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Council of Cooperation between the border regions of the Republic of Estonia, Republic of Latvia and Russian Federation
by Ed Greenwoud
Ed Greenwood is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Põlva Estonia.
The Republic of Estonia, Republic of Latvia and Russian Federation have undergone massive changes in recent years and the abandonment of centrally planned economies has provided opportunities for entrepreneurs and the inflow of foreign investment. However, most of this investment has been centered on major urban areas, such as Tallinn, Riga, St. Petersburg and Moscow, and any significant impact has yet to reach rural border areas. Agricultural and rural economic development in these border regions is on a current low level caused by mistakes in land reform and the absence of open markets. During the past 50 years open communication and cooperation existed between these border areas, however in the beginning of the 90’s these economic and communication channels between the local authorities had been interrupted as the Republic of Estonia, Republic of Latvia and Russian Federation re-established their independence. New obstacles, both political and economical, were created at this time.
Implementation of cross border initiatives on the non-governmental level to promote common understanding, reconciliation and democratic developments is crucial for the region. This current lack of regional cooperation is the main obstacle for economic expansion and sustainable development. Cross border cooperation on technical issues such as customs and transport will only benefit all partners and help eliminate some obstacles for economic expansion. The creation of inter-regional communication channels can provide a forum to address these issues and help develop a network to facilitate the exchange of ideas and experiences. These communication channels can enable the rural peoples of this cross border region to obtain sustainable economic development by fostering coordination of regional efforts and the transfer of skills. The need for this type of inter-regional cooperation to address joint issues has already begun at the grassroots local level. Borders regions in Estonia, Latvia and Russia have started to coordinate their activities by seriously promoting regional cooperation.
The establishment of the Council of Cooperation between border regions of the Republic of Estonia, Republic of Latvia and Russian Federation has laid the foundation for important regional cooperation and will help contribute to the unified effort needed to successfully market the potential of this border region. Instead of each national border region fending for itself as in the recent past, this united approach will only help to further promote and develop the economic growth of the entire border area. While initial meetings were clouded by emotional thinking, the parties have moved beyond that stage and now are thinking logically and productively. Not only are real discussions taking place, but more importantly strong relationship between local authorities have been built that now reach beyond national borders. Once Tallinn, Riga and Moscow come to terms with official recognition of borders and the lessoning of double tariffs, this region will truly be able to reap the benefits from the cooperation already established.
This idea for a more meaningful collaboration between the border areas of Estonia, Latvia and Russia was initiated at the Baltic Countries Workshop in Karlskrona Sweden on March 27 – 28, 1996. The first meeting between local authorities of Põlva and Võru Counties in Estonia, Balvi and Aluksne Districts in Latvia and Pecory, Pskov and Palkino Districts in Russia was held on April 19 – 20, 1997 in Pskov, Russia. At this meeting a decision was made to form a cross-border cooperation council between local authorities from all three countries. At their next meeting in Põlva, Estonia on June 7, 1996 local authorities from these seven regions signed the statutes and regulations establishing the Council of Cross-border Cooperation. At a later meeting, Valga County in Estonia and Ludza District in Latvia also joined the Council. There are currently a total of nine counties and districts, three each in Estonia, Latvia and Russia, as full members of the Council.
Official documents have identified areas for future cooperation. Each of the members has one equal vote in the Council and all members of the Council must unanimously vote for a decision before it is approved. The Secretariat and working groups (transit, communications, small business development, culture and tourism) were established to improve the decision making process. These working groups collect, research and prepare information on related issues and then the Secretariat presents the draft documents to the Council for their input and vote. This important first step created the vehicle to guide the entire region towards successful and sustainable future economic development. While general long-range needs were identified, the next step is to develop more detailed initiatives for all priority areas. The successful methods and practices used in EU countries in developing Euro regions has been used as a model for the establishment and creation of this Council of Cross Border Cooperation.
The main goals of the Council of Cross Border Cooperation are the following: to represent the council members’ common interests in their local regions of authority as well as in international organizations. To establish a network of partners (local authorities, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations) to coordinate regional development activities and collaborate on joint regional programs and projects. To create an environment that fosters the exchange of ideas, methods, practices and experiences in order to help promote sustainable economic development and improve relationships between regional authorities. To support and optimize the process of pooling cross border resources together so that once the impact and benefits of a united regional approach are realized, conditions for further cooperation will continue at all levels. To utilize cross border cooperation to strengthen new democratic institutions developing in the region and promote further integration into European economic and social structures.
I personally have been able to attend meetings of the Council of Cross Border Cooperation and have seen this cooperation in action. The members of the Council are hard working and dedicated individuals who are committed to this border region. Their professionalism and determination not to let political games in Tallinn, Riga, and Moscow inhibit their activities have impressed me. This Council is a positive example of what can happen when people work together at the grassroots level towards a common goal. I have the utmost confidence that this Council will indeed have a beneficial impact and ultimately improve the lives of the local peoples from these border regions. I believe that this regional cooperation between local authorities will lead to sustainable economic growth that preserves the natural environment and unique cultural heritages of the region as well as reinforces economic and social cohesion across national borders.