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COHESION AND RESILIENCE IN CZECH-GERMAN BORDER REGIONS: THE IMPACTS OF CRISES

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The EU's cohesion policy aims at convergent development of the member states and their regions, including border regions. In consequence, cohesion trends are a prominent research object. However, the effects of crises and the role of resilience for border regions is a less prominent research object. Recent crises include the current pandemic, the refugee migration in 2015 and the financial crisis of post 2008. These crises put border regions in the focus of sensitive political discussions and raise questions on the convergence paths. Against this background, we combine the two concepts of cohesion and resilience at the example of the 2008 financial crisis at the example of Czech-German border regions. In addition, we position them in relation to other Czech border regions. Our argumentation is based on results from the project "Cohesion in border regions" (CoBo), which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
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COHESION AND RESILIENCE IN CZECH-GERMAN BORDER REGIONS:
THE IMPACTS OF CRISES
Stefan Hippe, Tobias Chilla
Abstract:
The EU's cohesion policy aims at convergent development of the member states and their regions,
including border regions. In consequence, cohesion trends are a prominent research object. However,
the effects of crises and the role of resilience for border regions is a less prominent research object.
Recent crises include the current pandemic, the refugee migration in 2015, and the financial crisis of
post 2008. These crises put border regions in the focus of sensitive political discussions and raise
questions on the convergence paths. Against this background, we combine the two concepts of
cohesion and resilience at the example of the 2008 financial crisis at the example of Czech-German
border regions. In addition, we position them in relation to other Czech border regions. Our
argumentation is based on results from the project "Cohesion in border regions" (CoBo), which is
funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Keywords:
Regional economic resilience, border studies, cohesion, economic convergence, financial crisis
JEL Classification: G01, O47, R11
1 INTRODUCTION
The European integration process is closely linked to the concept of cohesion. With its cohesion
policy, the EU strives for convergent development of the member states, in particular in the EU's
border regions. They are considered to be laboratories of Europe and the European idea is probably
most prominent at the borders of the member states (European Commission, 2021).
Externally emerging crises, such as the financial crisis in 2008 or the coronavirus crisis in 2020/2021,
occur more frequently and have a greater impact on global economies (Bonß, 2016). In recent years,
highly political issues, such as the refugee crisis, have led to increasing controversies between
political actors in Europe. Furthermore, they have an impact on cohesion processes in the EU (cf.
Fedajev et al., 2021; Gräbner et al., 2020; Martinho, 2021). In parallel, the concept of resilience is
increasingly attracting political, public and academic interest. When crises occur, national interests
often come to the fore (cf. Lara-Valencia & García-Pérez, 2021). Border regions, which actually
represent the core element of European integration, suddenly become the ‘forgotten’ regions due to
border controls or even closures (cf. Goolsbee & Syverson, 2020; Böhm, 2021). The free movement
of labour is partially restricted and the Schengen Agreement is suspended (Evrard & Chilla, 2021).
Our analyses provides empirical arguments on the economic development trends for the years 2000
to 2018, which cover the period around the 2008 financial crisis. This allows a positioning of the
concepts of cohesion and resilience. Our geographical focus is on the Czech-German border regions
and we relate this to the other Czech border regions with Austria, Poland, and Slovakia. The question
here is how the financial crisis affects the cohesion process and what differences exist between the
border regions.
The results are based on the current research project "Cohesion in border regions" (CoBo), which is
funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
2 PROBLEM FORMULATION
2.1 COHESION AND RESILIENCE
Cohesion has been an essential part of the European integration process since the founding of the EU.
It aims to bring the European member states closer together in economic, social and territorial terms.
From the perspective of border studies, two aspects play a central role: Firstly, the institutional
dimension means an intensified cooperation across borders that comes along with integration
processes. Secondly, the economic integration across borders leads in the best case to win-win
situations and to the reduction of regional disparities (De Boe et al., 1999).
The two dimensions correlate with regard to cohesion processes. In this paper, however, the focus is
primarily on the economic perspective. Cohesion policy intends to strengthen weaker nation states
and regions in the long term, and some authors consider this approach rather as economic policy (cf.
Loewen & Schulz, 2019). From this perspective, cohesion means the reduction of regional disparities
and a convergent development of member states and regions, including border regions.
Goecke (2013) describes a convergence process in the EU since 1950. This long-lasting overall
convergence trend ended abruptly in 2008 due to the global financial crisis (Goecke & Hüther, 2016).
The crisis hit some countries harder than others, leading to increasing disparities and a disturbed
convergence process (Liviu-Stelian et al., 2014; Monfort, 2020). Both the national and the regional
levels are important for the understanding of crisis effects. Against this background, the concept of
regional economic resilience develops a process model consisting of five elements (see Fig. 1, Martin
& Sunley, 2015):
- vulnerability (the sensitivity of a region's actors to a shock)
- shocks (the origin, impact and duration of an external disturbance)
- resistance (the impact of the shock on the economy)
- robustness (adaption of the shock) and
- recoverability (the extent of economic recovery from the shock).
Figure 1: Regional economic resilience as a process. Source: Martin & Sunley, 2015:13
Sensier et al. (2016) emphasise that crises can also be an opportunity. Regional economic resilience
helps regions to identify their potentials, capabilities and to formulate new strategies. Those help to
face crises and to influence their development path positively, thus, to achieve better resilience
(Giacometti et al., 2018). Policy efforts towards an adaptive economy can be resilience enhancers, in
particular on the regional level (Bianchi et al., 2021). Border regions, however, face the particular
challenge that the situation differs on either side of the border.
Crises have to be seen against the background of already existing problems, often of longstanding
character. This is captured by the concept of slow burns that make crises shocks more probable
(Pendall et al., 2010). Demographic problems as outmigration and ageing or lacking political
alignment are important examples that make regions more susceptible to crises (OECD, 2014).
Shocks and crises that often originate from countries elsewhere can diffuse via the open borders of
the neighbouring country (cp. Christopherson et al., 2010). As a result, border regions are influenced
by and dependent on developments in neighbouring countries. Unforeseen shocks trigger political
turbulence, to which people mostly react with national patterns of thinking (Prokkola, 2019). National
thinking hampers to find solutions for the related border regions, often leading to reinforced
disparities. A combined view of cohesion and resilience in border regions is therefore of utmost
interest. Against this background, we reflect on the following research questions in this paper with a
focus on the Czech-German border regions:
i) What have been the effects of the post 2008 crisis on the convergence process in Czech-German
border regions?
ii) Do the Czech-German border regions show a convergent development? What kind of differences
can be observed between the Bavarian-Czech and the Saxon-Czech border regions?
iii) How do the developments in the Czech-German border region relate with the developments in the
other Czech border regions?
iv) What do the measurable trends indicate with regard to the link between cohesion and resilience?
2.2 THE CZECH-GERMAN BORDER REGION
The reflection on convergence and resilience in the Czech-German border area has to consider the
historical background. It was only after the fall of the Iron Curtain that the first forms of cooperation
across the border were created. Many other German border regions began cross-border cooperation
several decades earlier. Accordingly, the five existing Euregios between Germany and the Czech
Republic are some of the youngest border cooperations with German participation. The cooperation
forms along the Czech-German border are heterogeneous, involving several political levels and
overlapping perimeters (Chilla et al., 2018). The situation is also hampered by the geomorphological
conditions along the Czech-German border. For example, numerous sections along the border are
characterised by low mountain ranges. In the north, the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and the Ore
Mountains can be found, and in the south of the border, the Bavarian Forest on the German side and
the Šumava National Park on the Czech side. These topographical features influence accessibility
across the border and often lead to barrier effects (Bertram et al., 2019). Furthermore, a study by the
European Parliament shows that both German and Czech citizens perceive language as a barrier even
if it is a higher barrier for Germans (European Parliament, 2021).
The EU accession of the Czech Republic in 2004 was an accelerator of cooperation between regions
on both sides of the border. Nevertheless, border controls were only abolished at the end of 2007. The
result was consequently an intensive spatial integration at all levels. Free movement of workers and
good cooperation from the regional to the national level characterised the following years until the
refugee crisis in 2015. However, both the refugee crisis and the current coronavirus crisis
impressively show that both cooperation and cross-border life are on shaky ground (cf. Evrard et al.,
2018). The Schengen Agreement was suspended, borders were closed and the neighbouring state was
perceived as a threat. The debate on crisis management and regional resilience came high on the
political agenda. These crises experience are a major challenge for territorial cohesion. The following
empirical study therefore analyses the convergence developments in the Czech-German border
regions and positions them in relation to the other Czech border regions.
2.3 METHODS
The reflection on cohesion and resilience in the Czech-German border regions calls for a small
analytical scale. We consider the Bavarian-Czech (BY-CZ) and Saxon-Czech (SN-CZ) border
regions separately, as both border regions are different in political and socio-economic terms.
Additionally, we compare the CZ-DE to all other Czech border regions.
Border regions in our analysis are defined as administrative units (NUTS3 regions with min. 25% of
their area within a 25 km buffer along the border) adjoining to a national border.
In our study, we operationalise cohesion as economic convergence, measured with the change in
GDP/capita as the key economic indicator (cf. Artelaris, 2015; Di Caro, 2020; Martinho, 2021;
Monfort, 2020). The analysis is based on Eurostat data.
We consider data from 2000 to 2018 at NUTS-3 level, in order to cover a large time range before and
after the financial crisis. This allows capturing long-term developments and crisis effects (cf. Goecke
& Hüther, 2016; Martin & Sunley, 2020; Monfort, 2020).
The aim of this article is to illustrate convergence and divergence developments with the help of
descriptive regional statistics. The most common form of measuring convergence is the unconditional
β convergence. We measure this by GDP/capita development, supplemented by σ-convergence. It
allows a statement about the dispersion between two spatial units (cf. Artelaris, 2015; Goecke &
Hüther, 2016; Monfort, 2020). For this purpose, the coefficient of variation (cv) is calculated with the
following formula:
=
×100 (1)
σ means the standard deviation and μ the mean value. The quotient is multiplied by 100 for a
percentage result. The curve over all years allows statements on σ con- and divergence. The greater
the value of the coefficient, the greater the disparities. If the disparities decrease, the dispersion within
the spatial category is reduced and the coefficient decreases.
Economic resilience is measured according to the five steps of Fingleton et al. (2015): (i) unit of
study: NUTS-3; (ii) indicator: GDP/capita; (iii) shock event: 2008 financial crisis; (iv) determinants
of resilience: development and growth of GDP/capita; (v) linkage back to other studies: case studies
EU and Germany. The measurement also corresponds to the approach of the resilience index
according to (Martin & Sunley, 2015).
3 RESULTS
Figure 2 shows the development of GDP/capita from 2000 to 2018. For the entire study period, SN-
CZ shows stronger growth than BY-CZ. While a decline in growth due to the financial crisis is clearly
visible in SN-CZ, it is less so for BY-CZ. According to the concept of regional resilience,
vulnerability was greater for SN-CZ. Until the financial crisis, SN-CZ shows clear growth pattern,
and the post-crises years show again a renewed growth. While the initial resistance was not strong,
the long-term robustness is clearly higher. The BY-CZ border regions show the ability to absorb for
GDP/capita. This means that the shock is ‘swallowed’ and the crisis does not have a major impact
(Martin & Sunley, 2020).
Figure 3 shows the GDP/capita development indexed to the overall annual average of Bavaria,
Saxony and the Czech Republic. The BY-CZ graph is at a higher level, which means higher absolute
GDP/capita values. The SN-CZ border regions are far below the overall average and below the BY-
CZ average. A catching-up process can be observed until 2008. Until this year, the figure illustrates
a clear convergence. In combination with the results from figure 2, one can speak of an unconditional
β convergence. The crisis starts a process of divergence, which continues until 2018.
Figure 2 (left): GDP/capita growth for BY-CZ and SN-CZ;
Figure 3 (right): GDP/capita development of BY-CZ and SN-CZ in relation to mean BY-CZ-SN
Source: own processing 2021; Data: Eurostat 2021
In addition, the coefficient of variation provides information on the similarities and disparities. For
this analysis, we include all other Czech border regions. This enables a comparison between the
Czech-German border regions and the others. Therefore, Figure 4 shows the coefficient of variation
for all neighbouring countries of the Czech Republic including the two German states of Bavaria and
Saxony. All border pairs can be assigned to the following four convergence patterns:
1) σ-convergence
Both the entire Czech-German border area and the BY-CZ border pair show a strong σ-convergence
with its decreasing graphs. The two graphs run almost parallel. The financial crisis had only a small
impact on the ongoing convergence process. The graphs started at a high level in the year 2000 and
show strongly reduced disparities until 2018.
2) Mixture of σ-convergence and divergence
This group includes the SN-CZ border area and the border pair with Austria. Until the financial crisis,
both show a convergent development. The financial crisis initiated a divergent development, which
stops and reverses in 2014. Subsequently, both border pairs converge until 2018.
100
110
120
130
140
150
160
170
180
190
200
GDP/capita growth index, 2000=100
BY-CZ SN-CZ
70
80
90
100
110
120
130
140
GDP/capita development index, Mean BY
-CZ-SN=100
BY-CZ SN-CZ Mean BY-CZ-SN
3) Stable development
The graph of the PL-CZ border pair is at a very low level, which indicates low disparities. There are
hardly any changes in the graph over the years. The plot shows small fluctuations in both directions,
but no clear convergence or divergence trends.
4) σ-Divergence
Only one graph shows a persistent divergent development. The disparities in the Slovak-Czech border
pair increase. The financial crisis accelerates the divergence process. Only in 2013, a turnaround is
visible and a slight convergence process starts. However, it is not clear whether this will last. The
data indicate that the strongly growing Slovakian sub-regions are primarily responsible for this pattern
(growth rates >400%).
Figure 4: Coefficient of variation for Czech border regions
Source: own processing 2021; Data: Eurostat 2021
Finally, a comparison of the Czech-German regions confirms the heterogeneous picture. The small-
scale differentiation proves to be the appropriate approach and confirms the relevance of scale (cf.
Corrado et al., 2005; Dasí González et al., 2018; Neufeld, 2017). The Czech-German data and in
particular the BY-CZ border pair have the largest disparities at the beginning and show a strong
convergence process in the following years. More generally speaking, the convergence trends with
non-transformation areas (AT, BY) are stronger than those with transformation territories (SN, PL,
SK) in the early years. If we consider the overall time range, the data do not display differences with
regard to transformation processes.
From a comparative perspective on the international scale, the current disparities of the Czech-
German border regions position on an average level. This positive path has to be considered as a
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
55
Coefficient of variation
Border pair SK-CZ
Border pairs DE-CZ
Border pair BY-CZ
Border pair AT-CZ
Border pair SN-CZ
Border pair PL-CZ
successful development. The financial crisis shows geographically differentiated consequences. In
some regions, the crisis has obviously led to divergence processes. In other regions, however, the
crisis has hardly any influence.
4 RESEARCH LIMITATIONS
NUTS-3 level is the smallest level for which area-wide, harmonised secondary data are available. It
can be assumed that a more diverse picture will emerge from a further examination on an even smaller
scale. Furthermore, the two main topics of this article, namely cohesion and resilience, can only be
analysed to a limited extent by quantitative measures. Further economic indicators are needed for a
more comprehensive picture, especially at the local level. Moreover, social or ecological indicators
are also necessary for a local analysis of crisis impacts. Each region is different, so individual sets of
indicators are also needed to examine resilience at the local level.
5 CONCLUSION
With regard to our research questions, we can conclude the following. The financial crisis had a rather
small and short term impact on the convergence path for the border pair BY-CZ and a clearer, negative
impact for the SN-CZ border pair. If calculated for the Czech-German border regions in total, the
impact is rather small, too. It is interesting to note that all Czech border pairs show different
convergence patterns that can be assigned to different categories. Compared to other Czech border
regions, the two border pairs with Germany show a rather clear convergence trend, but still clear
disparities, in particular for BY-CZ.
With regard to resilience, we can conclude the following: The border pair SN-CZ combines rather
low disparities after a strong convergence process with lower resistance. The border pair BY-CZ
comes along with higher disparities, also a strong convergence trend and a higher resistance.
This explorative study shows that both cohesion and resilience matter, but that both dimensions
are not coupled in a very tight way. It is necessary to conduct more comprehensive studies involving
more territories and data.
It remains to be seen what influence the current coronavirus crisis will have. Its extent is
unprecedented and will have a strong impact on cohesion (Monfort, 2020; Shehzad et al., 2020).
Obviously, good crisis management and a functioning governance structure across the border are
necessary to support the positive elements of cohesion and resilience in the Czech-German border
regions and beyond.
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Contact information:
Stefan Hippe M.A., Prof. Dr. Tobias Chilla
Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Institute of Geography
Wetterkreuz 15, Erlangen, 91058, Germany
E-mail: stefan.hippe@fau.de, tobias.chilla@fau.de
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