The French author Paul Lacroix once compared the idea of intending to unify Europe with an attempt at making an omelette without beating eggs. What is astonishing is that Lacroix already formed this view more than 170 years ago. If we today look back at not yet 20 years of transnational collaboration in the border triangle of Saxony, the Czech Republic and Poland, it almost appears that the clocks tick differently there, namely faster. For it is, without a doubt, impressive how many joint projects could be implemented between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic in the border region in a comparatively short time. Perhaps today you can build on a foundation, which as the economic triangle Saxony-Bohemia-Silesia once counted amongst the strongest and most dynamic regions of Europe, easier than elsewhere – despite the long prevailing economic, social and corporate differences. At least the positive development of the past just under two decades clarifies how strong the connections between the people of the living spaces on both sides of the border still are. A strong argument for that which is still to come.
As a consequence of Saxony’s geographical position, the development of the Free State itself is now more than ever influenced through processes beyond the almost 570-kilometre-long state border. If one considers the regional distribution of the resident population of Saxony, it is established that about one third thereof live in the regions close to the border. Furthermore the border region actually accounts for almost half the surface area of Saxony. After the EU expansion on 1 May 2004, the significance of transnational collaboration with the Czech Republic and Poland for Saxony expectedly increased again, and thus also found access to the rural development of the Free State. Therein Saxony has defined goals for the development of transnational cooperations for joint cross-border regional development plans and the preparation and implementation of joint concepts, without in doing so curtailing the cultural diversity of the European zone and the opportunities of all the participants. Thus in the recent EU structural funding period from 2000 to 2006, consequent to these plans, a significant portion of funding allocated to Saxony was also deployed for the development of this border region.
For the development of cross-border cooperation and the extension of neighbourly relationships Saxony has however, already for a long period received EU aid. Already since the beginning of the 1990s, the European Union has supported diverse projects, within the scope of the EU community initiative INTERREG, which further develops the common border zones to a sustainable economic and living environment as well as enhances the competitiveness of the Saxony-Czech and Saxony-Lower Silesia border regions. With the INTERREG III A programme, this development finds its continuation in the funding period 2007–2013 as an independent objective with the title “European territorial collaboration – cross-border collaboration” as well as in the “Operational Programme of the cross-border collaboration Saxony – Czechia – Poland 2007–2013”. The project funding granted therewith sets great demands on the quality of the cooperation between the partners on both sides of the border to actually design and implement sustainable territorial development.
This specific situation also naturally has grave consequences for the tasks of the Dresden Chamber of Industry and Commerce, whose chamber district is found in the direct neighbourhood of Poland and the Czech Republic, in the east bordering on the Polish Voivodships Dolnoslaskie (Lower Silesia) and Lubuskie (Lebus) with a length of 112 kilometres as well as in the south with a length of 205 kilometres bordering on the Czech Republic and the North Bohemian county.
Despite the fact that the multitude of businesses which have settled here only originated in their present form in the years following German reunification, the traditional economic ties between Saxony, Bohemia and Lower Silesia are still found here and have been revived by co-operation, service and marketing relationships.
Which formidable standards have already been met is already made clear by looking at the foreign trade statistics of Saxony. Under the top target regions of products and services from the Free State, Poland in 2008 ranked a brilliant second with almost 1.5 billion euros, solely outflanked by the USA. The Czech Republic after all came in at a remarkable seventh place with 1.2 billion. The southern neighbour in turn ranked right in front with 2.7 billion euros with the Saxony importations in the previous year: From Poland, products and services to the value of 1.3 billion euros were bought, which meant place three.
With their contact centres for Saxon-Czech economic cooperation in Dresden and Zittau as well as for the Saxon-Polish relationship in Görlitz, the Chamber has been initiating solid practical transnational economic promotion for many years, whether through the disclosure of variegated information, the holding of events, or the imparting of individual business contacts and the organization of bi- or tri-national projects.
That this commitment is making an impact has already been attested repeatedly by the regional organizations. So far, especially firms in the producing and mercantile trade could profit of cross-border business advantages. Practical distances – from all locations of the chamber district to the bordering neighbouring countries – represent no real obstacle, according to the information received from many organizations. Most likely the existing road infrastructure still presents barriers here. In future even more industries will most certainly belong to the profiteers on both sides of the border, as the region between Saxony, Poland and the Czech Republic aligns itself and reaches even greater economic integration.
With this progressive process, however, the competitive pressure on all the organizations in the tri-nation economic zone will also increase. For our Saxon firms, this could well bring greater challenges than for the Polish and Czech ones, which are still searching their position between cheaper or technological high-grade, but more cost-effective production. The intensive utilization of the available IHK (Chamber of Industry and Commerce) contact centres for economic cooperation, the realization of cooperation agreements of the Saxon chambers with those of the neighbouring countries, trans-national association projects, organizational networks and technology centres can and must actively and seminally accompany this process.
Despite the already achieved and at times also well-deserved pauses and reflecting, it must in force continuing to look ahead, to continue improving and to develop new potential. For ultimately, the three bordering countries and the EU will not without reason allow the significant costs of the development of theses border regions.
What exactly the future will bring, nobody knows, solid notions and expectations however no doubt exist. For instance, that the Euro region will be even more recognized as a collective region and likewise represent and develop to be attractive for entrepreneurs as much as for employees. The decisive topics may not be abstract discussions relating to competitors and the lowest wage and the highest subsidy, but rather the vibrancy of a development region with manifold potential. Therefore additional initiatives must be developed, which can in turn release momentum.
The author was born in Magdeburg in 1956 and studied economics in Leipzig. He obtained his doctorate at the Dresden University for Transport and Communications in 1986. He started his career as a research assistant, but in 1988 he switched to the Dresden electric machine company, VEM. Since 2003 Dr. Hamann has been CEO at the Dresden Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK).