A briefing by Tamara Guirao, CAAC Coordinator
The Atlantic Area is characterised by great differences in development regarding capital regions of each State, and also by relatively important heterogeneity, particularly between the north and south, whilst it is supported by a network of medium-sized cities and constitutes Europe’s main seaboard. This macro-region is structured, amongst others by St James’ Way, and shares culture (“the Celtic essence”), history (agreements, wars and mutual invasions), and a long series of commercial exchanges starting with copper in the Phoenician period, followed by the fishing tradition and more recently the salt industries. Furthermore, we must not forget that the Atlantic cities have been the gateway to Europe for discovery, from America to the inventions of the industrial
What is equally clear is the importance of the Atlantic cities within European maritime policy if we take into account that Lisbon is home to the European Maritime Safety Agency, Vigo is home to the European Fisheries Agency and the pioneering motorway of the sea is Gijón-Saint Nazaire. Despite their diversity, the cities of the Atlantic Arc must respond to common challenges from an economic, social, cultural or environmental perspective:
– Their peripheral situation within an enlarged Europe, which must be countered through the application of the concept of territorial cohesion whilst developing accessibility and intercommunication;
– The maritime dimension of our regions, as an economic development opportunity and an environmental challenge in light of the need to protect the natural environment which is characteristic of the Atlantic and until now has been relatively well preserved;
– An urban network composed of mainly medium-sized cities which on their own cannot effectively develop their projects before those responsible at European level;
– A common cultural heritage as, due to a comparable history which is often linked, the cities of the Atlantic Arc share a strong cultural identity that should be further exploited. Culture is also perceived as an excellent means of involving citizens in the Atlantic project.
Transnational cooperation in the Atlantic Area stems from a long tradition. Among many well-known experiences, we can highlight that back in 1296, the cities of Santander, Laredo, Castro, Bermeo, Guetaria, San Sebastián, Fuenterrabía and Vitoria sealed a brotherhood charter creating a community of interests in Atlantic trade. Countless links were developed which have been further strengthened over the centuries.
At present, the Atlantic cities, with a few exceptions like Lisbon, Dublin or Bilbao, are not usually classed in the category of “large cities”. However, the Atlantic cities have assets which are used by pooling their resources and introducing polycentrism as a development tool. For this purpose, they work in urban networks on different scales: transnational (Conference of Atlantic Arc Cities), cross-border (Eixo Atlántico, the Chaves-Verin Eurocity, the Basque Eurocity, etc.) and interregional (Asturias County Federation, Loire-Brittany Metropolitan Area, Aire 198, the Association of Local Governments of Wales and France, the network of Great West Cities and the Conference of Brittany Cities…).
The collaborations also extend to the other side of the ocean. There are countless twinnings of European Atlantic cities with American and African cities. Likewise, the European Atlantic cities were the first to carry out decentralised cooperation actions from city to city with developing countries on the other side of the Atlantic.
In the year 2000, several cities and Atlantic urban networks, in light of the intrinsic difficulties of their area and of their peripheral and ultra-peripheral position, decided to institutionalise this common strength. From the shared assets, they opted to regroup their objectives and work together on their own concerns, in order to guarantee the economic prosperity and sustainable development of the urban territories of the five countries of the European Atlantic Coast (Ireland, United Kingdom, France, Spain and Portugal).
Thus, in June 2000, the Conference of Atlantic Arc Cities emerged from an initiative by Edmond Hervé, then Mayor of Rennes (France) who gathered representatives of Atlantic cities and networks of Atlantic cities in the Breton capital.