BIHARTEAN : a cross-border Chamber of Commerce and Industry

August 2020

Conseil économique, social et environnemental régional (CESER)

The name BIHARTEAN (BI = two, BIHAR = tomorrow, ARTEAN = between) is an EEIG - European Economic Interest Grouping, the result of an initial collaboration between the Bayonne Pays Basque Chamber of Commerce and the Cámara de Comercio de Gipuzkoa. In 2010 BIHARTEAN was formed to develop cross-border economic projects, meet the needs of companies located in both territories and create a joint economic and training offer. In 2018 Navarre joined the grouping, and BIHARTEAN is now composed of 3 territories: Basque Country, Euskadi, Navarre represented by the CCI Bayonne Basque Country, the Cámara de Gipuzkoa and the Cámara de Navarra. This text is based on the hearing of Olga Irastorza, Director of Bihartean CCI, 19 February 2020.

A unique device in Europe, Bihartean is a European Economic Interest Grouping (EEIG) made up of three Chambers of Commerce: the CCI Bayonne Pays Basque, the Cámara de Comercio, Industria y Navegación de Gipuzkoa (the two founding members) and the Cámara de Comercio de Navarra. Created in 2010 with the aim of building a cross-border economic, employment and training area, Bihartean aims to develop economic projects and meet the needs of companies located in the three territories of the New Aquitaine - Basque Country - Navarre Euroregion, while creating a common economic and training offer. Following a survey of SMEs and SMIs on the relevance of such an initiative, the proximity, continuity, including cultural continuity, and existing economic exchanges were highlighted. This result is reflected in its mission:

Since 2013, Bihartean has signed a strategic agreement with the Euroregion New Aquitaine - Euskadi - Navarra for which the Chamber carries out a number of individual and collective support actions, particularly in the linking of clusters from the three territories. To this end, Bihartean has carried out an analysis of existing clusters. These analyses showed the difficulty of setting up sectoral collaborations because clusters in the same sector defend their specificities and their markets, which is why Bihartean recommends intersectoral collaborations, in a transversal way.

The philosophy of the cross-border CCI :

Promote convergence, provide added value (increase the level of competitiveness, complete value chains, respond to calls for tender, etc.) by extending the activity to the cross-border perimeter to capture business opportunities. At the time of writing this report, the New France Chambers of Commerce have developed a « supply-demand » platform for cross-border employment, to match business needs with demand. This platform will also feed the Euroregion platform (Empleo).

The cross-border scope

Bihartean’s vocation is to respond to the solicitation of companies from the whole of New Aquitaine. Of the companies that consult Bihartean, 48% come from the French Basque Country. This can be explained by the view that cross-border business is more prevalent within a 150 km radius. It is also due to the fact that, culturally, intra-regional borders have not yet disappeared: on the one hand, companies in the territories north of Bordeaux do not see themselves as participating in cross-border action, and on the other hand, actors close to the border would find it easier to find partners in Navarre than in Poitiers or Limoges, even though the integration of the Comunidad Foral into the Euroregion took place one year after the merger of New Aquitaine.

Nevertheless, contacts with other Chambers of Commerce are gradually being intensified, as well as with the New Aquitaine Chamber of Commerce, and concrete examples of companies from other territories interested in cross-border business are beginning to emerge.

Some examples:

The most important impact seems to be in relation to the clusters. The cross-border bio-health meetings are a good example. This is a concrete cooperation between the health cluster of the Spanish Basque Country, the Economic Development Agency of Navarre -health component-, the health industries cluster of New Aquitaine GIPSO and the TIC Santé Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

This collaboration is being extended with the creation of Alliance Innovation Santé Nouvelle-Aquitaine (ALLIS NA), an initiative of the New Aquitaine region bringing together and federating the economic players, health establishments, patient associations and private or public institutions, which are the bearers of a new dynamic for the health sector in New Aquitaine, in which the Technopôle Grand Poitiers and Invivolim of Limoges also participate.

Admittedly, cross-border exchanges are first of all a response to a local need. Nevertheless, even if they are geographically limited, they are no less transposable to other territories in the region. Studies highlighting the cross-border vision of the north of New Aquitaine, particularly for SMEs and VSEs, could thus shed light on cross-border needs and opportunities for these territories.

In the field of training

Bihartean is trying to establish cooperation between the cross-border training centres in the three territories, in order to deal with the tensions to which certain occupations are subject, particularly in industry. This programme would consist of « putting training centres in the loop » to find trainees and potential graduates who could eventually meet this demand for employment. With the academic world, partnerships and collaborations are set up within the framework of European POCTEFA projects around, for example, actions such as the analysis of the specialisation strategies of three territories and the identification of convergences.

Certification and validation of learning

In the end, it is the companies that take the decision to hire, if they believe that the apprentice or young professional has the skills to meet a job profile. Upstream, the validation of training courses from one territory to another poses more problems. According to the Director of the cross-border Chamber of Commerce, to solve this problem, it is necessary to advance Europe, or at least the cross-border relationship between New Aquitaine - Euskadi - Navarre.