International borders still limit local population growth in western EU

Decades of international economic integration in western Europe have not managed to stimulate population growth in border regions. In a recent article published in the Journal of Transport Geography, Chris Jacobs-Crisioni and Eric Koomen studied the relation between municipal population growth and transport accessibility over the past 50 years. Lack of cross-border transport supply has repeatedly been blamed for the fact that national borders limit the opportunities for interaction and hence the growth of border regions.  The authors apply an accessibility approach to investigate municipalities in ten countries in mainland West Europe if cross-border road transport supply is lagging behind, and if population growth in these municipalities has been affected by the limits that national borders have imposed on market access. To do so, data describing historical population changes and road networks between 1961 and 2011 have been used. The results show that in the study area, cross-border transport accessibility was not at a disadvantage in 1961 and has since then grown even more than domestic accessibility. Foreign highway-induced accessibility grew relatively strong in EU member states.

However, municipal population growth has depended almost exclusively on domestic market access. Notwithstanding the considerable growth of cross-border accessibility in the study area, the population effects of cross-border transport infrastructure seem limited at best. This indicates that local markets in the study area are not integrated across national borders. Through underuse of existing interaction opportunities, national borders continue to have a persistent negative effect on growth. In no case, accessibility levels yielded by cross-border transport supply have clearly positively affected the spatial distribution of population growth. The results show that improving cross-border transport supply is not the solution to further integrate cross-border local markets and halt population decline in regions at the national periphery.

The study focused on local population impacts in border regions and did not analyse the benefits European integration has on economic development at the regional or national level. Such positive general impacts have been described extensively by others. The results of the study raise the question which regions benefit most from these benefits in terms of population growth. It may very well be that more central regions benefit most from the economic interaction opportunities offered by economic integration.


Chris Jacobs-Crisioni
Eric Koomen


October, 2017

Source: Jacobs-Crisioni, Ch., and E. Koomen (2017). Population growth, accessibility spillovers and persistent borders: Historical growth in West-European municipalities. Journal of Transport Geography 62: 80-91.


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