May 25, 2016

Euroregions as an Important Tool to Speed-Up the European Integration of Ukraine

Nadia Serbenko

born in 1995
Student of the Institute of International Relations of Kyiv Taras Shevchenko National University, specialty “International Law”

Euroregions as an Important Tool to Speed-Up the European Integration of Ukraine (in the context of the functioning of the Carpathian Euroregion) 

Lately, we have been observing researchers, political scientists and economists' growing interest to the cross-border cooperation as one of the practices and mechanisms to address the challenges of globalization at the interregional level. It is believed that, if nothing else, the cross-border cooperation can resolve the following important issues: political or economic relations; environmental protection; technological development and implementation of joint programs at international level. Thus, the cross-border relationships are a process that promotes the development of friendly and mutually beneficial relations between countries.

Today one of the most common forms of cross-border cooperation is the work on formation of Euroregions. In turn, the euro-regional policy is an organic component of the national policy, the development of which plays a significant role in the implementation of Ukraine's European integration process.

The aim of creation of Euroregions is as follows: to develop regional policy and intensive cross-border relations — namely, to increase the potential for the development of border regions; to overcome their isolation and negative effects of peripheral location from the center of the country, as well as the virtual absence of research and production, trade, economic and socio-cultural relations with the territories of neighboring states.

At the same time, the activity of the individual Euroregions, which were sometimes hastily formed in Ukraine, has not provided tangible results in the development of regional policy, so the study of their programs, specifics of activities and methods to improve cross-border cooperation still remains important for both researchers and practitioners.

According to the “Ukrstat” (State Statistics Service of Ukraine) in 2015, now with the participation of Ukraine, ten Euroregions were created.

Of these, the Carpathian Euroregion (Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania) is the largest. It was founded on February 14, 1993, and includes: Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zakarpattia, Chernivtsi regions (Ukraine); Carpathian region (Poland); Košice and Pryashiv lands (Slovakia); counties Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Hajdú-Bihar, Heves, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok and Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg (Hungary); counties Bihor, Selazh, Satu Mare, Maramures, Harghita, Suceava and Botosani (Romania). The main legal acts that determine the functioning of the Carpathian Euroregion, as a cross-border association of border regions and communities are the Agreement and the Statute.

On the example of its nearly a quarter of a century existence, let us try to assess and draw conclusions about the success or vice versa — the failures of such cooperation.

One of the most important practically realized projects of the Carpathian Euroregion is the Energy of the Carpathians Program, aimed at improving the quality of public services provided in terms of energy savings in the Ukrainian part of the Carpathian Euroregion through analysis of available energy resources in the mountainous regions of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Zakarpattya, as well as the protection of the environment through the use of their own energy carriers.

At the stage of implementation is also the Drinking Water Program for 2012-2020 — construction and reconstruction of water intake structures, particularly in settlements with little water and in those with the poorest water quality, with a view to attracting new consumers; introduction of purification stations — equipment for final cleaning of drinking water in centralized water supply systems; construction and reconstruction of water supply systems and structures with a view to attracting new consumers.

As part of the the Hungary-Slovakia-Romania-Ukraine ENPI Cross-border Cooperation Programme, the following four projects from Zakarpattya (Transcarpathian) region are being financed (a total of 2.75 million Euros): “The development of Berehovo cross-border polder system in the Tisza river basin”, “Clean Water”, “Cross-border capabilities for the development of transport logistics”, “Improving cross-border traffic with the help of the construction of a bypass road around Berehovo”.

Together with Hungarian partners, six projects are being implemented: creation of tourist information centers in the cities of Uzhgorod and Berehovo; development and implementation of the cross-border program of medical and social rehabilitation on the basis of the regional children's hospital; development of a comprehensive Ukrainian-Hungarian approach to joint anti-flood measures; study of the state of the biomass use in the border region.

The Projects Healthy children — a Happy Nation and the Carpathian Network to Support the Development of Local Communities are being actively implemented with the use of advisory and consultative assistance to neighboring countries. The Carpathian Community Resource Center has been created. The employees of the Center on a regular basis consult representatives of local communities of the Carpathian Euroregion on strategic local development planning, project management and resource mobilization at the local level, dialogue with local and central government.

Besides, there has been created the Association of Universities of the Carpathian Euroregion, summer schools and training camps, as well as the organized professional sport competitions and charity festivals for the disabled.

As for the negative aspects, in the opinion of experts and analysts, in order to dynamically develop the Carpathian Euroregion, it is necessary to focus on the following:

- to amend the Statute of the Carpathian Euroregion in terms of clarifying: who exactly is the “national part”, and how to harmonize proposals and decisions at the national level;

- to create a comprehensive program for the development of the Carpathian Euroregion, and to focus not on individual disparate programs (that is, they must be carried out in the complex), and to strengthen their economic component (as so far social and cultural components dominate);

- to sign new agreements on direct cooperation between regions, with other Euroregions and potential donors (investors);

- to create special international economic areas/zones in the Carpathian region;

- to develop an effective mechanism for co-operation with other member countries of the Carpathian Euroregion, including within the framework of “local diplomacy”;

- to develop and implement the EU's Single Operating Program for the Carpathian Region for it to be perceived as a common European heritage — an integrated economic, environmental and humanitarian system (as it was done under the implementation phase of the Project Carpathian Horizon-2020);

- taking into consideration the limitations of the local budgets, to solve the problem of financing joint projects during their implementation, in particular through the establishment of a multilateral financial management;

- to increase the flow of foreign direct investments from the EU member states, in particular, through the implementation of the Project East Invest II;

- to increase the level of Ukraine's funding the programs;

- to ensure a more liberal regime of movement of citizens of border areas and the mechanism for issuing cards MRG (local border traffic) to stay not only in Poland;

- to develop and harmonize cross-border cluster initiatives, and to develop cross-border clusters (in the first place, to implement the proposals for cross-border tourist cluster).

So, the development of cross-border relations, first of all, will help the friendly and mutually beneficial relations of border territories and communities, so further study of the characteristics and main problems of the development of Euroregions needs constant and sufficient attention.

In general, the Euroregion is quite an effective tool for the implementation of foreign policy. The cross-border cooperation contributes to achievement of the country's strategic goals because the formation of Euroregions is adapted to specific requirements. The functioning of the Carpathian Euroregion shows that this form is an extremely important tool to accelerate Ukraine's European integration.

From the practical and legal point of view — implementation of Euroregions programs at the level of regions and local communities will contribute to the fulfillment of the requirements of Ukraine-EU Association Agreement providing for the use of new formats and levels of cooperation between Ukraine and the EU, including in the context of cross-border cooperation.