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France/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.5 Cross-border intercultural dialogue and co-operation

The European territorial authorities situated in border areas (cities, regions, provinces, intercommunalities, urban areas and conurbations, etc.) developed numerous networks and cooperative projects with their counterpart authorities located on the other side of the border, which led to the formation of groupings and organisations commonly named "euroregions". These dynamics were, on the one hand, encouraged by the policies of the Council of Europe in favour of cross-border cooperation (in particular the Madrid Convention in 1981 and its additional protocols) and, on the other hand, they were supported by the financing of the regional policy of the European Union (INTERREG programmes in particular).

In France, eleven regions, out of the twenty two mainland regions, share a border with a foreign country: Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Andorra and Monaco. The cross-border relations are thus numerous and are often linked to cultural, historic and linguistic reasons that illustrate the evolution of the frontiers between European States through history (Flanders, Alsace-Lorraine, Bavaria, Swiss and Italian Alps, Catalonia, Pyrenees…).

French overseas regions and départments are also involved in cross-border areas, as for example in the transnational programmes of the European Union for the Caribbean Area (French West Indies and Guiana) or for the Indian Ocean Area (Réunion and Mayotte). In 2011, an Inter-Guiana Cultural Festival was jointly organised by French Guiana, Suriname and Guyana, to celebrate the Inter-American year of Culture in Suriname (within the framework of the Organisation of American States).

According to a study on cross-border cultural cooperation (La coopération culturelle transfrontalière. Une étude sur les projets culturels transfrontaliers dans le programme Interreg III A, by Michael Stange, Relais Culture Europe and Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière:, in France cultural projects represented 17% of the budget and 15% of the projects within the cross-border programmes INTERREG for 2000-2006. More widely, one study commissioned by the European Commission (Study on the contribution of culture to local and regional development – Evidence from the Structural Funds: estimated that the cultural projects represent 6 billion EUR within the whole EU regional policy for 2007-2013, that is 1.7% of the funds allocated to this policy.

We can distinguish three main dimensions in the mobilisation of arts and culture euroregional organisations:

  • Historic-heritage-dimension, which refers to common historical and heritage cultural features that can be different from the "national" ones of the State (for instance in the Basque Country, Catalonia, Savoy, Alsace and Lorraine, the Flemish North, County of Nice, etc): touring exhibitions and projects on the common heritage and history, promotion of regional languages and cultures that are shared on both sides of the border.
  • Event-dimension, in the perspective of territorial marketing. The cross-border events can be diverse, with in particular festivals: literary festival along the Jura mountains border, festival of the Romantic routes and cross-border Paminale Festival in the Upper Rhine, dance festival in the Basque Eurocity Bayonne-San Sebastian, festival Transphotographiques on the French-Belgian border, and collaboration between festivals in Girona and Perpignan on the French-Spanish border. Other types of events are literary or artistic prizes, or occasional events: concerts, exhibitions, and all sorts of cultural operations that allow for the communication and promotion of the euroregional partnership.
  • Networking-dimension, which refers both to the constitution of professional and sectorial networks strictly speaking and, more generally, to the networking between authorities, institutions and audiences: official cultural declaration and conferences in the euroregion of the Upper Rhine; artistic residences and tours; structures and places such as the cross-border park Pamina-Rhine, the cross-border École du spectateur between France and Belgium, the cross-border dance studio of Biarritz, the Orchestra of Grande Région, Youth Orchestra of the Catalan countries, and, also, cross-border cultural routes. Networking tools exist like cross-border passes for museums or libraries (Upper-Rhine museum pass for example), digital platforms and web sites (site LEAD-Linked Euroregion Arts Development between Kent, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Belgian regions), and common cultural guides. There are also cross-border television programmes, such as those that were developed by France 3 since the 1980s in the regions Alsace and Lorraine, Aquitaine and Poitou-Charentes, Brittany and Pays de Loire, Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

For the period 2007-2013, territorial cooperation became a mainstream objective of EU regional policy and benefited from an increased budget. A legal status was created in 2006 in EU law to allow a better structuring of partnerships in a common and single entity, and a stabilisation of the cooperation: the status of European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC). The Council of Europe launched a similar instrument in 2009 in the third additional protocol of the Madrid Convention: the Euroregional Cooperation Grouping (ECG).

Several euroregions illustrate a certain impact of these evolutions on cross-border cultural cooperation. Since its creation in 2004, the euroregion Pyrenées-Méditerranée on the French-Spanish eastern border placed cultural and artistic initiatives in its main lines of action: launching of specific calls for projects, creation of an internet cultural portal, support to cultural networks and routes, adoption of the status of EGCT, which allowed for mutualisation of the budget of the cross-border cultural projects. The Grande Région (Greater Region), that comprises the great-duchy of Luxembourg, the French region Lorraine, the German Länder of Rhineland-Palatinate and Saar, and the Belgian federal entities of Wallonia, was fully associated with the city of Luxembourg as European Capital of Culture in 2007. It became the first cross-border European cultural capital and in 2008, the members of the euroregion decided to create a specific and permanent body dedicated to cultural cooperation: the Espace culturel Grande Région. The emerging euroregions Alpes-Méditerranée (French-Italian border) and Aquitaine-Euskadi (Western French-Spanish borders), emphasise cultural policy in their projects of cooperation.

In the framework of the forthcoming EU programmes for 2014-2020, new initiatives are surely going to further advance the cultural and territorial construction of Europe.

For more information, see our Intercultural Dialogue section.

Chapter published: 17-07-2018

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