MetroNet (2010-2012)

Cross-border metropolitan governance in Europe

This project is supported by the National Research Fund of Luxembourg (FNR).
What is MetroNet?

A network analysis approach
Over the last decades, the accelerated process of globalisation of economic and cultural exchanges, strengthening of regional integration, and the consolidation of supranational bodies, have led to profound changes in the traditional functions of borders (Scott, 1999; O'Dowd, 2003). National borders still have a role in differentiating political, economic and cultural systems, but they increasingly serve as an interface for promoting contacts, collaboration and hybridisation (Anderson and O'Dowd, 1999; Raffestin 1986). While the effects of these transformations on border regions have led to numerous studies (Perkmann, 2003, 2007; Van Houtum, 2000), the case of centres located near a border has been little studied so far (Reitel, 2006; Saez, Bassand, Leresche, 1997; Sohn, Walther, 2009).

Evidence, however, suggests that cross-border metropolitan centres can benefit from the rescaling of Statehood and the increased competition between cities and regions at the global level (Brenner 2004). It is certainly true that borders are always likely to put the brakes on exchanges and cooperation; however, borders also represent a source of new opportunities. From a political perspective, the border situation enables local authorities to hope for increased autonomy through cooperation and alliances. On an institutional level, the presence of a border creates an opportunity to develop original forms of governance, considering in particular the wide flexibility of legal and regulatory provisions that surround cross-border cooperation. On a symbolic level finally, the cross-border dimension enables the international character of the metropolitan centre to be displayed together with its cultural diversity, and the possibility to attract international companies and a highly skilled workforce (Sohn, Reitel and Walther, 2009).

Against this background, the objective of this research project is to analyse the process of building cross-border metropolitan regions in Europe. To achieve this, an innovative approach of cross-border cooperation based on a structural analysis of policy networks and their confrontation with the geographical space will be mobilised. Following Allen and Cochrane (2008), we argue for a relational approach to the construction of cross-border metropolitan areas, in order not to embed the analysis in a predefined territorial configuration or geographic scale.

The project will address four main research questions:

  • Which actors play a central role in the construction of a cross-border metropolitan region? Core cities are likely to play a key role in promoting cross-border integration and governance at a metropolitan level. Except in the case of State capitals, core cities should benefit from the “new metropolitan governance” (Brenner 2003), i.e., a particular type of governance not dominated by state interests or limited by national boundaries. That said, borders contribute in reconfiguring power relations and secondary players can use them to gain in importance.
  • What kind of relations do these actors maintain between them? The nature and density of relations that public and/or private actors maintain in a cross-border context can be analysed through a social network analysis (SNA). We believe that SNA will provide measures of the structural constraints of actors and allows for insights on the distribution of power and the influence of social and political action. In the very particular case of cross-border metropolitan regions, we believe that governance will be highly dependent on the presence of exceptional actors, who have the ability to maintain social interactions in national networks and benefit from large intermediary capital.
  • How do governance networks interfere with the construction of cross-border metropolitan cooperation? Power relations are highly asymmetric in the case of a metropolitan area composed of a strong urban core and several peripheral centres. However, we assume that cross-border cooperation will only succeed through negotiation and the search for compromise. In this process, learning from one other and building relationships of trust are two fundamental parameters (Lefèvre, 2004).
  • What are the effects of spatial and institutional structures (including the border) on the configuration and efficiency of cross-border networks of governance? We will assume that the border can be a catalyst for relations between actors if and only if the metropolitan region has developed a widely shared coherent strategy for its future. On the contrary, the border appears as a constraint and national interests dominate.
Four case studies are selected: Luxembourg, Basel, Lille and Vienna-Bratislava. In all the four cases, metropolitan border cooperation is on the agenda but at different stages. Rather than a generalisation on the European scale, which can only be illusory given the multiplicity of specific cases, these four case studies will contribute to better understand interactions between national borders and metropolitan centres in Europe.

The analytical framework is based on a previous work by Knoke et al. (1996) on the comparative analysis of policy networks. Research on policy networks aims at understanding the variety of interactions that public actors and interest groups maintain depending on their profile, power or influence (Le Gales, Thatcher, 1995). The use of this concept from political science to geography and its application to the specific case of cross-border metropolitan regions is a major challenge and a neglected area of study. It requires not only a review of existing approaches, but also the implementation of innovative methods which will make it possible to compare governance networks (topological space) with geographical structures (topographical space).

The methodology in this project is based on SNA (Scott, 2000; Wasserman and Faust, 1994). Such a body of theory and methodology provides a rigorous description of the relations between actors and a comparison of the structures arising. The collection of data requires numerous face-to-face interviews with the stakeholders that comprise the network. The selection of organisations and individuals for the survey, the boundaries of the network, and the construction of the questionnaire are key points in the process. The work of Knoke et al. (1996), John (1998) and Christopoulos (2006) are considered as important references. Finally, it should be pointed out that the structural network analysis does not exhaust the entire complexity of the issues being addressed in this project. Therefore, the sociometric approach will be complemented by a more qualitative approach (Dowding, 1995). Interviews will include more open questions to analyse the social actors’ motivations, representations and values.

Expected Results
On a scientific level, the project aims to better understand how cross-border governance networks regulate the construction of cross-border metropolitan areas. The objective is to open a “black box” and to illuminate aspects that are still largely unknown, particularly with respect to the interactions between the network of actors and the effects of borders.

In terms of methodology, different results are expected. First, we seek to validate an original approach to understand relationships between actors without having to impose arbitrary limits, either through institutional rules or by choosing a given territory. Second, we wish to compare the topological space of policy networks with the topographical space of metropolitan areas. This is likely to constitute a real methodological innovation.

Lead Partner
Dr. Christophe Sohn, Dr. Antoine Decoville, Dr. Olivier Walther
Centre for Population, Poverty and Public Policy Studies (CEPS/INSTEAD)

Other Partners

  • Dr. Dimitris Christopoulos, Department of Politics, Philosophy and International Relations, University of the West of England, and University of Bristol
  • Prof. Rudolf Giffinger, Department of Spatial Development, Infrastructure and Environmental Planning, Vienna University of Technology
  • Prof. Christian Kesteloot, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
  • Dr. Bernard Reitel, CRESAT, University of Upper Alsace
  • Prof. Christian Schulz, IPSE Research Unit, University of Luxembourg

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Geography, cross-border cooperation, cross-border metropolitan region, governance, urban planning, policy networks, social networks analysis (SNA), Europe, Luxembourg, Basel, Lille, Vienna

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