Academic journal article Trames

Estonia-Southern Finland Cross-Border Region: What Kind of Cross-Border Integration Is Taking Place? an Analysis from Experts in Cross-Border Cooperation

Academic journal article Trames

Estonia-Southern Finland Cross-Border Region: What Kind of Cross-Border Integration Is Taking Place? an Analysis from Experts in Cross-Border Cooperation

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The institutional and policy analysis of cross-border cooperation (CBC) depicts a landscape with different developmental stages across the European map, and the evaluation of European programmes impacts on this territory (Medeiros 2011). However, European cross-border cooperation also takes place on a day-to-day basis with the cross-border traffic of thousands of ordinary citizens whose activities bring transnational spaces into being, and both of these processes are interconnected.

There are different forms of cooperation across border regions. Cross-border relationships between citizens, commuters and companies are a significant factor in the study of how cross-border regions may emerge as a continuum of sociability, identity and/or entrepreneurial activity. Institutional cross-border cooperation and its actors (professionals and institutions) are the official form of this cross-border cooperation, and they are relevant to a top-down view of the continuum in political and socio-economic policies across the border regions. In this case, we focus on the study of cross-border relationships between people, known as experts, who have specific experience of working in institutional cross-border cooperation. This analysis reveals the twofold nature of cross-border cooperation, both formal and informal, uncovering interesting patterns of integration-building in the cross-border regions which have turned them into true laboratories of European integration.

Using a social capital approach, and especially social network analysis, we examined the type of cross-border social capital among those who, due to their professional profiles, are very closely involved in cross-border cooperation, i.e., experts in that field. To this purpose, two main dimensions of social capital were explored. Firstly, the cognitive dimension of social capital was analysed through a variety of measures. Secondly, to investigate the structural dimension of social capital we analysed the experts' personal networks. Our study focused on the cross-border regions of Southern Finland and Estonia, characterized by intense cross-border traffic (Jakobson et al. 2012, Gonzalez-Gomez 2014).We hope that our findings will encourage further, similar research in other cross-border regions, and help to relate the study of cross-border social capital to the process of European integration.

2. Finnish-Estonian institutional cross-border cooperation

There have been four distinct phases in the historical development of European CBC (Gonzalez, Guimera and Perkmann 2010). The initial period began in the late 1950s, with the Nordic countries taking the initiative, and their local governments as prime movers. A second period saw the emergence of the first legal instruments for cooperation at the European level. A third stage witnessed the injection of European structural funds in the framework of the EU community programme Interregs, and this stage proved a turning point, with significant expansion of cross-border regions and cross-border cooperation structures thereafter, especially in Eastern Europe.

Finnish-Estonian cross-border cooperation took shape in this latter period, though historically relationships between the two countries have always been very strong. Prior to contact being severed during the Soviet period, Estonia and Finland kept up a diverse network of institutional relations through the activities of Estonian-Finnish associations and friendships, formed at the beginning of the 20th century, such as the Soome Eesti Liit (Suomalais-Virolainen Liitto), the Eesti-Soome Uliopilasklubi (Virolais-Suomalainen Ylioppilasklubi), etc. This cross-border activity nourished the later flourishing growth of shared Finnish-Estonian initiatives during the last decade of the Soviet and Estonian transition, such as the Tuglas Society, an Estonian-Finnish friendship association (Rausmaa 2008).

Relations between Finland and the second Republic of Estonia were restored in the mid-1990s and have increased considerably since then. …

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