Determinants of cross-border interactions : co-patent activities, 'mental distance' and cooperation in public transport in European regions

  • Determinanten grenzüberschreitender Interaktionen : Ko-Patentaktivitäten, "mentale Distanz" und Kooperation im öffentlichen Personennahverkehr in europäischen Regionen

Basche, Henrik; Fromhold-Eisebith, Martina (Thesis advisor); Schiller, Daniel (Thesis advisor)

Aachen : RWTH Aachen University (2022)
Dissertation / PhD Thesis

Dissertation, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen, 2022


Transnational interactions may entail manifold benefits for actors in cross-border regions (including firms, public authorities, universities and individuals). These benefits may find expression in increased economic competitiveness through the exchange of complementary (and tacit) knowledge assets, more efficient allocation of human capital or higher liveability through corporately used infrastructure facilities. State-of-the-art literature on innovation, border studies and spatial planning has revealed that institutional distance - which may refer to differences in officially spoken languages, culture and formal regulations - between actors poses the main obstacle to cross-border interactions. Derived from specific research gaps in these bodies of literature, this cumulative dissertation details the context-specific roles of institutional (especially language) effects on cross-border interactions. Overall, three scientific papers which have been published in peer-reviewed journals mainly constitute this cumulative dissertation. The applied mix of methods - econometric modelling, statistical evaluation of standardised survey data and qualitative guided expert interviews - takes into account the heterogeneous character of the investigated cross-border interaction and cooperation patterns. To obtain representative results, the first paper analyses determinants of cross-border co-patents in (almost) all inner-European and non-maritime cross-border regions (EU-28 and EFTA countries). Given its pronounced cultural diversity, the Belgian-Dutch-German borderland (the Euregio Meuse-Rhine) serves as the study region to explore determinants of ‘mental distance’ (second paper). Due to its advanced cross-border public transport network, the Euregio Meuse-Rhine also forms the geographical reference in the third paper, which investigates interactions between key factors that affect cross-border cooperation in public transport. Gravity models in the first paper give insight into the determinants of cross-border co-patents, which serve as an indicator of interactive innovation processes on the NUTS 3 level. This econometric methodology is apt to specify and generalise effects of language commonalities and European integration. By simultaneously modelling effects of spatial distance, ‘technological proximity’ and European integration, the econometric models reveal that sharing a common official language (i.e. institutional proximity) significantly raises the number of cross-border co-patents between NUTS 3 regions by a factor of 1.83 to 2.49.To identify determinants that condition ‘mental distance’, which is the individuals’ limited perception of occurrences beyond ‘their’ country’s borders, primary data (2019) were collected in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine within the framework of the second paper. State-of-the-art border research has identified mental distance as the main determinant of relatively moderate cross-border labour mobility levels in Europe. The predominantly conceptual literature has treated individuals’ mental distance as an invariable and homogeneous characteristic. However, statistical evaluations of the gathered primary data indicate that foreign language skills concerning regional languages (Dutch, French and German) are often significantly correlated with a higher mental closeness to foreign cities (i.e. a lower degree of mental distance).The third paper follows a qualitative-explorative approach to shed light on all potential institutional influences (i.e. by culture, formal regulations and language) on cross-border cooperation in public transport, where obstacles to transnational collaboration become particularly evident. The evaluation of qualitative guided interviews (2020) with nine experts on cross-border cooperation in public transport in the Euregio Meuse-Rhine reveals major interactions between different types of influencing factors (e.g. between financial, administrative and legal obstacles). Due to the multi-layered fabric of factors, it is difficult to determine the individual importance of (key) factors that impact cross-border cooperation in public transport. To conclude, language seems to matter ubiquitously in cross-border interactions, although to different extents. Language commonalities or advanced knowledge of foreign languages pose relevant sufficient conditions for cross-border interactions in the contexts of individuals’ everyday life and knowledge-intensive collaboration. However, impacts of formal regulations, interactions with additional factors (e.g. administrative structures) and paramount internal or political interests abate the importance of language in organisational cross-border cooperation and negotiation contexts.