Theoretical aspects of transborder cooperation networks

The development of international, near-border and transborder cooperation in Europe and terminology connected with the issue have been widely and comprehensively discussed to date (Blatter & Clement, 2000; Dolzblasz & Raczyk, 2015; Medeiros, 2018; Noferini et al., 2019; Perkmann, 1999, 2007; Scott, 2012; Wassenberg, Reitel & Peyrony, 2015). In the context of evolving research into borders, it is interesting to notice a change in the paradigm of studies on the phenomenon of cooperation. This change pertains to the perception of networking as one of the most prominent features of cooperation in all border areas (Blatter & Clement, 2000). As a result, the networking in borderlands, analysed from various viewpoints and at various levels in the context of a ‘space of flows’, establishes a new research direction for the phenomena observed in borderlands (Blatter, 2004).

Social network analysis (SNA), as well as other network analyses, has an extensive tradition, ample literature and spectacular and versatile applications (e.g. Borgatti & Halgin, 2011; Freeman, 2004). However, it represents a relatively novel research approach in borderland studies. Generally speaking, networks can be considered as a collection of relationships occurring between particular actors (nodes of the network) (Borgatti & Halgin, 2011; Hanneman & Riddle, 2005) - or, in other words, a network can be defined as any set of objects that is interconnected by relationships (Hanneman & Riddle, 2005). Social networks have mostly been used for analysing interpersonal relationships. Nevertheless, they can be applied to the analysis of partnerships in relation to organisations, including the assessment of EU cooperation programmes (Ptoszaj, 2011, 2014). The result of applying the perspective of social networking is the assumption that the character and structure of connections that can be described in a very precise way may very accurately explain individual and collective activities and their effects (Theiss, 2013).

The research studies carried out to date concerning borderlands and transborder cooperation feature relatively few network approaches. In particular, there is a pronounced lack of empirical studies employing SNA tools. It needs to be remembered that using this method also changes the perspective of the study; as Strihan (2008) points out, the network approach helps in understanding borders not as areas separating homogeneous groups of social units but as areas characterised by specific interaction patterns, which may exclude or integrate these groups. In this context, border regions are understood as areas of interpenetration, and not division, while borders are understood more as bridges than barriers. SNA tools propose new approaches to perceiving the nature of cooperation as they go beyond classical variables used, for example, in statistical analysis. Network analysis may provide new information on the structure of connections between the network actors and therefore prove applicable in the process of creating cooperation systems and designing organisational structures (Kadushin, 2005; Provan et ai, 2005). In this context, network analysis is particularly important in the governance concept, in which a network is understood as an emerging way of coordination, other than administration and market. Networks create favourable conditions for quick adaptation to dynamically changing environments. This adaptation may concern both the partners and cooperation forms (Theiss, 2013). At the same time, it is important to understand how relationships between social entities are conditioned by social context (policy network approach). This understanding allows the identification of key entities engaged in decisionmaking processes - e.g. the extent to which they cooperate and what their significance is (Walther & Reitel, 2012).

The network approach in studies on international relationships has been used in relation to various issues. It has been employed, for example, in the analysis of international business connections (e.g. Yeung, 1998; Hsu, 2005), international cooperation between public organisations regarding environmental protection (Alcaniz, 2016), the significance of regions in European research programmes (Wanzenbock, Scherngell & Lata, 2015), the intensity of connections between EU regions in (scientific) framework programmes on information and communication technologies (Cecere & Corrocher, 2015) and the evolution of cooperation networks concerning research and development at the level of NUTS 3 in the countries of the OECD (and partner countries) (Morescalchia et ai, 2015).

Regarding borderland regions, network analyses have hardly been used (Svensson, 2013). However, Durand and Nelles (2012), working in the area of Eurometropolis Lille Kortrijk -Tournai, have assessed the level of network development as well as the significance of the actors. Moreover, they have evaluated the impact of the border on the management of transborder public transport. Similar studies of the possibilities of shaping the transborder policy of public transport were conducted by Dorry and Decoville (2012) for the borderlands of Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and France. Walther and Reitel, in the transborder area of Basel (the borderland of France, Germany and Switzerland), assessed the influence of state borders and language barriers on the political structures responsible for transportation policy. Strihan (2008) examined the significance of ethnic connections in the shaping of a network of transborder connections between companies. Lara- Valencia (2011) studied the effects of the policy of transborder cooperation and the shaping of a network of contacts between local organisations of the US-Mexican borderland. Gonzalez-Gomez and Gualda (2014) conducted research into the shaping of the personal contact networks of people engaged in institutionalised forms of transborder cooperation at the borderland of Andalusia-Algarve-Alentejo and southern Finland-Estonia. Svensson and Nordlund (2015) examined transborder connections among representatives of political Euroregions along the borders of Hungary-Slovakia and Sweden-Norway. Moreover, Svensson (2013) investigated the issue of multilevel governance in the scope of transborder management at the local level in Euroregions in the borderlands of Hungary, Slovakia, Sweden and Norway, as well as Austria and Germany. Ploszaj (2014) examined transborder cooperation at the Polish-Ukrainian border (using the examples of the Pokarpackie Voivodeship and the Lviv Oblast) with the use of SNA tools. Moreover, the network approach was used to acknowledge the significance of transborder cooperation in the creation of ecological networks using the example of the external German border (Leibenath, Blum & Stutzriemer, 2010).

As van Houtum (1999) points out, one of the main objectives of transborder cooperation within the Interreg programme was the development of cross-border cooperation networks. In this context, the relative size of the transborder network in border regions may be perceived as an accurate indicator of the economic openness of the border. However, numerous works suggest that transborder cooperation networks at a number of European borders are still relatively poorly developed (Strihan, 2008). The development of transborder network connections is dependent on a number of factors (van Geenhuizen, Van der Knaap & Nijkamp, 1996): border location (e.g. internal and external EU borders), type of border, impact of barriers and level of socio-economic development. It needs to be remembered that the costs of access to and creating and maintaining the network should not exceed the benefits obtained via the networks (van Geenhuizen, Van der Knaap &

Nijkamp, 1996). Because of the nature of transborder cooperation, the character of connections between units from neighbouring countries seems to have key importance for its development, as the shaping and development of these connections form an important objective of cooperation-supporting programmes. Therefore, one may assume that cooperation should become more network-like, and an SNA-based approach can be used successfully for examining the cooperation. In particular, it allows the connections between relationships and the units’ attributes (network nodes) to be identified. Ultimately, it allows for a comprehensive representation and explanation of transborder connections, which, because of their complexity, form a significant research challenge.

The detailed literature review allows for the identification of the most important factors that negatively affect the strength and frequency of bilateral relations between the Polish and German border area. In the SNA perspective, these weakening factors define the limits of cross-border cooperation networks.

  • • Significant cultural barriers, as well as language barriers (Biirkner, 2013; Knippschild & Vock, 2017; Kratke, 2002; Leibenath & Knippschild, 2005; Wilkinson, 2009: Opilowska, 2018).
  • • Emotional impediments, connected mainly with the period of the Second World War, stereotypes and prejudice, hostility towards foreigners (Biirkner, 2013; Heidenreich, 1999).
  • • Asymmetry in socio-economic development, observed at the national level of Poland and Germany (borderlands versus core areas: Lesniak- Johann & Raczyk, 2012) and, mainly, at the international level (Polish versus German borderland: Dolzblasz & Raczyk, 2017; Knippschild & Schmotz, 2018). This hinders the creation of network connections because of significantly different expectations concerning the development of a mutual relationship. This is connected with the threat of the tunnel effect - establishing Polish-German relationships over borderlands via core areas (Kratke, 1996).
  • • The versatility of territorial units on each side of the border, in terms both of size and of competence resources. This makes entering mutual relationships more difficult (Knippschild & Vock, 2017).
  • • Physical barriers - specifically, when a river with few bridges forms a border. This affects the potential for the free flow of people and goods (Dolzblasz & Raczyk, 2015; Koschatzky, 2000).
  • • Natural considerations; these might become an important factor governing mutual relationships - e.g. with regard to environmental protection, the prevention of natural disasters, use of the economic potential of the Oder and Lusatian Neisse basins, transborder protected areas (Leibenath, Blum & Stutzriemer, 2010).
  • • Poorly developed social capital in the borderland, including a low level of trust (Knippschild & Vock, 2017; Kratke, 2002).
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