Sixty Years Regio Basiliensis and Crossborder Cooperation
30 October 2023
Switzerland has traditionally been closely intertwined with its surrounding regions, culturally, economically, religiously, socially and scientifically.
As many as 15 of the 26 cantons of Switzerland, half of the country’s population and two of its three largest cities (Basel and Geneva) border other countries (Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy and France). 70% of bilateral goods trade between the European Union and Switzerland originates in this region.
The border cantons and population density. Image: Regio Basiliensis
Regio Basiliensis highlighted this situation at its Conference of Swiss Border Cantons (Konferenz der Schweizer Grenzregionen)on 20 October to mark its 60th anniversary.
Century-old relations underlie today’s regional cooperation of cantons with these regions in neighbouring countries. The conference, with over 230 participants from cantons and guests from Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy and France, referred to the past 60 years and looked to the future.
Even between cantons, there are sometimes significant differences in culture, language, culture, economy, tax systems and education. Nevertheless, over the centuries and certainly after 1848, successful cooperation, exchange and a modus vivendi have developed among the cantons.
With the surrounding regions, the process has been the other way around. Until the formation of nation-states in the nineteenth century, cooperation, exchange and contacts were self-evident, Tessin, Valais, Graubünden with (Austrian) Lombardy and South Tyrol, the northern cantons with the Boden region, Austria, southern Germany and Alsace, and the western cantons with French territories.
It changed radically after 1815, with the world wars between 1914 and 1945 as low points. European cooperation, which, of course, had never wholly disappeared, began to regain momentum after the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community (1952) and the European Economic Community (1957), protected by NATO’s security guarantee and stimulated by America’s Marshall Aid.
The democratic and social welfare states in Europe are the result. The actual European Union (1993) has played an important role in this development. The European Union is a process of integration, cooperation and merger in some areas (though they don’t call it that). Like any merger, it has a law of diminishing returns.
The political, fiscal, cultural and social differences between countries are sometimes so huge that the risk of no, or worse, poor decision-making or compromise, is also increasing.
This applies not only to scientific projects and research, migration or climate policy but also to democracy, judiciary, parliament and the executive or ‘government’ (European Commission).
There are also still many barriers and differences between regions of countries, which in itself is an indication of the complexity of cooperation among countries at central European level.
A federal and subsidiarity-based organisation offers the best guarantee for efficient and transparent cooperation between countries and a functioning democracy of the European Union in the long term.
Not only Switzerland and its 26 cantons could serve as an example, but also regional projects, such as Regio Basiliensis and the Upper-Rhine cooperation.
At the conference, not only success stories of this regional cooperation (with the support of the European Union’s Interreg programme, governments, regions and cantons) received attention, but also current bottlenecks.
At the highest political level, these are, evidently, the relationship between Switzerland and the European Union and the participation of cantons in this federal decision-making.
At a micro level, however, they are the daily concerns of cross-border commuting, education, taxation, research, digital networks, logistics or, for example, environmental measures.
The Court of Justice of the European Union is sometimes called “the motor of European integration” (which calls for caution as an unelected institution). Regio Basiliensis, one of the oldest organisations in its field, is the motor of regional cooperation.
(Source and further cooperation: Regio Basiliensis)