IMPACT OF COVID-19 IN THE RIVER MINHO CROSS-BORDER AREA
The presidents of the town councils of Melgaço, Monçao, Paredes de Coura, Valença, Vila Nova de Cerveira, and Caminha, belonging to the Intermunicipal Community of Alto Minho (Portugal), and the mayors of the municipalities of A Guarda, O Rosal, Tomiño, Tui, Salvaterra de Miño, and As Neves, in the Region of Galicia (Spain), held a meeting yesterday, 28th April, convened by the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation Rio Minho (EGTC Rio Minho), to analyse the social and economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and by the declarations of the State of Alarm in Spain and the State of Emergency in Portugal, as well as by the closure of the border, on both banks of the River Minho.
1st. The crisis caused by COVID-19 since last March has had a significant impact on all society. The declaration of the State of Alarm in Spain, ruled by Royal Decree 463/2020 of 14th March, and the declaration of the State of Emergency in Portugal, approved by Decree of the President of the Republic 14-A/2020 of 18th March, affect the citizens on both banks of the River Minho cross-border area.
2nd. Furthermore, the temporary closure of the border, just during the 25th anniversary of the Schengen Agreement (26th May 2020) and the closure of places of transit an additional limitation for the citizens of this area in comparison with those who do not establish contact with other European Union Member States.
3rd. A moment in history in which eurocities and joint organisms are being built and, more importantly, in which people, families, and businesses carry on with their daily life indistinctly on both sides of the river, limitations may affect the cross-border area differently—in fact, they do—.
4th. The River Minho border is the most populated border between Spain and Portugal. It accounts for half of all vehicle mobility between both countries (during the border closure 44 % of all vehicles crossed using the Tui-Valença bridge) and it is located in the epicentre of the Galicia-North Portugal Euroregion.
5th. In terms of healthcare, the closure of the border has not produced relevant effects on the health system in the area, as COVID-19 has had a more moderate impact on the municipalities belonging to the River Minho cross-border area of both countries compared with that recorded in other nearby areas.
6th. We can confirm that relations between municipal representatives on both banks of the river are still maintained and the municipal integration work carried out in the past years is guaranteeing the resolution of personal, family, and business matters.
We would like to transmit the following considerations to the Spanish and Portuguese governments:
1st. We believe it necessary to immediately open new border crossings, at least for cross-border workers, so that they are not penalised in terms of time and money when attending their jobs.
2nd. We request, in case that border controls are extended in time, that the possibility of allowing the passage of residents of cross-border municipalities is considered, according to the legal regulations and public health control ruling in both countries.
3rd. We request from both States a progressive reestablishment of the freedom of movement between both countries when the State of Alarm in Spain and the State of Emergency in Portugal are lifted, in accordance to limitations for public health control.
4th. We request from both countries to ensure coordination and balance when they lift restrictions during the de-escalation process to avoid breaking in two the existing eurocities and, in general, the cross-border areas.
5th. We consider it would be useful to conduct economic assessments in the most affected sectors, caused by both by the state of alarm and emergency as well as by the temporary closure of the border, promoting aid proposals and feasibility studies, and developing support policies with the collaboration of local agents and socioeconomical stakeholders in the area.
6th. The collapse of productive and marketing activities in the primary sector, particularly lamprey and sea fishing, must become an opportunity to implement policies for the conservation and regeneration of resources aimed at achieving positive effects on nature and on the management of natural resources in the future. In that sense, it is important that both countries stick to a single coordinated conservation and exploitation scheme system that is fair and effective and that includes policies related to the river and its common natural resources.
7th. We request sufficient funding from the European Union and the Member States to alleviate the double impact caused by the pandemic in cross-border areas, as they represent 40 % of the Union’s total area and account for 30 % of its population, and will surely play a relevant role in the economic recovery of the European Union after the pandemic.
8th. As a joint institutional and legal agent well aware of the situation in the area, the EGTC Rio Minho is also the best instrument to propose joint policies aimed at avoiding imbalances on both banks of the River Minho. Otherwise, asymmetric and uncoordinated proposals between both countries could lead to practical implementation problems.
Galician-Portuguese River Minho cross-border area
28th April 2020