Coronavirus travel restrictions have been a wake-up call for Europeans, especially since nearly a third of the population lives in cross-border areas like France and Belgium's Eurometropolis Lillle-Kortrijk-Tournai.
KORTRIJK — It's not an ideal, some thought thrown out there to create a stir. It's what I deal with everyday in the Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai agglomeration, in my relationships with people and professional exchanges.
You may ask why I am telling you this? Because I do not believe, or no longer believe, in the mental, moral and administrative boundaries that humanity has erected. We see it every day, these borders, invisible to the naked eye, symbolized by emblems, flags or colors, no longer relevant to our reality. We move from one side to the other to maintain our social, economic and professional ties. Mental and administrative constructions fall and fade away as soon as there is talk of maintaining an exchange.
Shouldn't the border itself be reconsidered? Let's be honest, except in the minds of men and women — and to regulate their membership or to identify themselves — this border is not always acknowledged, neither by the river that crosses it, nor the drop of water that composes it, not to mention the clouds that float above. For them, there is no use for this border.
We share all this space without thinking. The elements around us know no such boundaries. We breathe the same air, share the same river, enjoy the same climate. We live the same fears, and suffer the same harmful consequences of pollution and viruses.
So why not reconsider borders, focus on their future, dare to take a step back and think about tomorrow. Let's reduce the mental weight of borders and dare to concentrate on their necessity. I notice that, on a day-to-day basis, cross-border management bodies will need to be strengthened. As close as possible to the citizens, experienced observers of life on said borders — initiators of action plans leading to collaboration between local entities on either side — these bodies should be more united.
In Éloge de la frontière, (Praise for the border) published in 2010, Régis Debray recalled this quote from French politician Christian Jacob: "A map is a projection of the spirit before being an image of the earth." I would add that building bridges between cross-border entities does not mean avoiding seeing borders or understanding why they exist, but rather going beyond the limits they represent. It is taking the high ground to forge ties, to nurture the future, to bring down walls, to take the future by hand by going beyond these administrative boundaries. It means maintaining sustainable, supportive and innovative borders.
Nearly 30% of Europeans live in cross-border areas.
The closure of borders following the coronavirus crisis has clearly given us the opportunity to reshape the role of a border and consider, in particular, how it affects those of us who are cross-border citizens. We are learning from this crisis, and from what went wrong. The future will require more cooperation, the setting up of joint projects and building a network of know-how on both sides of our borders.
A police blockage at alternative border crossing point along the Belgium/Netherlands border in March—Photo: Benoit Doppagne
There is an urgent need to integrate cross-border territorial groupings into decision-making for economies, urban planning, regional governments, society, the environment and public health. Coordination can only take place if there is consultation between the different levels of power, from the smallest local unit to the highest national unit, which means talking to local, regional and national elected representatives on both sides of the border, even when it concerns several nations.
Territory should no longer be confined to a border, a demarcation line, but be considered a living area where states, regions and peoples coordinate around common issues such as health, mobility, education. Nearly 30% of Europeans live in cross-border areas. Millions of people regularly cross borders for work and family reasons. We must now move toward governance at all levels that takes into account the reality of European citizens.
Loïc Delhuvenne is a top administrator for the Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai Eurometropolis, a transborder agglomeration that includes the French city of Lille and Belgian cities of Kortrijk and Tournai.
*This article was translated with permission of the author.