b-solutions – overcoming cross-border obstacles
European Border regions face obstacles in diverse domains, hampering cross-border interactions and development. b-solutions provides an innovative way to support border regions in identifying the root causes of obstacles and devising solutions pathways in two ways:
i) how public support is provided: a legal expert working directly with the beneficiary on a obstacle (i.e. no red tape+cost effectiveness)
ii) on each different solutions (legal revision proposals; agreements; revised procedures)
The aim of the initiative is to tackle legal and administrative obstacles hindering cooperation in border regions along EU internal land borders through the adoption of sustainable and replicable solutions.
b-solutions was part of a set of new and concrete actions to enhance cohesion in cross-border areas included in the Boosting Growth and Cohesion in European Border Regions (COM(2017)534) communication adopted by the European Commission (EC) in 2017.
Border regions constitute the EU Cohesion Policy major landmark and after 30 years since the establishment of the Interreg funding programme, thousands of projects have successfully received financial support to better exploit the potential of these territories.
Nevertheless, obstacles of legal or administrative nature continue to have a negative impact on the stakeholders and citizens living and operating across borders. Research indicates that solving one fifth of existing border obstacles could lead to an increase of 2% GDP in border regions, corresponding to 1 million new jobs.
The initiative is managed by the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) on behalf of the EC’s DG REGIO. In short: public authorities at different levels (e.g., municipalities) apply to calls for proposals by submitting an identified obstacle that hampers interaction across the border. Those selected are attributed support in the form of legal/technical expertise. A lawyer is assigned to work with the beneficiary – and its peers across the border – in order to assess the root causes of the obstacles. Additionally the expert works with the beneficiary to identify a possible pathway for a solution.
The innovation in the process is double:
I) innovative process to provide support to border regions but without a grant or a tender. There is no financial transfers to the beneficiaries. Instead legal experts are hired directly by AEBR (using a grant it receives from the European Commission) and assigned to provide their services to the beneficiaries. This significantly simplifies the procedure by reducing the red tape to nearly zero. Also, it increased cost effectiveness by centralising the contractualisation of the legal expertise.
ii) innovative solutions tailored to each case – including legislative amendment proposals; bilateral agreements; new administrative procedures; revised management systems, etc. (see examples in the compendium annex). Furthermore, there is a strong sharing element. Being implemented at European level, the initiative increases the visibility of the solutions identified for each case. Therefore, experiences from one border become useful for entities in other borders experiencing similar obstacles.
90 different obstacles were selected under the initiative. 4 calls for proposals permitted identifying those obstacles (one in 2018, one in 2019, two in 2020). The cases covered 27 cross-border regions in 21 Member States and tackled obstacles mainly in employment, public transport, healthcare and institutional cooperation.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
b-solutions enhances an innovative approach to cross-border cooperation with the bottom-up participation of stakeholder and targeted support by experts to local actors.
The project equips local stakeholders, namely Local and regional authorities and public sector servants, to innovate thanks to raised awareness and the online network they become part of.
By granting support with the expertise of new actors, cross-border cooperation involves additional stakeholders who make it more efficient and effective. The involvement of third parties makes it possible for public sector servants in border regions to explore new solutions to foster cross-border cooperation.
Finally, b-solutions enhances the dissemination of innovative solutions to solve existing legal or administrative obstacles, promoting replicability and building the capacity of local and regional authorities.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The b-solutions initiative was initiated in 2018 and is currently still being implemented. Its innovative approach to enhancing cross-border cooperation has been used by DG REGIO/AEBR for three years and has already yielded knowledge, raising awareness and, to some extent, impact.
Through four calls for proposals, 90 obstacles to cross-border cooperation have been detected, part of them already analysed by legal experts proposing solutions. 43 of these obstacles and respective solutions have been already disseminated among peers with the aim of replicating the innovative, solution-oriented approach and of building capacity throughout the public sector in the EU.
The initiative is already contracted until December 2021 with the publication of material addressing, among others, cross-border cooperation stakeholders and offering them tools to implement the innovative approach proposed by b-solutions.
Collaborations & Partnerships
b-solutions targeted specifically government officials, and in particular public bodies and cross-border structures in border regions. Being the main target, these have been offered legal expertise to overcome legal and administrative obstacles in border regions so as to offer better services to their citizens.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
- Beneficiaries are public bodies in border regions who submit the proposals of obstacles to be addressed to AEBR. End beneficiaries are the citizens of cross-border regions who see obstacles solved and cross-border interactions facilitated.
- Policy makers at all levels benefit from increased awareness on cross-border interaction.
- Experts assigned to the cases, benefit also from enhanced experience and knowledge.
- Project publications benefit the general public.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
- 90 obstacles being addressed (the 27 most recent ones are still ongoing).
- Impact on cross-border cooperation programmes (Interreg), some of which will replicate the initiative by introducing similar support schemes in their territories.
Challenges and Failures
The main challenge is to exploit the innovation's potential by reaching out to other border regions.
Conditions for Success
Key conditions for success are multi level stakeholder engagement and political commitment.
Interreg cooperation programmes are replicating the approach.
The key lessons learned 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 they frequently require changes in the legal framework.