Baden-Württemberg and Grand-Est: making the region a "laboratory" for integration and cooperation

The citizens of Baden-Württemberg and the Grand Est will soon begin the second session of the Franco-German citizen dialogue on cross-border cooperation in the time of Covid-19. Manon Potet, project coordinator at Missions Publiques, looks back at the issues at stake in this deliberative process and gives us an overview of the recommendations drawn up by the participants on both sides of the Rhine.

Why did you initiate a Franco-German citizen dialogue? What are the next steps?

The idea to launch this project was born at the height of the health crisis: we observed that in the Upper Rhine region, characterised by the free movement of people, the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the borders in spring 2020 showed that exchange and cooperation could not be taken for granted. The objective of this approach is therefore to draw lessons from this particular context in order to strengthen cohesion, living together and doing things together in the cross-border region, by giving a voice to the people primarily concerned by cooperation policies: the inhabitants. This Franco-German dialogue also opens a space for exchanges between the inhabitants of the Grand Est Region and the Land of Baden-Württemberg, who speak very little to each other, on their respective experiences of the health crisis, their experience of cross-border cooperation and their aspirations and recommendations for the future of this cooperation.

We are now in the second half of the process: two working sessions took place, in December 2020 and then last February, with about thirty participants, 15 on the French side and 15 on the German side. The first session was devoted to an assessment of the COVID-19 period and the participants’ experiences, as well as an assessment of cross-border cooperation (institutions, existing projects, etc.). The group also identified the themes that it wished to explore further, and on which it would like to have more information. We invited speakers for the second and third sessions on these priority themes. After this assessment phase, the participants began to agree on recommendations: single cross-border ticket, strengthening of bilingual training, cross-border job exchange, cross-border participative workcamps for the inhabitants of both sides of the Rhine, etc. The proposals are diverse and touch on all areas of cross-border cooperation!

For the continuation: a third session is held on 19 and 20 March, during which the participants will deepen and consolidate the recommendations. During the last session on 16 and 17 April, the participants will adopt their opinion, including an introduction on their vision of cooperation in this particular context, and then the list of their developed proposals. At the end of this session, the participants will hand over their recommendations to the elected representatives involved in the process, Claudine Ganter on the Grand Est side, and Gisela Erler on the Baden-Württemberg side. 

“As is often the case with this type of initiative, I am impressed by the high quality of the discussions and proposals put forward by the participants.

Manon Potet

Projects Manager at Missions Publiques

Halfway through the citizen dialogue, what recommendations can you already share with us?

As is often the case with this type of initiative, I am impressed by the high quality of the discussions and proposals put forward by the participants. During the first session, the participants shared their vision of what happened in their territory at the height of the health crisis in the spring of 2020. The desire to move towards more cross-border cooperation, and even to make their region a “laboratory” for integration and cooperation for the rest of Europe, was very strong within the group. All of them said that they strongly regretted the closure of the borders and especially the tensions at the borders, such as the attacks on border workers. It is obvious that such a situation cannot be repeated, especially in view of the common history of the two countries. The idea would therefore be to look at the territorial issues of regional integration processes by removing the barriers linked to the presence of the border.

A rather funny anecdote this time: during the second session, we talked about how much learning the language was facilitated by an interest in the culture of the other, and one participant mentioned the role of Tokio Hotel, which would have “done much more for the promotion of German in France than some German teachers”! Participants from different generations then spoke about the artists who had made them want to learn the other language, from Nina Hagen to Brassens to Rammstein.

 

One of the challenges of this dialogue is undoubtedly the multilingual approach of the process. How did you ensure exchanges between French and German speakers?

The organisation of this dialogue posed new challenges for the team and myself, who were organising a bilingual and bicultural process for the first time. New problems arose in order to ensure that everyone understood each other and felt represented, while at the same time ensuring that the exchanges flowed smoothly. A team of interpreters, one for each sub-group and for the plenary sessions, was mobilised to ensure simultaneous translation during the sessions. During the animations, we have redoubled our efforts to ensure that the speeches are diversified and allow a real exchange between the French and German participants. At the beginning of each session, we always take one hour to exchange in plenary the situation and measures in each country, this time of contact being necessary and precious for the participants who have little opportunity to exchange with the citizens of the neighbouring country.

Another challenge is to ensure that the exchanges are interactive while everything is taking place online (we would have loved to be able to bring the group together in person, but unfortunately the health situation does not allow this). We had to find tools to make the sessions interactive and engaging for the participants, especially during the plenary presentations by external speakers. We therefore alternate between plenary sessions and sub-groups, favouring short presentation formats and longer question and answer periods and exchanges with the speakers, and using interactive online tools such as Sli.do or Miro to allow participants who are less comfortable speaking in plenary sessions to express themselves in writing.

 

A word about the partners?

We work closely with the Land Baden-Württemberg and the Grand Est Region. When we proposed the project to them, they did not hesitate to commit to it. Their support and enthusiasm has been an enormous help in setting up the dialogue. Similarly, the Franco-German Citizens’ Fund supported us financially and made our Franco-German dialogue one of the flagship projects supported this year. It is thanks to these supportive partners, who are aware of the democratic and cross-border cooperation issues, that this Dialogue was able to come into being. We thank them for this.

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Franco-German dialogue on cross-border cooperation during COVID-19

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