In 2019, the Treaty of Aachen was signed by the French and German governments to strengthen relations between Germany and France. This Franco-German cooperation has long been experienced directly by the inhabitants of the cross-border regions, Baden-Württemberg, and the Grand Est Region. However, the COVID-19 pandemic had a different impact on the inhabitants of both countries and strongly affected the dynamics of Franco-German cooperation. The decision, taken last spring (March 2020) in the emergency of the health crisis, to close the border between France and Germany has led to tension and disarray in the cross-border area for the inhabitants who have seen the border (re)materialize.
In response to this lack of cooperation between two neighboring European regions, our initiative was oriented towards opening a space for exchange between the inhabitants of the two cross-border regions of Baden-Württemberg and the Grand Est region, on their experience of the COVID-19 crisis, their experience of Franco-German cross-border cooperation and their aspirations for the future of this cooperation, in all areas.
A vision for the future of cross-border cooperation
40 citizens of all ages, from all socio-professional backgrounds, and living more or less close to the border were recruited and therefore met during 4 sessions of one and a half days. During these sessions, they deliberated in plenary and in sub-groups, and also received information from experts specialized in different fields of cross-border cooperation. At the end of these 4 sessions, the participants submitted recommendations to local and regional authorities to improve Franco-German cooperation in the cross-border region and to make this cooperation more resilient to health crises.
The 15 proposals, detailed below, are an integral part of their vision of the future of cross-border cooperation. For them, cross-border cooperation between the two countries must be further strengthened in all areas and be more legible and more engaging for the citizens of the territory. The feeling of community must not stop at the borders of the two countries because the cross-border region is their common living space. To simplify living together on a daily basis, the administration must be harmonized and simplified in all areas and the bureaucratic obstacles imposed at cross-border level must be reduced.
Here are the 15 proposals of the inhabitants:
- Twinning of schools and creation of bilingual teaching teams.
- Organization of large Franco-German reunion parties after COVID 19
- Establishment of exchanges between cross-border cultural scenes
- Harmonization of health systems and digitization of procedures for cross-border workers
- Setting up exchanges between health professionals from both countries
- A chatbot on cross-border issues
- Reduction of social, fiscal and economic disparities in the Upper Rhine region
- An evaluation to rethink public transport and mobility according to our real needs.
- The creation of an advantageous cross-border ticket for all
- The creation of eco-responsible and sustainable Franco-German exchanges
- Proposals for a green future
- The promotion of bilingual professional training in various fields
- A platform for the exchange of cross-border jobs
This transnational approach allows us to become aware not only of the current uses and needs of the participants in these territories, but also of their aspirations for the future.
The idea of perpetuating this type of cross-border dialogue was widely supported by the citizens, which takes into account cultural and linguistic differences, so that they can understand each other and feel represented, while ensuring the fluidity of exchanges around informal and personal discussions. The European Citizen Prize is proof that these models of participatory activities contribute to strengthening the European spirit. While the health crisis has led national governments to (re)think of territories in terms of borders, citizen-based approaches lead us to step back and imagine other ways of living together, more resilient to crises and respectful of the experience of inhabitants.