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Border areas

Border areas differ from other GEOSPECS categories in that they primarily refer to a human construct: a politically-defined border which is designed to organise the sovereignty of modern states. However, the reality of these borders is multidimensional because it also involves - at the same time - other important features (i.e. natural obstacles; economic discontinuities; socio-cultural dividing lines) which generally affect the socio-economic dynamics in border areas.

The project found that about 19% of the ESPON space are within 45 minutes travel time of a border (18% of population), and 33% are within 90 minutes travel time of a border (36% of population).


GEOSPECS did not deem it meaningful to produce a general delineation of border areas which follows administrative boundaries (i.e. the NUTS 3 regions determining the eligibility of ERDF-supported cross-border co-operation programmes). Instead, they were delineated on the basis of a 45-minute travel distance to a politically-defined borderline which corresponds to a reasonable proxy for the maximum generally accepted commuting and daily mobility distance. A mapping of variants of this time-distance parameter (< 45 min. or > 45 min.) shows that the extent of border areas in the EU can change considerably.

Delineation Border Map 1

Some Key Findings from the quantitative analysis of GEOSPECS

The urban potential, understood as the influence an urban centre is likely to exert over a given area, was assessed in relation to the notion of PUSH (Potential Urban Strategic Horizons) for "core border areas" (contiguous to a border) and "adjacent border areas"(not contiguous to a border). A mapping of the urban potential of functional border areas across Europe illustrates the following geographical patterns:

The majority of core border areas with metropolitan potential (in red on the map) are found in North-Western Europe, notably along the borders between the Benelux, France, Germany and Switzerland. They are polarised by cities located close to a border (most are even cross-border agglomerations), which is notably the case for Lille, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Basel, Geneva or Copenhagen. Border areas with urban potential that is not metropolitan (in purple and blue) are distributed all over Europe, but with a higher concentration in the borderlands of the Benelux, France, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania. Finally, the border areas which show a low urban potential (in green) are particularly located in Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, the eastern part of Poland, and mountainous regions such as the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Classification of border areas

By and large, two different main groups of core border areas exist in the EU:

These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.

Photo This project is part-financed by the EU
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of the ESPON monitoring committee