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Obstacles to Cross-border Cooperation: a Strait Highlighted

Published the 16 July 2015

In the second quarter of 2015, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg's presidency of the Council of the European Union will focus on the theme of cross-border cooperation. In preparation for what will be a series of key exchanges on the subject, the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière – MOT (Cross-border Operational Mission) was tasked with carrying out a study identifying obstacles to cross-border cooperation in Europe, particularly at a judicial level. Pas-de-Calais County Council responded to the study's questionnaire, highlighting the obstacles to cooperation encountered in maritime areas: Dover Strait was subsequently cited in the study as an example.

Seas and oceans are often seen as impediments to cross-border cooperation, combining the physical difficulties associated with border crossings and a widespread feeling of separation from the neighbouring country. Perhaps more so than with other European borders, maritime frontiers remain obstacles to stakeholders from both shores ability to work together. At the heart of these areas, straits function as priority zones for cross-border exchange due to their geography, and as laboratories for maritime cross-border cooperation in Europe. However, numerous obstacles remain.

In its study examining judicial obstacles to cross-border cooperation in Europe, the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière (MOT) underlines the difficulties that may be encountered by cross-border initiatives as the result of poorly-adapted legislative systems. Maritime security in the Strait of Dover is an interesting example: the MIRG-EU (Maritime Incident Response Group), financed within the context of the cross-border cooperation programme INTERREG 2 Seas, saw its launch blocked by judicial obstacles on national and cross-border levels.

One primary obstacle was the jurisdictional zone at sea for fire services reacting to maritime accidents in the strait, as the sea border acts as a jurisdictional limit for national forces, preventing French firefighters from carrying out operation in English waters, and vice versa. A certain amount of procedural flexibility was therefore required, and joint training manoeuvres involving firefighters from both countries have allowed authorities to ensure consistent response scenarios in the event of an accident at sea.

The second obstacle observed was the scope of intervention for the Pas-de-Calais fire department, whose officers lacked the authorisation to combat fires aboard vessels at sea, despite being ideally situated for such events. This difficulty was overcome via the establishment of an operational partnership between the fire department of Pas-de-Calais and the marine firefighting unit based in Cherbourg, around 150 nautical miles from the strait.

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