework for cross-border public services. The European Commission fully shares this objective and proposes specific actions in this area.