raphaël lepot, lobbyist for limburg: having better cross-border rail links is an important part of european policy for border regions

“It was my idea to invite EurekaRail to a workshop on cross-border cooperation at the annual conference of the Association of Netherlands Provinces (IPO) in Brussels. The current hot topics in Brussels are combined in EurekaRail. Because IPO came to Brussels for the first time this year, the audience included not only Dutch provincial administrators and councillors but also their European colleagues. “I saw them making a lot of contributions,” says Raphaël Lepot, lobbyist in Brussels for the province of Limburg, “EurekaRail is after all fulfilling the ambitions of the European Commission”.

About his work as a lobbyist, Lepot says: “I’m just a civil servant. Liaising between Limburg and Belgium and Europe, I build up my knowledge, bring Limburg’s agenda to the attention of Brussels and am the first point of contact in Brussels for the province.” Limburg despatched a ten-strong delegation to the IPO conference to gather as much knowledge as possible. Usually, the provinces rotate the hosting of the conference annually. This year, Brussels was chosen to coincide with the “European week of Regions and Cities 2018“. This made it possible to network with colleagues from local and regional authorities from all over Europe over the preceding days.

Hot topics in Brussels

The provinces take care of the conference programme, working in teams of two. “Cross-border cooperation” was the theme for Limburg and Zeeland. Lepot continues: “There are currently two hot topics in Brussels in the area of cross-border cooperation. First, the new Interreg funding programme for 2021-2027 which promotes cooperation at Europe’s internal borders. A new legal mechanism is also being developed to make it possible, within a cross-border project, to apply the rules of one country to the whole project. As soon as we knew what the theme was, I immediately thought of EurekaRail. The story of EurekaRail shows how you can literally connect border cities within a short period of time, provided you have administrative commitment on both sides of the border and EU support”.

“All ears”

The EurekaRail workshop was the first at the conference to be oversubscribed. In addition to representatives of the Dutch provinces, MEP Matthijs van Miltenburg and representatives of DG REGIO and DG MOVE of the European Commission attended the presentation. “The attendees were all ears when they heard that you can achieve so much in such a short time,” says Lepot. “The EurekaRail method has proved to be very successful and therefore attractive to other border provinces in the Netherlands and throughout Europe. It is not at all easy in practice to identify missing links with administrators and civil servants across borders and drum up support for solutions. We know too little about what’s going on across the border and how people think and work there. How is administration organised there and how does the decision-making process work? As a lobbyist, I forge links between these political worlds.”

Growth on the border brings in billions for the region

“From a regional perspective, there is enormous economic potential in cross-border cooperation. Making it easy to work, study and use facilities across the border has the potential to generate billions for the border area and Limburg is right in the middle. Fast, reliable international trains with a simple ticketing system make a direct contribution to labour mobility and the business climate. I myself travel between Brussels and Maastricht by train every week. Every time I have to cancel an appointment because I’ve missed the connection in Liège, I dream of a direct intercity service. Project leader Mike Lücker made an impression by painting a picture of three different ticket machines at Maastricht station, one each for NS (the Dutch train operator), Arriva and SNCB (the Belgian train operator). We can do all this so much better as a government!”

Make the EU real and be ambitious

“The EurekaRail story, as recounted during the workshop, helps to show citizens what “Europe” is doing for them. Good examples like EurekaRail help to make Europe real, especially now that the European elections are coming up again next year! International cooperation with EU support makes a big difference in border areas. We need only think, for example, of the problems that border residents have had with roaming charges because their telephones went over to a German or Belgian network unnoticed. This was solved at European level last year by abolishing these costs within the EU. But, together, we need to be even more ambitious in Europe. It’s actually too crazy for words that we will only now have the first three-country train that directly connects Aachen, Maastricht and Liège.”