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Borders of Comfort: Spatial Economic Bordering Processes in the European Union

The state governments of the European Union have agreed to relax the EU’s internal borders between the member states in order to further economic growth for the Union as a whole. The integration process is meant to create a unified and integrated economic space across the member states. Here state borders are viewed as ‘breaking’ and fragmenting economic space and thereby interrupting the potential network of market areas. Borders cause non-linear discontinuities and blockages in the crossborder flows of goods and services, and in the mobility of capital and labour by raising accessibility costs (European Commission, 1988). In contrast, the making of a United European ‘place’ is associated with concepts such as the ‘Single European Market’, the ‘Internal Market’, ‘Borderless Europe’, a ‘Europe of the Regions’, ‘Eu(ro)regions’, ‘Economic and Monetary Union’, ‘Euroland’, and so forth. Funding programmes are set up to make a reality of these imaginaries of spatial unification, focussing in particular on the enhancement of cross-border harmonization, cohesion and development, in initiatives like INTERREG, for example, which funds cross-border networking between actors in border regions. Currently the key word in the policy documents is solidarity (EC, 2000). The success of European spatial policy is seen to depend on solid partnerships, close cooperation and solidarity among the richer and poorer member-states and regions of the European Union. Economic and geographical studies of the EU integration process mostly argue that borders impede the free movement of information and activities, and hence should be seen as physical and institutional obstructions to smooth transfers which would result in higher levels of transnational integration and welfare (see for example, Ratti, 1993a, 1993b; EC, 1988). Studies focusing on the obstructive effects of borders are often concerned with strategies for ‘overcoming’ borders (see for example, Ratti, 1993a, 1993b;

van Houtum, 2000a, b). In short, the words ‘border’ and ‘barrier’ have become interchangeable in most of the economic and geographical discourse on European integration.