A new cross-border day tomorrow?

Ms Ann-Sofi Backgren

President of Association of European Border Regions

Since the 12th of March I have been working from home. Lucky me, because I live in the countryside close to the sea and close to the forest. I live in a small village.  I have my own house with a garden. I have lot of space. I have close to local food and some of my relatives are living close to me too. I live in a maritime cross-border region, the Kvarken region, with a maritime border to Sweden. It is situated quite up in the Northern part of Europe. I live myself on the Finnish side. If you look at the map, I live outside the city of Vaasa, by the sea. For many of you the situation may look quite different and also your home border region. 

Usually many border regions are quite peripheral, far away from the capitals. Together with partners from the other side of the border, different cross-border actors are trying to solve common obstacles in the border region but also trying to believe in the future by creating common projects and solutions. 

In some weeks and even days the world changed, or even stopped. The society went lock down. For example, in many places the schools were closed down, people started to work from home and even borders were closed. In my home region we have a ferry link to Sweden and it stopped for passengers. Only some very important shipping was allowed. In the most northern part of the border zone between Finland and Sweden (a land border) we suddenly had a crossing border point with frontier patrol. That is something very unusual because we have a common labor market in the Nordic countries since 1954, which means practically open borders. So, suddenly we woke up to a new morning with closed borders. 

Soon I have been working from home in two months. First it was almost a shock, I had to cancel everything, at lot of travels, meetings, events. Then I did not start to adjust, but to readjust to a more digital life. And suddenly my calendar was fully booked again, with a lot of on-line meetings, seminars, webinars, discussion groups and even virtual coffee and lunch breaks. After longs days by the computer it was really nice to go out in the garden, forest or even go fishing by the sea. I really appreciated the fresh air and the freedom of space. 

What will happen after the covid-19? Who knows? However, I take this chance to reflect about the future and especially in border regions. I think the local-regional life will get a new renaissance which includes cross-border cooperation. We have to rethink how we are living our lives and try to get more sustainability and resilience in our actions. We have to develop a kind of local-regional-cross-border value chains in our working and business lives, even thinking more about personal safety in border regions and have a back-up plan in essential fields like healthcare cooperation. 

I don not think we will travel like before covid-19, we will think twice if it is necessary. However, I hope that we will discover cross-border tourism sites with a new curiosity. Sometimes we can be blind and look far away for excitements in our lives when we instead have something interesting near us. Digitalization will step into our everyday life in a more crucial way. We will for sure use more on-line tools for meetings and cooperation. This means also that border-regions are not peripheral anymore; “we all live just around the corner”. Regions will more take their own actions and develop cross-border solutions with a place-based approach by using both common know-how from both sides of the border but also using digitalization as new tool. In these covid-19 times people have also appreciated local-regional food more and more. I think this consumer behavior will remain.  Hopefully we will also see more cross-border food market cooperation in the future.

Finally, I think we are living in very exciting times and I am sure that we have learnt a lot about of ourselves, about what we value, and appreciate things that perhaps we had taken for granted earlier. I am positive, I believe in cross-border cooperation and I think we have the momentum now to update our work into a future context.

Together we are stronger and less vulnerable!



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