Context and issues

The research carried out within the framework of the next 2011-2013 multi-annual plan is intended to build on previous work (cf. METROLUX project). Mobilising the concept of the network (of actors, of companies and of cities), the Metrolux team intends to analyse in a new way the modalities of cross-border metropolitan integration, both at the political and economic levels. This strategy of thematic specialisation is accompanied by an expansion of the research to cover areas other than Luxembourg, in particular in Europe and North America. What is at stake is not only the possibility of carrying out richly informative comparative analyses, including Luxembourg, but also the possibility of being able to make better use of the results of the research carried out in terms of international publications.

This strategic orientation is manifested in the form of the development of three sub-themes, each of which is fed into by research projects or consultancy contracts.

Cross-border metropolitan governance

The issue of governance within the cross-border metropolitan regions is carried further within the framework of the MetroNet project (2010-2012) financed by the National Research Fund of Luxembourg (FNR). This project effectively proposes to analyse networks of cross-border cooperation within four cross-border metropolitan regions (Basel, Lille, Luxembourg, Vienna-Bratislava) by making use of methods and tools of social network analysis (SNA). This approach appears innovative in more than one way. Sociometric analysis of policy networks has never been applied to cross-border contexts. We hypothesise, however, that the inherent complexity of cross-border cooperation linked to the multiplicity of actors and institutional asymmetry can also be taken into consideration by this type of analysis. In addition, the network approach offers the possibility of confronting the topological space constituted by the relations between actors with geographical and territorial structures (in particular borders) in order to analyse the interactions. The hypothesis which underlies this choice is based on the observation that space represents a structural dimension of social interactions and that it is thus useful to take this into account in the analysis of networks of actors.

In parallel to this research, an extension of empirical analysis to other case studies (Øresund in Europe; San Diego-Tijuana, Juarez-El Paso and Detroit-Windsor in North America) on the basis of academic partnerships with foreign universities is also envisaged (see in particular the METROCO-OP project). The aim is to apply the approach developed within the framework of the MetroNet project to other cases in order to be able to test our research hypotheses in different geographical, economic, political and cultural contexts.

Finally, expertise activities within the fields of cooperation and management of multi-level partnerships within cross-border agglomerations in Europe are also planned. The EGTC project run within the framework of the URBACT European programme thus pursues three main objectives: encourage the exchange of experiences between six European cross-border conurbations and Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (MOT); define local action plans for the reinforcement of the system of cross-border governance within the six territories; communicating the issues at stake in cross-border governance resulting from the processes implemented by the partners.

Polycentric metropolitan development

To date, the economic integration of cross-border metropolitan regions has been measured principally by means of the study of flows of cross-border commuters. Over the course of the next multi-annual programme (2011-2013), the research will focus on (1) the nature and role of cross-border networks of companies and (2) the potential for polycentric development of the cross-border metropolitan regions.

The analysis of cross-border networks of firms will begin within the framework of the GEOSPECS project financed by the European Spatial Planning Observation Network (ESPON). The main objective of the GEOSPECS project is to provide an analytical framework which allows the identification of past trends, and the state and future development of geographical details of certain spaces for political territory in Europe. The Metrolux team will examine more specifically the networks of companies within the Greater Region (Luxembourg, France, Germany, and Belgium) and the Geneva region in order to study the opportunities and restrictions arising from the presence of borders and the strategies developed by economic and institutional actors to benefit from these. The primary hypothesis is that borders do not necessarily represent a barrier to the economic development of cross-border regions, but rather can also constitute a research for companies, either via exploitation of differentials in costs or by means of cooperation which privileges the synergies and innovation sharing.

The taking into account of the polycentric dimension of the cross-border metropolitan regions is part of the logic building on the work carried out within the framework of the METROBORDER project in particular. To date, our analyses, based primarily on the cases of Luxembourg, Geneva and Basel, have examined cross-border metropolitan integration on the basis of socio-economic relations between a metropolitan centre and a cross-border periphery subject to a process of periurbanisation. The expansion of our field of study now leads us to take into consideration polycentric contexts, such as the cases of Vienna-Bratislava (Austria-Slovakia) or Copenhagen-Malmö (Denmark-Sweden). In what way does the polycentric character of these cross-border regions constitute a benefit or a barrier to their development? Is the networking of multiple urban centres able to compensate for the absence of a true metropolis on a European scale within the cross-border regions? These questions will be studied in detail within the framework of our POLYCE project (ESPON) which concerns specifically polycentric metropolitan development in central Europe (Bratislava, Budapest, Ljubljana, Prague and Vienna).

Importance of the concept of the border

Ultimately, the research carried out within the two above sub-themes feeds into reflections on the concept of the border and the changes in economic and political significance which accompany the profound recomposition of geographical frameworks. Following the reinforcement of mechanisms of regional integration and the acceleration in the process of globalisation, the traditional functions carried out by national borders have changed profoundly. From the limit of territorial sovereignty playing a key role in the protection of nation states, the control of flows of goods, people and money and the differentiation of political and economic systems, the intra-European border now appears more as an interface encouraging contacts and exchanges. On the basis of this observation, the Metrolux team favours two paths of thought.

First, the abolition of the barrier functions of certain borders are accompanied by a change in significance, one of the most spectacular aspects being that the borders now appear potential resources for border cities and regions and not only as hindrances. Given these changes, one can ask in particular about what the conditions are which allow actors to benefit from these borders. To what extent do the opportunities generated by borders outweigh the restrictions they impose? Who benefits the most and with what ultimate effects in terms of cross-border regional integration?

Second, the opening of national borders does not however mean that they disappear. In fact, the deactivation of certain control and filtering measures is accompanied by their reapplication in other locations, at other levels and in other ways. This process of debordering/rebordering, which views borders not as a fixed line but rather as a process, ultimately puts into question the foundations of territorial recomposition at work: what interpretation can be given to these territories which emerge along decoupled borders with variable geometries?

<< back