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A tri-national effort is showing the EC that regional is beautiful

A unique mixture of transnational boosterism and environmentalism has flowered in this ancient corner of Europe.

On the one hand, the Swiss, French, and Germans clustered around the Upper Rhine want to tout the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg area as the commercial wave of the future, ready to rival Munich, Paris, and London by the turn of the century.

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On the other hand, the Swiss and Germans at least are getting together in opposing the 14 nuclear power plants planned for this little triangle.

The fulcrum of these paradoxical efforts is the Regio Basiliensis, a private association that for 20 years has been pushing for integrated economic and cultural development of this tri-state area.

One of the driving forces behind Regio is Dr. Hans J. Briner, its founder and managing director, who is head of the Wenkenhof Institute of Federalism and Regional Structure and vice-president of the Association of Border Regions in Europe.

As Dr. Briner explains, what Regio has in mind is an expansive regionalism that goes beyond national limitations toward a new European consciousness and dynamic -- not on the bureaucratic model of the European Community, but on the basis of local regional initiative. ''Federalism and regionalism is the (new opportunity) for Europe. Absolutely!'' exclaims Dr. Briner.

Up to now the Basel-region do-it-yourself cooperation has achieved: the world's only internationally managed airport, built with Swiss money, on French territory, with joint administration; coordinated analysis of future economic prospects based on individual data from 300 large firms and 600 small firms; and comprehensive environmental impact studies. With nudging from Regio, a conference of cantons and departments across the French and Swiss border will be inaugurated June 21.

Regio is currently promoting development of regional telecommunications in the 1980s, including radio and cable and satellite TV networks. It is campaigning vigorously to attract new service, stockbroking, computer, and electronics industries to this north-south and soon also east-west crossroads of Europe. It is recommending coordination of transportation planning to take advantage of recent road and future bullet-train developments in Alsace and the opening of the Gotthard Tunnel through the Swiss Alps.

Not surprisingly, the Alsace-South Baden-northwest Switzerland cross-border planning has become something of a model for the 24 other European transnational frontier regions.

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As interest in the concept has grown, institutional cooperation has expanded in this agglomeration of 2 million people. The weekly meetings of Regio's working group are now joined by gatherings every four months (since 1972) of the Swiss, French, and German Upper Rhine Regional Planners; annual meetings (since 1975) of the German-French-Swiss Government Commission; twice-annual get-togethers of government-appointed experts; and conferences of trade unions to seek common working conditions for the 30,000 French and German workers who commute to jobs in Basel and for other transnational employees.

And how does Regio Basiliensis reconcile all its commercial boosterism with its notable reserve about expanding the area's present five reactors to the 14 planned for the Upper Rhine by the Swiss, French, and West German governments?

With 60 percent private financing and 40 percent city and canton financing, ''Regio represents everybody. It's pluralistic,'' he says. It has thus been able to think beyond just the Swiss northwest geographically, and beyond mere industrial expansion to the overall ecological and ''psychological'' health of the region.

As Upper Rhine residents and Regio looked at nuclear plans, then, they realized that only one or two of the plants would be producing electricity for this area itself. The restwould be produced for export to Paris and elsewhere, leaving this area to cope with the environnmental consequences.

Ironically, perhaps the most convinced enthusiasts of transfrontier cooperation have turned out to be the antinuclear demonstrators.

The same cannot be said for the three national establishments. The very considerable achievements of the Regio Basiliensis so far seem to have been engineered - largely on the basis of Swiss funding and energy.

Dr. Briner is hopeful about the prospects, however. He believes that the importance of regional cooperation will be increasingly recognized by Western European countries, by the European Community, and eventually even by East European nations. Regional cooperation, he asserts, will be ''one of the great tasks of the future.''

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