The European Union undergoes, at present, perhaps one of the most serious crises of its history which is fundamentally linked to the question of free cross-border mobility. It is of paramount importance what solutions will be worked out by the end of this crisis and whether these solutions hinder or facilitate free movement.
In parallel with the crisis, several EU policy debates are under way which are also in close relationship with the subject of our project. Our association submitted the application which can be considered as an antecedent of this project to the call of the DG Justice in February 2015. The objective of the proposal was to work out a comprehensive analysis within the central European region containing the unfolding of legal-administrative barriers and formulating recommendations based on West European good practices. The partnership involved several research institutes from the neighbouring countries, as well as, the ISIG from Gorizia and the MOT from Paris. Since our application was not successful, we approached the Ministry of Justice of Hungary with a similar proposal because the legal accessibility issue became (maybe not unexpectedly) a hot topic of the European discourse.
On the one hand, a project called Cross-border Review launched by Commissioner Corina Creţu attracted the attention to the significance of tackling legal and administrative problems. The project was started in the autumn of 2015. Initially, contracted experts conducted an on-line survey by which they requested the local stakeholders’ opinion on the obstacles. More than 600 responses were received from all over Europe (12 from Hungary). Based on these responses and the inputs gained at the 11 counsellors’ seminars as well as from the reactions of the participants of the expert group set-up also in the autumn, the experts started to compile the comprehensive study built on case study experiences. Our association delegated an expert to the expert group and we drafted a contributing document focusing on the analysis of territorial data. Our intention is to share also the results of the Legal accessibility project with the EU experts. At the same time, during the implementation of the Cross-border Review project, we also obtained and accumulated knowledge on certain issues which supported the realisation of the Hungarian Legal accessibility project.
When comparing the two projects, it is worth mentioning that in the case of the EU project eight sectors have been identified at the very beginning in the respect of which the analysis of the obstacles can be relevant: industry, labour market, health, transport, ICT, environment, climate change and spatial planning. At the second expert workshop held in January, 2016, the experts selected five of these eight topics that the contracted consultants would concentrate on.
At the starting phase of our project we did not follow similar preconceptions: we were interested in everything what can be a problem or obstacle for local actors. On the one hand, this approach led to the realisation of the fact that we faced numerous obstacles which were irrelevant for other countries; and, on the other, the barriers did not occur in line with a clear systematic principle or an internal logic but in an ad hoc way. It may be the reason why several „reports of obstacle” proved to be irrelevant after the interviews and the legal analysis. Regardless of this, a few problems can attract the attention also at EU level: in some of these cases we even made a proposal for their solution.
These problems are the following:
- to launch an EU student card,
- to create an EU level documentation platform of illnesses,
- to issue EU level permissions for ambulance cars,
- to create EU rules on cross-border short supply chains,
- to draft a provision supporting cross-border horse riding tourism,
- to develop an EU level solution for the abolishment of duties of duty-free products imported from third countries,
- to further develop the KEEP database to obtain real-time data.
Apart from the Cross-border Review coordinated by the DG Regio, it is worth mentioning the progress of the new legal solution initiated by the Luxemburg presidency, in 2015. The proposal of the Luxemburg presidency aims at the voluntary based introduction of a new legal tool (European Cross-Border Convention: ECBC) which would create a territorial exception with a view to resolving a sectoral problem of a given border region. For the sake of ensuring cross-border service provision, the tool would establish a legal framework independent from the legislations of the two countries with a territorial limitation in a provisional way; which would make it possible to give life to models exceeding the obstacles generated by the national provisions. The Cerdanya hospital is considered as a such exceptional example but also in the case of a cross-border tramway, numerous technical, financial and administrative rules should be taken into account which prevent the initiators from the construction of the tramway line. Although both the intention and the need are given and the economic operation of the tramway could be guaranteed, the different legal environment of the two neighbouring countries should be modified at so many points and furthermore at general, national level that finally the project will not be put in operation. The ECBC would make it possible to launch such exceptional legal solutions which would reflect to nothing but the particular problem within the given border region. Our association has, right from the beginning, taken part in the activities of the working group preparing the ECBC.
In recent years, the French Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (MOT) has been drawing the attention, at numerous professional events, to the shortcomings of territorial statistics hindering cross-border cooperation and developments. Eurostat gathers data at NUTS III. (in some cases at NUTS II.) level only which are irrelevant from the point of view of direct cross-border interventions (affecting mainly local and regional stakeholders). Our association has joined this consultative process by organising a seminar in September, 2014. It is expected that the European Commission will initiate the cooperation of the national statistical institutions (NSIs) with a view to resolve this problem.
The European Union is not exclusively working with the problem of barriers. In 2014, the European Council contracted an NGO called Institute of International Sociology of Gorizia (ISIG) to unfold the most frequent cross-border legal-administrative obstacles in Europe. Its intention was to find the best practices delivering solution to these obstacles and to make all this information available through a portal updated permanently.
The portal was opened in 2015 and its database is permanently expanding, thanks to the increasing number of its end-users. The EDEN portal of ISIG meant a generous help during the realisation of the current project. Apart from this, the professional documents of the MOT and the AEBR (Association of European Border Regions) offered help to us too. AEBR supported the implementation also with professional consultancy as a project partner.
Regarding the responses on the obstacles, the way of overcoming them can be different case by case. The legal harmonisation process of the European Union yields sometimes surprising results; at the same time, the Community has achieved remarkable success from the point of view of the mitigation of the obstacles against the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital. One of the main lessons learnt from this project was that in several cases, the community acquis are already in place but there are problems with their application.
At the same time, sometimes the application of a regional solution implying bilateral agreements is more rational. It can give life even to bilateral institutionalised cooperation structures. The Legal accessibility project offers examples for both models.
Our aim was to launch the process within which the state administration limiting its focus on nation state frames by nature recognises cross-border reality as an issue to handle and its problems to tackle and approaches it with due openness. Since, as a matter of fact, when we seek for either EU level or bilateral solutions, we can be successful only with the positive attitude of the state level authorities.