Transdisciplinary Discourses on Cross-Border Cooperation in Europe

by Joachim Beck (Volume editor)
©2019 Edited Collection 566 Pages
Series: Euroclio, Volume 107


In the context of European integration, cross-border cooperation has become increasingly important. Following both the quantitative and qualitative expansion of this policy-field, it has repeatedly been the subject of scientific analysis in the past. However, as a result of the classical differentiation of the scientific system, it was mostly viewed from a monodisciplinary perspective. This publication aims at the foundation of a trans-disciplinary research approach in the field of European cross-border cooperation. It takes the multi-dimensional reality of practical territorial cooperation in Europe as a starting point and develops a transdisciplinary scientific approach. Based on a common analytic frame of reference, practical patterns of cross-border policy-making in different European border regions are analyzed from the integrated theoretical perspectives of various scientific disciplines: Political Science, Geography, Sociology, History, Law, Cultural Sciences and Socio-Linguistics, Economics and Administrative Science. The scientific conceptualizations are expanded by reports from practitioners coming from different institutional and functional levels of European cross-border policy-making.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Cross-border cooperation in Europe as an object in transdisciplinary research. An introduction (Joachim Beck)
  • Part 1: Cross-border cooperation from the perspective of selected scientific disciplines
  • Political sciences and geography
  • Cross-border cooperation in political science (Kristina Zumbusch / Roland Scherer)
  • Borders and cross-border cooperation in Europe from a perspective of political sciences (Hynek Böhm)
  • Borders and cross-border cooperation. A political and geographical point of view (Bernard Reitel / Fabienne Leloup)
  • Sociology
  • Borders and cross-border cooperation in Europe from a sociological perspective (Philippe Hamman)
  • Examining aspects of cross-border cooperation from a sociological standpoint. Contributing to a toolbox of transdiciplinary analysis in the social sciences (Cédric Duchêne-Lacroix)
  • History
  • Borders, objects of historical studies. Case-studies from the Upper Rhine and Catalan Region in the West and from Central and Eastern Europe (Birte Wassenberg / Martine Camiade / Katarzyna Stokłosa)
  • Law
  • The diffusion of legal systems in the cooperation of cross-border public entities (Marcin Krzymuski / Peter Ulrich)
  • Cross-border cooperation in the field of EU Energy Policy. Legal tools for an effective transnational space of access to energy (Frédérique Berrod / Louis Navé)
  • Cultural Studies
  • Cross-border cooperation as practice formation. Perspectives for an alternative research approach (Christian Wille / Ulla Connor)
  • Borders and cross-border cooperation. The Vision of sociolinguistics (Jordi Cicres)
  • Economic Sciences
  • Cooperation and borders: the economic approach (Hansjörg Drewello / Jean-Alain Héraud)
  • Administrative Sciences
  • Cross-border cooperation from the perspective of Administrative Science (Joachim Beck)
  • Part 2: Inter-disciplinary and multi-level challenges of cross-border cooperation from a practical perspective
  • Placing cross-border cooperation at the core of Europe – The view from the European Committee of the Regions (Karl-Heinz Lambertz)
  • When border regions have wind in their sails ‒ A short history of the European Commission’s communication “Boosting Growth and Cohesion in EU Border Regions” (Nathalie Verschelde)
  • Challenges of cross-border cooperation from a practical perspective: people-to-people projects as Europe-building tool (Pavel Branda / Hynek Böhm)
  • Planning across borders ‒ space, time and narratives (Jean Peyrony)
  • The EGTC Eurodistrict PAMINA. A facilitator of cross-border cooperation (Patrice Harster)
  • Cross-border impact assessment as a bottom-up tool for better regulation (Martin Unfried / Lavinia Kortese)
  • A transdisciplinary approach to cross-border cooperation: A dream? My experiences at the Euro-Institut and within the Transfrontier Euro-Institut Network (TEIN) (Anne Thevenet)
  • Part 3: Conclusions and perspectives
  • A North American view on Transdisciplinary discourses in border studies (Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly)
  • Prospects of cross-border cooperation in Europe – some building blocks for a transdisciplinary research agenda (Joachim Beck / Birte Wassenberg)
  • About the authors
  • Series Index

← 12 | 13 →


Cross-border cooperation in Europe as an object in transdisciplinary research. An introduction

Joachim BECK

The history of Europe can be understood as one of constantly shifting borders. During its development, Europe has only seen a few phases in which borders, as symbols of political administrative spheres of organization, were stable for protracted periods and hence neither provided reasons for nor sites for conflict. In addition to their linguistic, cultural, geographical, economic, and human dimensions, borders throughout Europe invariably were symbols of state rule, notably in the wake of the formation of nation states. In addition to state authority and its constitutive population in the so-called Three Elements Theory, borders form an integral part of the conventional definition of the state as external boundaries of state territory. Hence, until the beginning of the post-1945 European integration process, borders right across Europe were to become synonymous with closed-mindedness and barriers; securing them constituted a crucial task for the state.

Hence, approaches aimed at promoting cooperation between actors across existing national borders in Europe have been receiving particular attention in both science and praxis, especially since World War II. Cross-border cooperation, and the implied change in function from a closed to an open border, was from a very preliminary stage understood as a micro-foreign policy, deliberately differentiated from other forms of cooperation that had been intensified at the nation-state level after the World War II across Europe. The earliest beginnings of such cross-border cooperation between directly adjoining states date back to the 1950s. It is interesting to note therein that in addition to actors at a municipal level, social and economic actors in particular were also involved who, in the wake of ← 13 | 14 → World War II, at least in Western Europe, began to develop direct forms of rapprochement. A textbook example of such bottom-up cooperation that evolved would be the Regio Basiliensis, the tri-border region between Germany, France, and Switzerland. But even in the German-Dutch relationship, forms of cooperation had already been developed on a decentralized level from as early as the 1950s. It was only relatively recently that this form of transnational cooperation was also recognized by nation states. Hence, cooperation on this level was only officially recognized and supported as of the 1970s, by dint of inter-governmental agreements and the establishment of appropriate mixed government commissions. Similarly, at the European Union level, active promotion of cross-border cooperation took place at a relatively late stage. For all intents and purposes, it was only with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the ensuing abolishment of the dividing line cutting right through Europe as of the 1990s that the European Union vigorously took up the issue of cross-border cooperation and embarked on promoting structural policy through a programmatic approach. In fact, the Council of Europe, with the so-called Madrid Convention in the 1980s, had laid down the essential foundations for recognizing and structuring decentralized cross-border cooperation, constantly shaping it through additional conventions. Real expansion of cross-border cooperation, however, as an independent policy field, did not unfold until the implementation of corresponding European funding programs. The 1970s and 1980s were equally characterized by a formal enhancement of cross-border cooperation, in which, for example, government commissions, working groups, bilateral state cooperation, as well as Euro-regional forms of cooperation were shaped. Policy approaches taken within the framework of this transnational institutional formation, however, were severely impacted by an implementation deficit, whose causes, inter alia, were the fact that no independent budgets were made available for the voluntary policy field of cross-border cooperation. In this regard, European funding policy has contributed to an enduring upgrading and differentiation of cross-border policies. If currently there are more than sixty program-spaces in the context of European territorial cooperation, each of which develops and implements specific action plans in the form of concrete projects, one can observe that cross-border cooperation in its current guise ‒ unlike that in its formative years ‒ is definitely more than pure gesture politics. Cross-border cooperation approaches increasingly deal with everyday issues of the thereby affected border populations and/or ← 14 | 15 → the need for action of an increasingly integratively understood functional cross-border cooperation and development area.

Cross-border cooperation has hence been repeatedly the focus of scientific analysis. Important to note is that cross-border cooperation, following the classical differentiation in the scientific system, was mostly viewed from a mono-disciplinary perspective. Furthermore, within the various disciplines there were only isolated scientists who had devoted themselves to the field of cross-border cooperation – often against the background of their individual concerns and mostly within research focused on European integration. Within established scientific and research spheres, the field of cross-border cooperation generally was merely a secondary aspect, however. Moreover, cross-border cooperation has only recently found its way into curricular forms of academic education and training, and here again, just predominantly in the form of specializations, or as sub-modules of corresponding Master and Bachelor programs oriented toward European integration. Traditionally, geographical, legal, and historical research work in particular have substantiated cross-border cooperation from its beginnings and throughout its various stages of development. It is only recently that politics, economics, and cultural studies, as well as sociology and sociolinguistics, have begun to concentrate on cross-border cooperation in Europe.

From a methodological standpoint, what is striking is that studies focusing on cross-border cooperation are very often restricted to specific border regions. A plethora of territorial case studies exist which analyse the genesis, institutional characteristics, and material outcomes of cross-border practices. Comparative studies, as well as papers contributing to theory formation from territorial case studies, are less pronounced, however. Cross-border cooperation, as a subject of scientific analysis, is in general more likely to be characterized by high territorial and mono-disciplinary fragmentation. An original theory of cross-border cooperation in Europe is, to date, still largely lacking. This can be explained by the fact that cross-border cooperation is still frequently understood by those actors engaged in the field as something rather pragmatic and in many cases as a once-off affair. Correspondingly, there has in practical terms been a relatively low demand for prescriptive know-how as routinely furnished by the scientific system – in the past at any rate. Research in relation to cross-border cooperation can hitherto be differentiated into two levels: The first, into scientific works, which deal in a relatively abstract way with the phenomenology of the border itself; and a second into those ← 15 | 16 → approaches, which more closely adhere to an applied understanding of science, focusing on selected aspects of cross-border cooperation, and often following an approach based on scientific advice.

In order to close this methodological gap, a pluridisciplinary research cycle was initiated between 2010 and 2014 under the auspices of the PEAP (Pôle Européen d’Administration Publique de Strasbourg), in which scientists from various disciplines exchanged views over a series of events with practitioners from various border regions throughout Europe with regard to practical and conceptual issues in cross-border cooperation. This research cycle, scientifically coordinated by the University of Strasbourg and the Euro-Institute, resulted in a total of six publications that impressively demonstrate the diversity and complexity of practical challenges, conceptual foundations, and scientific perspectives (Wassenberg, 2010; Wassenberg, Beck, 2011a, 2011b; Beck, Wassenberg, 2011, 2013, 2014). At a research symposium initiated by the University of Strasbourg, an initial attempt was made to cast light on the field of cross-border cooperation from a more integrative viewpoint. Practitioners from various disciplines have therein applied their respective hypothesis and methodological approaches to the field of cross-border cooperation (Wassenberg, 2014).

Building on these two research cycles, the publisher of this volume, once again sponsored by the PEAP and logistically supported by the Euro-Institute between 2016 and 2018, undertook a research project focusing on cross-border cooperation across Europe from an integratively interdisciplinary perspective consider. Twelve scientists from fourteen different European universities and colleges have been collaborating on the question of how the field of cross-border cooperation can be structured and further developed from an interdisciplinary perspective. Hence, the research project has followed one of the overriding conclusions from the above-mentioned research cycle, namely, the recognition that research on cross-border cooperation, particularly in epistemological terms, requires that researchers from the various disciplinary and science-cultural backgrounds should in the first instance develop a shared understanding of their research topic (cf. Casteigts, 2014). Research on cross-border cooperation should therefore be conceived both from an interdisciplinary and an intercultural perspective, if the research fully aspires to do justice to both the complexity and the diverse causal implications of its subject matter. ← 16 | 17 →

Against such a background, a threefold methodological approach was selected for the purposes of the present research project, the results of which are summarized in this volume: first, scientists involved in the field of cross-border cooperation were asked to articulate questions from their respective monodisciplinary perspectives and, where based on appropriate single-disciplinary theories, to formulate hypotheses that would explain identified real world patterns of cross-border cooperation. At the close of 2017, a research colloquium was held at the Euro-Institute to present and discuss these monodisciplinary perspectives on the topic of cross-border cooperation.

As a second step, the publisher subsequently developed a structuring approach to the field, which targeted seven empirically observable challenges in practical terms with regard to cross-border cooperation, and for which the practitioners from the assembled disciplines sought to formulate theoretical explanatory approaches. The objective was to develop an integrative perspective and to reach the first interdisciplinary conclusions on this basis. The following challenges were discussed in detail (cf. Beck, 2014):

1. Developing functional equivalences between different politico-administrative systems: How to develop functional interfaces that allow for successful cooperation between partners/systems coming from different domestic/functional backgrounds with regard to the distribution of power and resources, professional profiles, and sometimes even the scope and the legitimacy for transnational action as such?

2. Creating effective knowledge-management for the cross-border territory: How to generate and use valid information about not only characteristics, real world problems but also potentialities of a cross-border territory from a 360° perspective; how to base future action on a sound and integrated empirical basis, thus avoiding a negative “garbage-can model” practice of cross-border policy making (ad hoc solutions developed by individual actors, based on individual preferences in search for an ex post justification and a real world problem).

3. Transferring competencies from principals to agents: How to reduce the dependency of cross-border actors and policy-making on the respective domestic context by identifying fields of cross-border action that can be best implemented by a transfer of real administrative and functional competence from the national jurisdictions to cross-border ← 17 | 18 → bodies with sufficient administrative, financial and personnel capacity; how to design decision-processes in this regard?

4. Optimizing interaction between actors: How to turn confrontation between different cultures, attitudes, expectations, assumptions, values, interests, etc., into a productive working context, which would enable that mutual blockages be avoided, and instead foster the development of innovation and real added-values; how to integrate actors representing different sectors (public, private, societal) and cultures into existing patterns and structures of cooperation; how to create and manage inter-sectoral synergies from a cross-border perspective?

5. Finding the right level of organization and legal structure: How to find the right degree of institutionalization and the appropriate legal form for different cross-border tasks by developing a good balance between open network and classical organizational approaches whenever structuring the cross-border working context; how to avoid both institutional sclerosis and informal/individual arbitrariness?

6. Apprehending and measuring value added and territorial impacts: How to pre-assess cross-border impacts of different policy-options before taking action on the preferred option; how to develop and inform specific indicators, allowing for a better demonstration of the specific value added of the integrated cross-border action compared to an action taken by neighboring jurisdictions separately?

7. Increasing sustainability beyond a simple multi-project approach: How to avoid multiple uncoordinated sectoral projects that would create fragmented cross-border activity for a certain time (funding) period only, by strengthening target-orientation and selectiveness of cross-border policy-development based on integrated (e.g. inter-sectoral) territorial development strategies.

Meanwhile, during the inter-disciplinary and inter-cultural discussion process, it soon became evident that most of those practicing individual disciplines were encountering difficulties interpreting all seven dimensions from an original mono-disciplinary approach. Their exchanges revealed that those scientists already involved in cross-border cooperation generally do not proceed strictly from a mono-disciplinary approach, but instead use theories and methods from diverse (neighboring) disciplines in the process. This rendered it highly difficult to pursue the original idea of a purely individual disciplinary perspective on cross-border cooperation. Furthermore, the seven dimensions did not consistently reflect issues ← 18 | 19 → raised by practitioners of the scientific disciplines that convened to undertake the research. In this respect, a separate structure (analytical grid) was developed in close collaboration, which enabled all participating disciplines to avail of theoretical perspectives on the field of cross-border cooperation. The analytical grid structure covered four levels:

1. In an introduction, the participating scientists were asked first of all to describe the relevance, perception, and definitions of the concept of “border” and “cross-border-cooperation” from a (main) disciplinary perspective. Here, the objective was to formulate from a cross-disciplinary perspective, in as differentiated a manner as possible, a working basis for the spectrum of both core concepts that are pivotal to the field.

2. On a second level, a conceptual framing of borders and cross-border cooperation from the viewpoint of the (main) discipline took place. Here, the objective was to arrive at the most differentiated theory-based interpretation of the field, and thereby, to present single-disciplinary perspectives in detail. This part has been separated into two sub-levels:

a. Firstly, key theoretical/conceptual assumptions of the (main) discipline which have already been applied to cross-border cooperation should be presented in detail in the form of a short literature review on the state-of-the-art of disciplinary research/writings on borders and on cross-border cooperation.

b. Secondly, opportunities have been given to develop additional key theoretical/ conceptual assumptions of the (main) discipline on this basis, which have not yet been applied to cross-border cooperation, but which are promising from an inter-disciplinary perspective (new research questions and/or specific research focus by the author(s)).

3. The third analytical level focused on how to interpret the basic characteristics of cross-border cooperation from a (main) disciplinary point of view. For this purpose, the authors were given the following four subject areas, for which they should develop theory-based explanatory models of their disciplinary research field, ideally with recourse to empirical evidence from existing studies and/or observations by those participating:

3.1. Formation/genesis; historical/political context; periodization; territorial/ thematic/cultural characteristics, etc.;

3.2. Actors (type, characteristics, training profile etc.); ← 19 | 20 →

3.3. Governance (structures, inter-cultural and inter-institutional relations, procedures, type of interaction/decision-making, etc.);

3.4. Outcomes (programs, projects, instruments, policies, strategies, identification, acculturation, etc.).

4. Finally, the fourth level focused on the requirement to perform an inter-disciplinary outlook from the perspective of the (main) discipline, and to formulate additional research questions.

The analysis grid structure has been designed in such a way that participating scientists can use empirical findings from their border area/s to validate theoretical premises. The research project’s third methodological feature was that selected practitioners were also asked to prepare experience based interdisciplinary challenges on cross-border cooperation. This enabled the research project to integrate another critical aspect, namely, the praxeological foundation for issues at stake in the field. A special added value can be seen in the fact that practitioners reflect on the nature of cross-border cooperation from the various institutional and thematic levels and concerns. These contributions skillfully reflect how cross-border cooperation constitutes an example of European multi-level policy. An interesting arc of suspense has also emerged, notably in connection with the scientific contributions’ practical references from a conceptual standpoint.

The results documented in this publication of the above-outlined research project on cross-border cooperation in Europe reveal a scientific understanding as described in recent literature as trans-disciplinarity (Mittelstraß, 2005; Waag, 2012, Bogner, Kastenhofer, Torgensen, 2010; Hirsch, Hadorn et al., 2008). This refers to a scientific approach that seeks to overcome conventional technical and disciplinary differentiations, which in academic spheres are unfailingly characterized by historically evolving institutional boundaries and their ensuing cognitive limits. Unlike most interdisciplinary approaches, the impetus for such trans-disciplinary research and work usually arises as a result of extra-scientific problems and questions. Within the concept, Mittelstraß (2005, p. 5ff) methodically differentiates between a more theoretical trans-disciplinarity, which arises from solving inner-scientific issues, and a practical trans-disciplinarity, which refers to issues generated by other social subsystems than by the scientific system itself. And again, in contrast to conventional interdisciplinary approaches, this approach is ← 20 | 21 → marked by how individual subject disciplines apply their own findings to a common object of investigation in terms of trans-disciplinarity; these, however, do not themselves alter in terms of their scientific and methodological forms. Rather, the integrative moment does not refer to the largely unrealistic expectation in many interdisciplinary approaches, namely, that scientific cooperation should necessarily develop original, innovative, and integrated theories, but rather confine itself to the more pragmatic use of existing theoretical and methodological approaches of the participating disciplines themselves. By way of contrast, practical trans-disciplinarity is integrative in nature in that it refers to a jointly interpreted and structured object of investigation, whose motive is again characterized by a praxeological scientific interest.

Such a scientific approach seems particularly suitable for cross-border cooperation. As the contributions presented in this volume have demonstrated, it is already possible to identify scientific interests that transcend disciplines on the level of individual scientists. And yet, cross-border co-operation, especially in recent times, is increasingly characterized by the fact that those actors conducting experimental and pilot experiences are seeking a conceptual as well as theoretical foundation from which prescriptive action knowledge can emerge for prospective thematic structures in the field. The concept of a praxis-based trans-disciplinarity seems particularly viable in this context. The contributions in this volume seek to lead us toward an enriched understanding of the subject.

As coordinator of the above-described project and as editor of this anthology, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my colleagues who were willing to embark on this adventure of a trans-disciplinary and inter-institutional learning process. My special thanks go to Anne Hofmann at the Euro Institute, who supported the project logistically. I would also like to thank the PEAP, without whose financial support the present publication would never have come to fruition. I would also like to especially thank the participating practitioners of cross-border cooperation for having taken the necessary time to reflect on their practice-related sphere of influence from the point of view of trans-disciplinarity. Given that cross-border cooperation, as an object of scientific research, is still largely characterized by an empirical deficit, their contributions represent a significant additional benefit toward a better understanding of the importance of cross-border cooperation for the further process of European integration. In this sense, we can only hope that approaches to practical trans-disciplinarity will also be taken ← 21 | 22 → more into consideration for any future research projects with a European and transnational bearing.

The present publication is structured into three sections. Section one presents the scientific contributions on the issue of borders and cross-border-cooperation of authors representing different disciplines. Section two presents contributions from actors involved in the practical dimensions of cross-border policy-making in Europe and who reflect the issue from different institutional perspectives. Section three contains a contextualization of the first two sections, firstly from the point of view of a comparative transatlantic perspective and secondly with regard to the structuration of further research in the field of cross-border cooperation.

The contributions of this volume gather authors from different scientific but also cultural backgrounds. It is on purpose, that the different contributions have not been fully harmonized with regard to formal standards, nor are the individual contributions claiming to be representative for the respective scientific discipline from an international point of view. By consequence, only a minimal formal harmonization has been carried out by the editor of this volume. Individual scientific priorities, on the other hand, have even been explicitly established and reviewed by the editors of the series, under which this volume is published at Peter Lang.

Strasbourg-Dabo-Kehl, 7.12.2018


WASSENBERG, B. (ed.) (2009). Grenzüberschreitende Zusammenarbeit erforschen und leben. Vol. 1. Französische Grenzregionen. Stuttgart: Steiner.

BECK, J., WASSENBERG, B. (eds.) (2011). Grenzüberschreitende Zusammenarbeit erforschen und leben. Vol. 2. Governance in den deutschen Grenzregionen. Stuttgart: Steiner, 363 p.

WASSENBERG, B., BECK, J. (eds.) (2011). Living and researching cross-border cooperation. Vol. 3. The European Dimension of Cross-border Cooperation. Stuttgart: Steiner, 339 p.

WASSENBERG, B., BECK, J. (eds.) (2011). Vivre et penser la coopération transfrontalière. Vol. 4. Les régions sensibles. Stuttgart: Steiner, 319 p. ← 22 | 23 →

BECK, J., WASSENBERG, B. (eds.) (2013). Grenzüberschreitende Zusammenarbeit erforschen und leben. Vol. 5. Integration und (trans-)regionale Identitäten. Stuttgart: Steiner, 350 p.

BECK, J., WASSENBERG, B. (eds.) (2014). Vivre et penser la coopération transfrontalière. Vol. 6. Vers une cohésion territoriale ? Stuttgart: Steiner, 377 p.


BECK, J. (2014). “The future of European Territorial Cohesion. Capacity-Building for a New Quality of Cross-Border Cooperation”. In J. Beck, B. Wassenberg (eds.). Vivre et penser la coopération transfrontalière. Vol. 6. Vers une cohésion territoriale ? Stuttgart: Steiner, 333-351.

BOGNER, A., KASTENHOFER, K., TORGERSEN, H. (eds.) (2010). Inter-und Transdisziplinarität im Wandel? Neue Perspektiven auf problemorientierte Forschung und Politikberatung. Baden-Baden: Nomos.

CASTEIGTS, M. (2014). “Pour un programme de recherches interdisciplinaires sur les dynamiques transfrontalières et la coopération territoriale. Enjeux épistémologiques et repères méthodologiques”. In J. Beck, B. Wassenberg (eds.), Vivre et penser la coopération transfrontalière. Vol. 6. Vers une cohésion territoriale ?, Stuttgart: Steiner, 305-331.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (April)
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2019, 562 pp., 13 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Joachim Beck (Volume editor)

Dr. Joachim Beck is Professor for Public Management, President elect at the University of Applied Sciences Kehl and Scientific Advisor of the Franco-German Euro Institute. He has written and edited several articles and books on Public Management, Cross-border Cooperation and Administrative Culture in Europe.


Title: Transdisciplinary Discourses on Cross-Border Cooperation in Europe